Why Did They Do That? Othello Comparitive Analysis (Day 1 of 2)

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SWBAT analyze multiple interpretations of Act V, scene ii of Othello by viewing and commenting on a variety of film adaptations of the play.

Big Idea

Filmmakers have a lot of choices to make--how do those choices impact the meaning or purpose of their source material?


10 minutes

We will start class with ten minutes of reading time. I will monitor the students to make sure they have their new choice novels in hand. 

Seminar Prep Review

5 minutes

The students were supposed to work on their analysis of the text this weekend. To make sure we are all on the same page in regards to our purpose and the main discussion points for our seminar, I will specifically direct them towards the thematic questions at the end of their Act 5 Seminar planner to help them have a focus for their reading and viewing analysis. 

I will then give instructions/hints on what to look for when viewing the film clips. Specifically, I will ask them to look for:

  • lighting
  • tone/mood (i.e. emotions of main characters and/or the ambiance of the scene)
  • music (or lack of music)
  • staging (i.e. props, movement and physical interaction between actors)
  • acting choices (i.e. vocal expression, portrayal of emotion)

These specific aspects of film are basic tools for breaking film down into significant artistic elements. Students need to be able to use some of the language of film creation when analyzing film maker choices. Otherwise, we run the risk of very surface level observations (i.e. This film had good acting) vs. deeper analysis of significance or purpose (i.e. This actors ability to seem calm even when we know he is angry helps us to understand that Othello feels justified in his decision to kill Desdemona).

Act V, scene ii Visual Analysis

30 minutes

To finish their seminar preparations, we will watch three different versions of Act V, scene ii: Film Comparison. This activity is meant to prepare students for our discussions about the representation of a key scene in multiple formats (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.7). To do this well, I have chosen three clips from three very different filmed versions of the play.

The first comes from a filmed stage performance done by the Globe theater (2008). The second is a more traditional film adaptation directed by Kenneth Branagh (1995) and the third is a non-traditional clip where Othello is used as a part of a larger story line about Renaissance theatrical history called Stage Beauty (2004).

Here are some of the challenges of doing something like this in class. First, many Shakespeare adaptations are rated R (dirty, dirty Shakespeare!). In my district, R rated movies are prohibited unless approved. For both Stage Beauty and the 1995 version of Othello, we were able to get the clips we use approved even though we are not allowed to show the whole movie because the individual clips were available on YouTube for review by our district ELA coordinators. I pull clips from the actual movies for quality control purposes, but the YouTube links are included above.

Just to warn you, both of the films in their entirety have some pretty graphic sexuality, so you might want to do a little digging and find older or other films if you chose to do this lesson. Another option is to look for filmed stage adaptations. They are less racy and typically are unrated.

After each clip, I allow students to write down observations on their seminar planners. I do no encourage dialogue as that will be a part of their seminar assessment tomorrow, though I am not militant with this during the writing work time as I know some students need a little bit of verbal processing time.

Wrap Up and Next Steps

10 minutes

Once we've watched all three film clips, I will remind them to answer the seminar questions and to make sure they have the entire prep sheet filled out for our seminar tomorrow. I will also ask for any questions/gut reactions to the clips to make sure they have a place to start with their analysis.