I’ve written about the first part of this unit before.
With Year 9 as I’ve said before we are working on Shakespeare in order to better prepare the students for their GCSE Lit study and they have risen to the challenge. The SOL and unit on Othello is not mine, two of my colleagues put the unit together and it has been an absolute pleasure to teach it.
We started with a summary of Act One this time and didn’t reveal the play’s conclusion, allowing this to unfold across the unit, which we have not yet finished. First, we read the summary, explored where, what and how the action unfolded through questioning and got the students to summarise what they had learnt. Then, we looked in detail at Act 1 Scene 2 where Othello is summoned in front of the senate and Brabantio accuses him of foul play and witchcraft over the marriage to Desdemona. The class read the scene out loud and then we worked on annotating the language for meaning and effect and what this suggested about the time period. Once we’d explored this scene in detail we used the what – how – why structure to explore first impressions of both Othello and Desdemona.
Next, we read a non fiction article by Andrew Dickenson on Multiculturalism in Shakespeare’s time and explored what it told us about the context of the play and how the play might have been received. Then we looked at Othello’s speech and how he presented his argument eloquently, politely and with dignity, but also looking at how the speech helped to show the internalised racism that Othello was carrying within him. Having explored the context, it was useful to the students to have read the speech after gaining an understanding of the climate of the time period and we annotated and explored his thoughts and feelings in detail. We worked on an extended response to the speech considering – How does Shakespeare use language to present Othello? I shared the following with students to provide some stimulus for them to consider the different aspects of his speech.
We looked at how discourse markers can be used to help build on what you are saying as well.
Next we did some creative writing considering Othello’s story through the eyes of Desdemona with a first person account of what Othello had told her. This was a lovely piece and a nice way to allow students to show their understanding of what had happened to Othello and show empathy through the character of Desdemona.
After this we did some vocabulary work and read a summary of Act 2 & 3 exploring what happened in these scenes again through questioning.
We then explored in detail Act 3 Scene 3 and looked at how Iago is manipulative and deceitful throughout the scene towards Othello and then using What – How – Why as the structure completed an extended response to how Iago is manipulative and deceitful in this scene. I marked these and used GCSE criteria to ask students to identify what they were currently sitting at and how they could improve this, as I wanted them to see what GCSE looks like as the unit is designed to support them with understanding Shakespeare in advance of their Y10 Literature GCSE.
Examples used in the feedback from students and a stretch one from the teacher:
Task: Explore these examples and explain what they have done well and what they need to improve. Are the examples?
- 1 – Narrative
- 2 – Some
- 3 – Explanatory
- 4 – Clear
- 5 – Thoughtful
- 6 – Critical
Shakespeare indicates that Iago is deceitful when he says “My Lord, you know I love you”. He is being sly and trying to be nice and friendly to Othello because of the fact that he framed Cassio and Desdemona for cheating, trying to make it more believable. Othello is being tricked by Iago and he falls right into his trap. Othello may feel happy that Iago is his friend, but in reality he is being betrayed. Right now he feels flattered that someone is looking out for him. Shakespeare wants to show that from Othello’s perspective Iago was caring and loving, but then from he was betraying Othello. I think that Shakespeare’s intentions were that sometimes people in the real world can be loving and caring but in reality they betray you.
Shakespeare also presents Iago as hypocritical and showing not one bit of contrition whilst talking to Othello. The metaphor in “It is the green eyed monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on” shows us that Iago is finally revealing his true egotistical character. The colour green is normally associated with the emotion of jealousy or envy. This means that Iago is telling Othello to watch out for jealous people who are trying to ruin him mentally and emotionally. Othello may feel sceptical as he’s now questioning who the loyalty of those he trusts. Perhaps, Shakespeare is trying to showcase how hypocritical Iago is. Iago himself is jealous of Othello and hates him, yet says he ‘loves him’ and warns him of people envious of him.
Shakespeare implies that Iago is sly. This is shown in the pretence he makes of being a good friend to Othello, with the possessive pronoun “My good Lord” and by using the title to imply he respects Othello. The slyness in his character is shown because this is not how he really feels, Iago is rejecting Othello behind his back but to his face he is being polite, respectful and caring. The audience feels angered by Iago’s betrayal and manipulation of Othello. Shakespeare might be saying that people are not always what they seem.
