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The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice by William Shakespeare

Teacher Guide by Rebecca Ray

Find this Common Core aligned Teacher Guide and more like it in our High School ELA Category!

Student Activities for Othello Include:

If you haven't read The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice by William Shakespeare yet, you are in for a crazy soap opera of lies and suspicion! Shakespeare delivers again with this masterful and tragic tale of lovers and traitors. In Othello, racism, jealousy, and prejudice all culminate with sorrow and murder. Using this teacher guide, captivate your students and keep them on track with this tricky plot!

By the end of this lesson your students will create amazing storyboards like the ones below!




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A Quick Othello Summary

Othello is a tale of jealousy and revenge. The play takes place in Venice as two friends, Roderigo, and Iago, are arguing. Iago has unfortunate news: Desdemona, a woman Roderigo hoped to marry, has already been married to Othello, a Venetian general. The audience soon learns that Iago has a personal grievance against Othello: he has promoted a younger man, Cassio, to be his lieutenant, passing over Iago.

The two men decide to go to Desdemona’s father, Barbanzio, and tell him that she was stolen and married to Othello, who is a Moor. Her father finds that she is indeed missing, and Iago decides to rush back to Othello before he is seen at Barbanzio's house.

At his lodgings, Othello receives a message from the Duke; there has been a Turkish invasion in Cyprus and Othello’s help is urgently needed. Before Othello can leave, Barbanzio comes in and accuses the Moor of stealing his daughter through witchcraft. When Othello says he is on his way to see the Duke, Barbanzio goes along to accuse Othello of these crimes in front of the Senate.

At the Senate, Othello explains his case, and Desdemona herself comes to sayshe willingly married Othello. Her father concedes, knowing he lost his battle, and Othello makes ready to depart for Cyprus.

The next day, Cassio, Roderigo, Desdemona, and Iago land in Cyprus.Tthey await Othello’s ship. The audience learns that the night before, there was a great storm, and there are reports that all the Turkish ships were wrecked at sea. When Cassio greets Desdemona, he holds her hand and, in an aside to the audience, Iago states that he will use this to entangle Cassio. When Othello arrives, he declares that there will be a great celebration because Cyprus is safe. Meanwhile, Iago plans to help his friend (Roderigo) by breaking up Desdemona’s marriage. First, he gets Cassio drunk, and sends Roderigo to fight with him. A brawl results and afterwards, Cassio is stripped of his rank.

This does not stop Iago from trying to ruin Othello’s marriage. He again tells the audience that he will try to frame Cassio and Desdemona as lovers to make Othello jealous. Cassio then goes to Desdemona to ask her to speak to Othello on his behalf. When Othello enters the room, Cassio quickly leaves looking very guilty. Iago seizes the opportunity to convince Othello that Desdemona is having an affair with Cassio. He succeeds, and Othello becomes increasingly jealous.

Iago devises a plan to get Cassio in the room while Othello is in earshot, and states that he will get him to confess to the affair. Cassio enters with Iago, who had just been speaking to him about his lover Bianca. To Othello, it appears Cassio is admitting to an affair with Desdemona. For the rest of the play, Iago weaves a stream of lies that infects everyone.

These lies lead to the deaths of Emilia (Iago's wife), and Roderigo. Othello ends up killing Desdemona in a jealous rage, and then himself when he learns the truth of her innocence. In Iago is found out, and, unrepentant, is imprisoned.


Essential Questions for The Tragedy of Othello

  1. How do power and ambition influence a person’s choices?
  2. How are the ethics of a period reflected in the characters?
  3. What roles do prejudice, jealousy, and revenge play in our society and world?
  4. How do our personal ideologies affect our friendships?
  5. Would you date or marry someone that your society disapproved of?

Othello Lesson Plans, Student Activities and Graphic Organizers

Five Act Structure in The Tragedy of Othello


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Students can create and show a storyboard that captures the concept of the Five Act Structure by making a six-cell storyboard, like the one below. For each cell, have students create a scene that follows the acts in order: Prologue, Conflict, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, and Denouement.



