Animal Imagery in Othello

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SWBAT determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings by analyzing animal images in the text and determining meaning.

Big Idea

From hare to a donkey: Analyzing animal images in Othello.


Shakespeare is famous for using all types of imagery in his works.  In this lesson, we look at animal imagery.  Animal imagery is introduced to us right away in the first scene when Iago and Roderigo want to "plague [Brabantio] with flies." It continues throughout the remainder of the play.  These images are often inappropriate, but they attach a certain edginess to the atmosphere of the play.  Similar to the previous lesson, they offer students an opportunity to assess the images and decode Shakespeare's meaning.

Act II Vocabulary

20 minutes

In this section of my lesson, I give students a list of vocabulary words for Act II.  The list asks students to write the line in the scene where the word appears and for them to devise a definition based on context.  Because we began the play the day before, I will give students a few moments to find the first few words that appear in scenes i and ii.  At the end of the Act, students will look up the words in the dictionary and compare them to their definition. 

Secondly, I pull out a few of the words in context and ask students to consider the words' meanings in relationship to what is being described in the scene.  I write the following phrases on the board: "desperate tempest," "satiety's fresh appetite,' and "My house is not a grange."  I ask students to consider the selected vocabulary words' meanings in relationship to the other words surrounding it.  For example, what is a desperate tempest versus a plain old tempest?  Students will see, in this example, that a tempest is a violent storm; however, using the word desperate in front of tempest actually adds to the violence.  Someone who is desperate will do almost anything to achieve what they want.  "Satiety's fresh appetite" indicates an intense degree of hunger.  Imagine satisfying a huge appetite and then being hungry all over again.  Students find in this activity that the adjectives and other words used in Shakespeare's plays add an additional level of description.

A test will follow in a few days on Act I and II vocabulary.

Reading Othello, Act II, scene iii

30 minutes

In this section, parts are assigned and the class engages in a reading of Act II, scene iii.  As we read, I ask students to pay attention to Cassio's tragic flaw.  What makes him susceptible to Iago's treachery?  Of course, I am referring to the fact that Cassio allows Iago to dupe him into drinking wine when Othello has warned the two not to participate in the revelry; plus, Cassio is a lightweight when it comes to drinking.  The end result is disastrous as Cassio stabs the Governor of Cyprus and is fired by Othello.  I ask students to comment as to which parts of Iago's plan are ringing true by the end of Act II.

I also ask students to consider Cassio's lament that he has lost his reputation, and also I want students to notice Iago's response: Reputation is no big deal.  In a reflection at the end of the Act, I ask students to respond to which character is correct in assessing the importance of reputation: Cassio or Iago.  I will play the enclosed clip from the movie so students can see the portrayal outside of the text.  Although it is a 5 minute clip, it is only necessary to watch 1:30.  I pull popsicle sticks to solicit student responses.

Surprising, students understand the concept of reputation and how Cassio mourns the loss of it.  Reputation and how others view them is essential to their existence in high school.  Therefore, they instantly question and realize the ridiculous claims made by Iago that reputation means nothing.  This idea is something Iago will contradict himself later on in the novel.

Delving into the Deep

20 minutes

To further our decoding of Shakespeare's language, in this section, students will search the text to find an element of animal imagery.  Shakespeare used animal images to relate virtuous and less than virtuous descriptions in his plays.  Some animals were considered more righteous than others.  I have included an outline of the assignment that illustrates some examples of Shakespeare's use of animal images to convey themes.  Students will find their example and format using Microsoft Word or Publisher (whatever is available) to decode the image and explain its meaning.  I also require graphic representation which allows students to create their own symbolic references of the textual meaning.