Thursday, 20 February 2014


William Shakespeare
c. 1604

My sixth formers are currently studying Othello, and I am ashamed to say that it is one of the few plays of Shakespeare I have not read. I barely even knew anything about the plot, so I set out to rectify this.

The play begins with a conversation between Iago and Rodrigo, two courtiers who are discussing the Moor, Othello. During the first scene, they do not state who they are talking about, instead referring to the soldier in racial slurs such as "an old black ram". The two men are outraged that Othello has secretly married Desdemona, jealous and angry at the rising social status of their colleague and rival.

Iago is driven by viscious resentment, and sets out to destroy the Moor. He plots behind the backs of his fellow courtiers, whispering false secrets in their ears, tricking them into believing the worst in others. He convinces Othello that Desdemona has been unfaithful to him with Cassio, and drives Othello to committing the most evil of crimes against his once beloved wife. 

It's classic Shakespearean tragedy - a dangerous romance that transforms social barriers and parental expectations; a jealous subordinate, unhappy with his own lot and pent on revenge; proud men who are fooled by their inferiors and seem unable to talk rationally with their wives; and a drunken fight scene. 

But best of all, the students at my school love it! With many of them being from Muslim families, they fully understand the challenge of racial differences and the value of chastity and virginity. Othello is a surprisingly modern text, remaining relevant with students for whom an honour killing can be a reality. Once they have gotten a grasp of the language of the fifteenth century, the tragedy and drama grips them - I don't think I have met a group of teenagers so excited by Shakespeare. 

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