Dichotomy Shapes Theme In Othello (Act II, sc i,ii)

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SWBAT identify and analyze themes in Othello by examining the various dichotomies in Othello.

Big Idea

Is Othello madly in love or insanely jealous? Students examine how the dichotomies in Othello lead to a theme.

Let's Get Started: Revising the Journals and Summarizing the Text

10 minutes

As the students walk in the room, I have the first slide of the Othello ACT II powerpoint on the Smartboard.  It is good news for the students.  As I look at the time remaining in the semester and their ability to complete their journals, I realize that the scope is too broad and I need to focus it more on what they need to know instead of creating a master reflection of Othello.  As it was originally assigned, it is just unmanageable.  

Students still have to write an objective summary of each scene in each act and they have to write text-dependent questions about each scene to use in their discussion groups. I changed the second section on characterization.  Now they only have to take notes on the character that is assigned to their character group.  They can take notes on the other characters from the other character groups' presentations.  I am sure I will see a look of relief in their eyes. I may even get a thank you. 

Before we begin the discussion of Act II, I ask for volunteers to read their objective summary of scene i and ii (RL 9-10. 2). Once we have established the sequence of events, the class can work in their discussion groups to answer each other's questions about the text. 

Building Knowledge: Student Led Discusions of Act II sc i, ii

30 minutes

Now the class moves from summarizing to discussion with the text-dependent questions that the students wrote in their journal. Students are in their play discussion groups. At the beginning of this unit, students were assigned to two groups: play discussion group and character discussion group. These groups were assigned based on their character party.

Developing their own text-dependent questions allows students to check their own reading comprehension.  If they don't completely understand a section or passage of the text, they can write a question about it and hopefully get a response from a peer.  If they do comprehend the text, they can craft more complex questions for their peers to answer.  Either way, they have to engage the text. Furthermore, the engagement continues when they get to class and have to answer the questions developed by their peers using textual evidence (RL 9-10. 1). 

I tell the students that they have 30 minutes to complete their discussion of Act II scenes i and ii (SL 9-10 1a).  Scene two is short. I suggest they spend 20 minutes of scene i and 10 minutes on scene ii. They can set the timer on a phone if it will help them stay on track. Students use the questions from their journals to propel the conversation and reach conclusions about Othello (SL 9-10. 1c).

I walk around the class listening to the discussions and helping students either expand their questions or responses. I want to make sure that they are using evidence from the text to support their answers. 

Building Knowledge: Analyzing Dichotomy in Othello

30 minutes

Next we transition from questions to looking at how dichotomy crafts theme in Othello.  We will examine how both the structure of the text and the behavior of the characters lead to dichotomies and then to themes (RL 9-10 2 and 3).

Slide five of the Othello ACT II powerpoint defines dichotomy. The definition should be a review from when I originally gave them the journal assignment. However, we have not worked on identifying dichotomy and examined how it functions in the text. This exploration is our fun for today.  The next three slides give three different dichotomies in Othello.

  • The Divine vs the Diabolical 
  • Muslim vs Christian
  • Harmony vs Chaos

Each group is assigned one of the three examples. They have to:

  1. Define each word
  2. State how these words create a dichotomy
  3. Give examples of how this dichotomy manifests in Othello using evidence from the text to support their position. 

I give each group 20 minutes to discuss their assigned topic (SL 9-10. 1d) and to write their answer on a giant post-it and then they will present their findings on Islam vs Christianitydivine vs. the diabolical and harmony vs. chaos to the class (SL 9-10. 4). 

Building on the inferences  the students made about the dichotomies in Othello, we move on to theme. Since theme comes from a common idea that appears throughout the text, I want the students to see that the dichotomies also run throughout the text.  I want them to link the inferences they made about the dichotomies to potential topics for themes.  They have already began gathering evidence, so they can expand from dichotomy to theme.

I give them a definition of theme on the eighth slide of the powerpoint.

•Theme: a common thread or repeated idea that is incorporated throughout a literary work.  The theme is the overarching concept the author presents to an audience.   A theme is expressed in a complete sentence.  
To find a theme, first students have to establish a subject. I tell the students to answer two questions to find a theme:  what subjects/topics occur over and over again in the text?  Once you have a subject, what does the text tell you about that subject? The answers to these two questions make a thematic statement. 
Next, we list some potential subjects on the smartboard.  

Wrap Up: Lingering Questions and Homework

10 minutes

In addition to writing their journal entry for Act II, sc iii, students have to choose one of the subjects and draft a theme statement.  I tell them it is only a draft because we are not half way through the play. Therefore, they could change their minds as they learn more about the structure of the plot and the characters. I want them to write a draft for homework so they continue thinking about how the theme runs through the entire play. Hopefully, we will write a short theme analysis of Othello.