Example Othello Five Act Structure

Act 1: Prologue

The play takes place in Venice during Act I and on the Island of Cyprus during Acts 2-5.


Act 1: Conflict

Othello and Desdemona are attempting to build a life together. However, their relationship is sabotaged by the envious friend, Iago, who convinces Othello that Desdemona is unfaithful to him.


Act 2: Rising Action

Iago speaks to the audience and tells them his plan to split up Desdemona and Othello. Part of the plan includes getting Cassio, a lieutenant, fired from his position.


Act 3: Climax

Iago plants a handkerchief of Desdemona’s in Cassio’s room to make it appear that the two have been together. Othello finally believes Iago, and vows that he will not stop until he has his revenge.


Act 4: Falling Action

Othello smothers Desdemona with a pillow, and Iago attempts to kill Cassio. However, Emilia, Iago's wife, exposes his plan.


Act 5: Denouement

Othello kills himself and Iago is taken away to be tortured. The reader is left with disbelief and despair, but some satisfaction that Iago is found out.


Othello - Five Act Structure

Example

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Student Instructions

Create a visual plot diagram of Othello.


  1. Separate the play into the Prologue/Exposition, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, and Denouement.
  2. Create an image that represents an important moment or set of events for each of the acts.
  3. Write a description of each of the steps in the plot diagram.



Five Act Structure Template

Example

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The Tragedy of Othello Characters


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As students read, a storyboard can serves as a helpful character reference log. This log (also called a character map) allows students to recall relevant information about important characters. When reading a play, small attributes and details frequently become important as the plot progresses. With character mapping, students will record this information, helping them follow along and catch the subtleties which make reading more enjoyable!

Using a character map for Shakespeare is often even more beneficial because it also allows students to record the nuances of characteristics that create foil characters. The information that they record will help them to return and review personalities that contrast. The ability to visually see this with help bridge connections for students and make understanding the concept easier.

You can click on this map and create a copy on your teacher account. Feel free to use it as is, or to edit it for the level of your class. Printing it as worksheets, for your students to complete while reading, is a fast and easy way to incorporate this character map into your classroom.

Major Characters in Othello

Othello A Venetian general sent to Cyprus to stop Turkish invaders.
Desdemona Daughter of a Venetian senator. She married Othello secretly.
Iago The villain, and Othello’s ensign.
Cassio Michael Cassio is Othello’s Lieutenant. He is framed for an affair with Desdemona.
Roderigo A rich Venetian who desperately wants to be with Desdemona.
Bianca A prostitute whom Cassio frequently visits.
Emilia Iago's wife.
Brabanzio Desdemona's father.
Othello Characters

Example

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)


Student Instructions

Create a character map for the major characters.


  1. Identify the major characters in Othello and type their names into the different title boxes.
  2. Choose a character from the "Medieval" tab to represent each of the literary characters.
    • Select colors and a pose appropriate to story and character traits.
  3. Choose a scene or background that makes sense for the character.
  4. Fill in the Textables for Physical Features, Traits, Major Conflict, and Other Notes.
  5. Save and submit the assignment.


Character Map Template Blank

Example

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Othello as the Tragic Hero


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Othello is full of important literary elements for students to explore. One of these elements is the tragic hero, a protagonist who seems to be ill-fated, and destined for doom. In this play, Othello is the tragic hero who leads himself and many others to their deaths.

The Greek philosopher, Aristotle, was the articulated the specific attributes or principles of a tragic hero. For the storyboard below, students can use a template to storyboard the qualities that make Othello, a tragic hero. The finished product outlines each of Aristotle's principles with a detailed explanation of the specific attributes.

