the Moor of Venice
cover from first quarto, c 1619
William Shakespeare
Grade / Age level: 

Othello, which we studied in tenth grade, is a dark play, a tragedy brought about by Othello's surrender to Iago's campaign of deceit.

Although this is the main idea of the play, quite a few characters and twists and turns maintain the suspense. The title character Othello is a general and Iago's commander. Iago is angered at Othello's promotion of a less-experienced soldier (Cassio) over him; moreover he is in the pay of Roderigo, a rich man who wishes to marry the beautiful Desdemona. However, Othello has already won over Desdemona and married her. In his hatred, Iago plots to ruin Othello's life by convincing him that Desdemona is having an affair with Cassio, thereby exacting revenge on Cassio as well. In this, he succeeds, with tragic results.

I found it easy, even at that age, to relate to the characters in this play. They are drawn with depth and are believable. In particular, Othello's inner struggle is very realistic -- we in the audience want to shout at him that Iago is lying, that he should trust Desdemona.

Major themes in this play are love, trust, jealousy, and free will. Pride and insecurity also play important parts in the drama. The consequences of wrong choices are all too clear, as are the consequences of putting one's trust in the wrong person. Questions to consider might include: Why does Othello believe Iago? What could he have done differently? Othello doesn't go in one quick step from newlywed in love with his bride to murderous jealousy. What are the "little steps" by which he allows himself to be led on this road?

Additional notes: 

Written c. 1601-1604

Many editions available. "Interleaved" editions (original text with notes on facing page) are helpful.

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