Beware the Green-Eyed Monster: The Power of Language in Othello

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SWBAT apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening by assessing whether the language is used for positive or negative purposes.

Big Idea

A battle of words erupts into a green-eyed monster.


In this lesson, we will be focusing on the use of language in Othello in both positive and negative ways.  Language is used by Othello in the earlier Acts to defend himself against Brabantio's charge of black magic.  In this Act, we will see Iago use language to manipulate Othello.

Othello Vocabulary Test, Act I and II

20 minutes

Students will be assessed on the vocabulary given to them at the beginning of the play.  This test is on the first two Acts.  Students were given a list and asked to find the word in the play and devise a meaning based on context.  At the end of each Act, students looked up the definitions to find the exact meaning.  The attached vocabulary test is CCSS aligned as it requires students to assess the context of the sentence and input the correct vocabulary word.

Read Othello, Act III, scenes ii-iii

30 minutes

We will continue reading Act III.  Our concentration this lesson is on scenes ii and iii.  These scenes include Cassio meeting with Desdemona to ask her to speak to Othello on his behalf.  Iago has advised Cassio that the only way for him to be re-assigned his position as lieutenant is to plea his case to Desdemona.  Of course, Iago's motive is to bring Cassio and Desdemona together so that Iago may set his plan of planting jealousy within Othello.  I advise students to pay attention to the language in this scene and how Iago skillful uses language to manipulate Othello.  The activity following the reading will get into the language in greater detail.

Students are quite adept at Iago's motives at this point in the play.  They immediately notice that Iago is setting his pegs in place when he says, "I like not that," in reference to seeing Cassio quickly leave his place with Desdemona when he sees Othello approaching.  I ask students why Cassio would steal away so quickly?  They immediately recognize that he is embarrassed for fighting with Montano, who happens to be the governor of Cyprus.  We discuss the difference between fighting with a random person and someone with "great fame" in Cypruss.  If they do not get that connection, then I may have to back track and review Iago's motives and his plan to seek revenge.

Language as Power in Act III, scene iii

20 minutes

In this section of the lesson, I want to point out how Shakespeare uses language as power in the play.  This idea is extremely obvious in Act III, scene iii where Iago wields language like a weapon to plant the seed of jealousy within Othello.  In introducing this concept, I play an excerpt from a video from the Folger Library which addresses this very issue.  It is not necessary to play the entire video.  I play from :48 to 1:58.  This section describes how language is used in both negative and positive ways in the play.

Following the excerpt, I have students review the language in the Act so far and categorize its use: is it used in a postive or negative way?  Accordingly, I have them complete the graphic organizer attached in this lesson.  They will find three examples of language used in a positive way and three examples of how it is used in a negative way. 

Students often look to the comic relief scene at the beginning of Act III as their positive example.  They do not recognize that the clown has been sent to remove the musicians from Othello's window.  The clown is actually using language in a passive/aggressive way by sarcastically twisting language into puns to belittle the musicians.  This example is a great way to discuss how language in its negative sense may be disguised as positive.  The best negative use of language is in Act III, scene iii, where Iago skillfully manipulates language to impress upon Othello that Desdemona is unfaithful.  I have attached a few students responses.


My intention in this assignment is for students to see some of Shakespeare's language in a three-dimensional way.  Therefore, I assign students to consider Shakespeare's coinage of the term, the green-eyed monster and I assign them to create a physical representation of it.  Their depiction may be a drawing or a 3-D representation.  See the attached outline for further instructions.  I have included a few examples below.