Teaching Shakespeare!

A Folger Education Blog

Dear Will: Are my discourses dull?

Carl Van Vechten. Portrait of Paul Robeson as Othello. Silver gelatin photographic print, 1944. Folger Shakespeare Library.

We are about halfway through the fall semester of the High School Fellowship Program. Every year we bring students from public and private schools from DC, MD, and VA to study three Shakespeare plays from three perspectives: scholar, performer, and audience member. The students all bring unique ideas to the table and challenge themselves and each other through text based analysis of the plays.  Yesterday we continued the Othello conversation.

As a theatre practitioner and person of color, I have frequently walked away from Othello experiences dissatisfied.  Productions I have attended did not seem to tell the whole story. Discussions of the play did not move beyond black and white.  The question of “otherness” is so much more pervasive and timeless.

Our fellows engaged in a mature conversation about faith, jealousy, loyalty, and race as they relate to Othello.  It is not often that I sit amongst a fairly diverse group of young people who are able to step outside of what they know/experience as being different.

Below are some questions we discussed.  They did not agree on the answers, however, their responses made this tragedy accessible and exciting.

Despite his position is Othello weak?

What are all of the ways in which religion permeates the tragedy of Othello?

What is at the core of Iago’s motivation?

What does Desdemona leave behind when she travels to Cyprus?

How can Emilia betray Desdemona?

What do you think?


  • I wonder how many other fellowship programs there are out there that provide students with the opportunity to engage in conversations about literature with scholars, actors, directors, and teaching artists. The Folger High School Fellowship program has been around for a very long time. Are there others out there? They don’t have to be focused on Shakespeare; I’d just be interested to know if they exist.

  • There aren’t too many high school fellowships affiliated with institutions that focus on humanities. However, there are several undergraduate and graduate level fellowships and some foundations providing funding opportunities high school students. I will keep you all posted!

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