Jack Bathke, Princeton High School, Princeton, NJ.
This pre-reading activity for Othello incorporates Shakespeare's sonnets 40, 57, 61, and 87.
What's On for Today and Why
Students sometimes have a difficult time understanding the difference between Othello's jealousy and his passion. As a pre-reading activity, students will examine these ideas by creating tableaux ("living pictures") to examine the difference between the two as presented in four of Shakespeare's sonnets.
This lesson will take one class period.
What You Need
Folger edition of Othello
Available in Folger print edition and Folger Digital Texts
Copies of sonnets 40, 57, 61, and 87
What To Do
1. Divide the class into four groups, and assign each group one of the four sonnets: 40, 57, 61, and 87. Ask the students looking at sonnets 40 and 87 to focus closely on the role of passion in the sonnet, while the students looking at sonnets 57 and 61 should examine the role of jealousy.
2. Have each group read their sonnet aloud, round-robin style, changing speakers at every line break. As they read, students should point out any words that are unclear to them; as a group, they should then figure out what the sonnet is attempting to say about either passion or jealousy.
3. Ask the students to present their sonnets as a series of tableaux vivants: these are frozen images in which the students use their bodies to wordlessly act out the imagery of the sonnet while one or more group members read the sonnet. Students should be sure to choose images that reflect the sonnet's attitude toward passion or jealousy.
4. Give the students a few minutes to rehearse their tableaux, then perform them for the whole group. Stop after each performance to discuss the sonnet with the whole class: what do the lines reveal about passion or jealousy? How are the two ideas related to each other?
5. After the class has read 3.3 of Othello, return to this discussion again. What were their conclusions about the relationship between passion and jealousy? Do they see a similar conclusion reflected in the play?
6. For an optional extension activity, have the class prepare a group reading of the sonnets in which the groups presenting the sonnets dealing with jealousy will use their text to respond to the sonnets dealing with passion.
How Did It Go?
Did the students pinpoint key lines from the sonnets that clearly illustrated passion or jealousy? Were the tableaux interesting, helpful, and organized? Did the tableaux facilitate an effective discussion about the difference between passion and jealousy?
If you used this lesson, we would like to hear how it went and about any adaptations you made to suit the needs of YOUR students.