Shakespeare presents Iago as dishonest, as he puts doubts into Othello’s mind about the relationship between Cassio and Desdemona. The declarative statement “I did not think he had been acquainted with her.” Is an example of Iago trying to make Othello doubt how Desdemona behaves towards Cassio. However, this initial presentation of doubt is thwarted as Othello is aware of them knowing each other. This makes Iago change tact and begin to imply that Cassio is a dishonest and dislikeable character, ironically as it is actually Iago who is the antagonistic deceiver. The flattering tone in “My lord, for aught I know” implies that Iago doesn’t know whether Cassio should be trusted. By implying this Iago is deliberately deceiving Othello, as he knows there is nothing untoward happening but he wants Othello to have this doubt in his mind. The audience may feel astounded that Othello is so easily deceived, but Shakespeare has cleverly included 55 mentions, by other characters, of Iago’s honesty, so it may have been his intention to make the audience and Othello think that Iago is an impeccable character who is beyond reproach. The noun “honest’ has connotations of truth reliability and good intentions, therefore Othello could be forgiven for assuming Iago is guileless.
We looked at the first one together exploring exactly what they had from the success criteria on the board in them and then the students unpicked the other 3 examples. Finally, they gave feedback on what went well and what could be improved for each.
Following on from this, students chose another quotation and improved their paragraphs.
To have a break from analytical writing and annotations we did a viewpoint: Shakespeare’s plays are no longer relevant. Schools should stop teaching them. This was an inspired viewpoint as the discussion and resulting written pieces shows a depth of understanding of both the for and against viewpoints.
Again, we did a feedback lesson on this, considering how we could improve our skills of expressing a clear and developed viewpoint:
Feedback: Is Shakespeare still relevant?
Have they included?
- What – Topic sentence?
- Why – Explained their reason in the topic sentence
- How – Given evidence from Shakespeare or applications of their ideas
- Why – Enhanced it with some persuasive sentences
- What – Linked back to the topic sentence
Task: Label each example with the 5 things I have asked to be included in the writing.
Explain what is good (WWW) and what needs to be improved (EBI)
Shakespeare as a topic for study is great because it links to topics that are still relevant in today’s society, such as internalised racism, mental health issues etc. Although a vast majority of Shakespeare plays are still relevant in today’s society there are a few percent of people who will argue that some of his plays are irrelevant. For example, ‘A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream’ is about a Donkey which wouldn’t help anyone in today’s society.
Plays such as ‘Othello’ and ‘Hamlet’ offer a great view into what society may have been like at the time that they were written. It is clear that pupils can use this information to learn and understand the context og the time. I believe that knowledge of our history is fundamental for young people as it helps their understanding of the world to develop. Learning about these topics through Shakespeare’s splays is an engaging and exciting way for Secondary school students to feel more connected with the past. From my own personal experience, learning about Shakespeare’s plays has helped me to understand more about history. I’ve been able to gain knowledge on issues from the time through watching and reading his stories and I feel that other students should be given this opportunity to do so as well.
While some people may believe Shakespeare as a playwright has no further impact on language, other than him creating famous and well known lines, such as “To be or not to be” from Hamlet. However, those people would instead be wrong. Due to Shakespeare we, in society, now have expressions like “cold-blooded” and “epileptic” which have come from his plays and had a massive impact on the way we communicate now. As language is forever changing, it is important to learn some words roots and former usage, so by removing Shakespeare from the curriculum it will shut down the entrance into the learning of communication. Yet, by continuing the teaching of his plays it gives us, as the next generation, a better understanding of the language we speak.
We have since looked at Desdemona and patriarchy in detail, considered the death of Desdemona and the final soliloquy by Othello before he dies. Our final focus is an Oracy project based on either Hamlet or Othello where students create a paired or group presentation that they will get up and present to the class. This is going really well and I’m really looking forward to hearing what they have to say about Shakespeare’s characterisation.
Although a challenging topic, they have risen to the challenge and shown maturity and understanding. As I said at the outset this wasn’t my scheme of work, but I have enjoyed teaching it, immensely.