Othello - Tragic Hero

ATTRIBUTEDESCRIPTIONExample from Othello
HamartiaHero's Flaw that Causes Downfall Othello’s jealousy becomes his downfall when he listens to Iago. He "lov'd not wisely but too well".
HubrisExcessive Pride Othello's hubris allows Iago to manipulate him. Through the seed of suspicion, Iago can convince Othello, without any proof, that Desdemona is cheating on him.
PeripeteiaReversal of Fortune Othello kills Desdemona after he believes that Cassio has slept with her.
AnagnorisisMoment of Critical Discovery Emilia exposes Iago’s plan.
NemesisFate that Cannot be Avoided Desdemona has been smothered, Othello kills himself from grief. Iago is sent away to be tortured.
CatharsisAudience's Feeling of Pity or Fear After the Hero's Fall The audience is left remorseful for the couple who was thwarted by jealousy and revenge.
Othello - Tragic Hero

Example

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)


Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that shows how Othello can be considered a tragic hero.


  1. Identify events of the play or characteristics of Othello that fit into Aristotelian attributes of a tragic hero.
  2. Illustrate examples for Hamartia, Hubris, Peripeteia, Anagnorisis, Nemesis, and Catharsis.
  3. Write a short description below each cell that specifically relates Othello as a tragic hero.
  4. Save and submit the assignment.



Tragic Hero Template Blank

Example

(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)





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The Tragedy of Othello Themes, Motifs, and Symbols


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Valuable aspects of any literary work are its themes, symbols, and motifs. Part of the Common Core ELA standards is to introduce and explain these complex concepts. However, abstract ideas are often difficult for students to anatomize without assistance. Using a storyboard, students can visually demonstrate their understanding of these concepts, and master analysis of literary elements. For best practices, see our article with specific lesson plan steps on setting up your classroom and activities to teach themes, symbols, and motifs.

Othello Themes to Look For and Discuss

Race/Prejudice

Throughout the play, Othello, a Moor, is seen as an outsider. Although he holds a position of high power in Venice, he is still a victim of racial prejudice. He marries a nobleman’s daughter and, because of their interracial marriage, jealousy, skepticism, and revenge ensue.


The Seed of Suspicion

Throughout the play, there is no evidence or proof of Desdemona’s infidelity. However, it is Iago who constantly plants a seed of suspicion in Othello’s mind that causes his jealousy to flare. The smoking gun for Othello is the embroidered handkerchief Iago stole to plant in Cassio's room.


The Handkerchief

The handkerchief is a major symbol in the play. It was first given to Desdemona by Othello as a token of his love, which she cherished. Later, when she tries to put it on Othello’s head, he pushes her away and she drops it. Emilia, Iago’s wife, steals it so that it can be planted on Cassio. For Othello, it is a symbol that shows broken love and Desdemona's infidelity. When she loses it and it is found with Cassio, in his mind it is like her giving herself to someone else. There is an element of foreshadowing as well. When he gave it to Desdemona, Othello told her it was his mother's, and that an Egyptian charmer put a spell on it that would keep his father faithful. From the beginning, the handkerchief is associated with jealousy.


Othello - Theme

Example

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)


Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that identifies recurring themes in Othello. Illustrate instances of each theme and write a short description below each cell.


  1. Click "Use this Template" from the assignment.
  2. Identify the theme(s) from Othello you wish to include and replace the "Theme 1" text.
  3. Create an image for an example that represents this theme.
  4. Write a description of each of the examples.
  5. Save and submit your storyboard.



Template: Theme

Example

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Conflict in The Tragedy of Othello


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Literary conflicts are often taught during ELA units. Building on prior knowledge to achieve mastery level with our students is important. An excellent way to focus on the various types of literary conflict is through storyboarding. Having students choose an example of each literary conflict and depict it using the storyboard creator is a great way to reinforce your lesson!

In Othello, conflict is ever present. Much of it arises from the machinations of Iago, which ultimately cause Othello's downfall. In each act, Iago's need for revenge causes the other characters misfortune and death.

Examples of Literary Conflict from Othello

MAN vs. MAN

Iago tries to kill Cassio, motivated by anger over a promotion which Cassio received instead of Iago.


MAN vs. SELF

Othello questions Desdemona's devotion, and eventually loses his battle to keep this jealousy in check.


