Teaching Shakespeare!

A Folger Education Blog

Discussing OTHELLO

Today’s student matinee of Othello had a great crowd of high schoolers from several different schools. Though there was some uncomfortable twittering during some dramatic moments, for the most part they were engaged with the performance. Afterwards, the actors returned for a talk-back with the students who asked some pretty interesting questions about the characters, especially “honest” Iago.

One student wondered aloud whether or not nature is indeed “erring on itself” as Othello says when he is convinced of Desdemona’s infidelity, and whether it was actually nature taking over and making everything easier for Iago to control. Ian Merrill Peakes (after recovering from his initial shock), responded that Iago is taking advantage of the side of Othello’s nature that perhaps no one sees. Nature is erring on itself and warping back into being more natural, but everything that happens comes from the characters’ true natures at some point.

Another student commented that Iago is a character with many faces, and how did Ian approach that twisted character? Iago is a sociopath, Ian remarked, and believes in some way that what he’s doing is right, or for the greater good. Everyone also agreed that their characters truly believe Iago to be their friend throughout the play, until proven otherwise. Ian mentioned that Shakespeare gives you all sorts of clues, but also all sorts of nothing in terms of playing this part – each relationship Iago has is represented with a different attitude, a different face, and choosing which one to play when is the real work.

All in all, we were very impressed and pleased with today’s audience, and are looking forward to our next two student matinees next month! If you could ask anything of a character from Othello, what would it be?


  • November 10th and 17th at 11:30am. I believe they are actually sold out, but please check with our Box Office (202.544.7077) if you are interested.

  • Your students might also like to perform the comedy in Othello, starting with Iago and Rodrigo baiting Brabantio in act 1, then moving to the other comic scenes. Like Romeo and Juliet, Othello the play is a (black humor) comedy, often bitter and satiric, that doesn’t end well. Probably based on Italian commedia dell’arte. For ‘dramaturgy’ background, see my article in the online journal Brief Chronicles. Your students should enjoy Iago’s clever comedy and the foolishness of the other characters, and be struck by the shocking, tragic ending. — Richard Whalen

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