Teaching Shakespeare!

A Folger Education Blog

Scholar Lecture: Margaret Mauer – Emilia and Roderigo in Othello

During this month’s Teaching Shakespeare Institute, some of our Summer Scholars have chosen to blog their experiences on their own sites, and have given permission to share some of them here. Today, I took an excerpted discussion from the in-lecture chatroom moderated by Robert Barker during which our participants discussed speculation of the plays, character choices, and bringing it all back to the classroom this fall.

(Editor’s Note: This post has been edited for length. Days are full at TSI!)

Margaret discusses her answer to student question: Why does the character do that? She asks for rephrase: why does Shake HAVE the xtr do it? –  Robert

is asking why WS has the character do it going too far? –  cc

such an interesting concept-not why characters act, but why Shakespeare has them act. I never thought of that w Paris in R+J. Fascinating! –  emily

why @cc? –  Christina

How Shakespeare is managing us. I think this is great! –  emily

I like it too @emily. messes with your mind –  Greta

@greta…that’s my point –  cc

@cc I think you have to ask why Sh. does things. There is no other question for me. –  Wyckham

he’s already a challenge to read…do we want to further confuse students by delving into the writer’s mind? just thinking about my students –  cc

has you look at writer’s craft rather than literary motives –  Greta

@cc. Good point. It is great for CW class and for adv. students, though. But needs to be incorporated carefully, to be sure. –  Robert

asking why the author is doing something vs the charac shifts the focus to author’s purpose rather than basic plot –  Christina

@Christina. Which is third approach, yes. And then we can discuss what we speculate intent was vs. what our interpretation/reaction is –  Robert

the speculation is troubling at times –  cc

while stdts may be confused at 1st, det. author’s motives helps stdts ultimately become more effective readers of fiction and nonfiction –  Christina

Margaret discusses how Roderigo’s death is obscured and protracted — b/c, she surmises, Shake needs him alive. –  Robert

I’m troubled by speculating that Shake’s choices are purely contrivance, though. All drama is contrived. –  Robert

rob..i agree…you see…speculation is not always good –  cc

@cc. Touche. –  Robert

But isn’t speculation actually interpretation in this context? She’s supporting her point – pretty convincingly. –  JZ

I mean – I speculate about why Romney will not show us his taxes – but when it’s literature, it’s analysis. –  JZ

“unruly tongue of shrewish woman” love it! –  emily

@JZ. Also true. I think we are all saying version of same thing — that being inside or outside the play requires diff. approaches/premises –  Robert

with too many interpretations we can lose focus on the story –  cc

@cc for sure–but part of our job as teachers is to teach kids how to THINK–I like the idea of giving them both sides –  emily

emily…i was writing the same thing as you posted –  cc

teaching students how to think does not mean butcher the play with constant speculations on something that we will never know for sure –  cc

@cc if we give them information and motivate them to research it, we teach them how to think for themselves (in my opinion:)! –  emily

Oh – I don’t mean to say we should give students anything. I’m just a supporter of a million different interpretations so long as back it up with research/textual evidence – JZ

@emily…that’s not where i was coming from…but yes, i agree with that always! –  cc @jz…i thought you meant give the students information…now we are on the same page – cc

@cc – good to know! I give them the text (meaning, I choose it) they read it as they wish! –  JZ

i have to read the texts with my students otherwise it wont happen –  cc

@cc – yes – I read it with them – but if I’m expecting them to write about it, I want something original – and sometimes I get it! –  JZ

But – it just always needs to be supported. I think that’s what is so cool about WS – so much ambiguity – so many chances for VALID analysis – JZ

@jz….true of most literature…we bring our own experiences and knowledge to whatever we read. Interpretation varies – cc

@healthy debate: interest. to think of Witmore’s rhetoric disc. re: all this. B/c we then need to use any avail. means of persuasion to back up our opinions, about xtrs or about author intention. –  Robert

MM: Shake’s “reckless contriving” in how he deals w Desdemona in end. –  Robert

how do we explain that to our students? –  cc

so far this is my only issue with teaching Othello –  cc

We disc. MM’s assertion that when we don’t know why Shake did contrivance, it is only starting point for our attempt to understand… –  Robert

for those who have taught othello…how did you deal with the ending of having Des still talking after death –  cc

does anyone know WHERE we can buy Giraldi Cinthio’s Hecatommithi? Amazon doesn’t have it, and I want to read it to use in the classroom! –  emily


As an English and Creative Writing teacher at the Archer School for Girls in Los Angeles, CA, Robert Barker (Robert) teaches Shakespeare to students in grades seven through twelve. Robert received a Master of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University.

Christina Alvarez (Christina) serves as the Language Arts department chairperson at South Miami High School. She received a Master of Science degree in English Education from Florida International University.

Jill Burdick-Zupancic (JZ) incorporates Shakespeare into her lessons at KIPP DC, where she teaches 10th-grade English.  She received a Master of Arts degree in Teaching from the University of California, Irvine .

Cicily Coney (CC) teaches 11th– and 12th-grade English at Dr. Phillips High School in Orlando, FL. She fosters the creative development of young poets at her school, where she has founded the student spoken word poetry group Verse-ability. Cicily earned a Master of Education degree in Elementary Education with Secondary Education from the University of Phoenix.

Emily Tuckman (Emily) heads the Drama program and teaches English at Brooklyn Technical High School. Emily earned a Master of Arts degree in Educational Theatre and English Education from New York University following a Bachelor of Arts degree in Comparative Literature from Haverford College. 

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