MAN vs. SOCIETY

Othello is a Moor. The prejudice and racism of his society makes others suspicious of him. They do not understand how he is a general, and how he won the love of Desdemona.


Othello - Conflict

Example

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)


Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that shows at least three forms of literary conflict in Othello.


  1. Identify conflicts in Othello.
  2. Categorize each conflict as Character vs. Character, Character vs. Self, Character vs. Society, Character vs. Nature, or Character vs. Technology.
  3. Illustrate conflicts in the cells, using characters from the story.
  4. Write a short description of the conflict below the cell.
  5. Save and submit the assignment.



Literary Conflict Template

Example

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Shakespearean Vocabulary


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Another great way to engage your students is with a storyboard that uses Shakespearean vocabulary. Many students struggle with the meaning of commonly used Shakespearean terms; getting them to use them in context before reading is an excellent way to cultivate the comprehension of vocabulary. In the example below, students were asked to create storyboards that use familiar Shakespearean terms.

In a Shakespearean vocabulary board, students can use the words in a sentence they create, or they can pick a phrase from the play. In the example storyboard, the student has chosen to create their sentences for their words:

  • Marry - Indeed:

    "Then they asked me if that was the word of the Prince, and I replied, 'It was marry!'"

  • Pray - To hope:

    I pray the nurse comes quickly with good news!

  • Sauce - Sassy:

    The saucy porter wouldn't let me in without a password.

  • Thou - You (used for one person who is the subject of a sentence):

    If thou hast a cold come see me... the friendly apothecary!

Shakespearean Vocabulary

Example

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)


Student Instructions

Create a spider map storyboard for Shakespearean vocabulary words and phrases.


  1. Click "Use this Template" from the assignment.
  2. Identify unfamiliar words or phrases that Shakespeare uses.
  3. Type each into the title boxes.
  4. Briefly describe the meaning of the word in the description box.
  5. Create a standalone comic in each cell that has the word in a sentence in a speech or thought bubble.
  6. Save and submit the assignment. Make sure to use the drop-down menu to save it under the assignment title.



Shakespearean Vocab Template

Example

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Other Lesson Plan Ideas

  1. Create a storyboard that shows each time Iago planted a seed of jealousy in Othello’s ear.
  2. Depict an event from the play that, if it happened differently, would have changed the entire play.
  3. Create a parody or satire of the play.
  4. Depict the important parts of a major soliloquy in Othello with six cells!
  5. Add a presentation to any storyboard project to showcase your abilities! (and hit CCSS Speaking and Listening Standards)


Another one of Shakespeare's great works, The Tragedy of Othello is steeped in love, war, and revenge. Follow Iago's struggle as he attempts to break apart the marriage of Othello, and revenge himself for being passed over. Take a ride aboard a ship sailing for tragedy and mischief!

  • Personal Favorite - Shakespearean works are filled with fun outfits and interesting characters, as well as convoluted story lines.
  • Pro-Tip - Make sure to use all of the awesome Shakespearean items, scenes, and characters that have been created for his works. Also, make sure to use body language that expresses the turmoil and jealousy of the characters!
  • The artists always do their best to create items and scenes tailored to particular books. Great castle scenes can be found under the Historical Scenes tab, and useful characters (including Othello himself) can be located under the Medieval Characters tab.

Make sure to search for extra images with "Shakespeare" and "Othello"


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•   (English) The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice   •   (Español) La Tragedia de Othello, el Moro de Venecia   •   (Français) La Tragédie D'Othello, le Maure de Venise   •   (Deutsch) Die Tragödie von Othello, der Mohr von Venedig   •   (Italiana) La Tragedia di Otello, il Moro di Venezia   •   (Nederlands) De Tragedie van Othello, de Moor van Venetië   •   (Português) A Tragédia de Othello, o Mouro de Veneza   •   (עברית) הטרגדיה של אותלו, הכושי של ונציה   •   (العَرَبِيَّة) مأساة عطيل، مور البندقية