The Cuckold: Othello Act IV, scene i

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SWBAT determine two or more themes or central ideas of a text and analyze their development over the course of the text by considering how Othello is affected both emotionally and physically to his wife's supposed infidelity.

Big Idea

Othello is stone cold as a cuckold.


In this lesson, we continue our exploration of Shakesperean language.  Shakespeare created the idea of a cuckold, which is a man whose wife is cheating on him.  The idea of the cuckold is the nucleus to one of our major themes, which is jealousy.  It also provides the seed to another theme of the incompatibility of love and war.  Othello, a war hero, is disconnected from productive ways to deal with his wife's supposed infidelity.  His first reaction is to kill everyone.  He also becomes sensitive to comments made about a headache or his head.  Elizabethan folklore believed that a man grew horns from his head when his wife was cheating on him.  The references are subtle, but they are fun to point out. Students will discover that there is a fine line between love and war.

Hanky Panky

30 minutes

This part of the lesson is a continuance of our focus on the handkerchief in Othello.  In this activity, students will consider the importance of the handkerchief to each of the major characters:  Othello, Iago, Emilia, and Desdemona. They will then create a collage that requires them to establish a symbol which captures the significance of the handkerchief to the particular character and align it to a line spoken by the character in the play.  Finally, they will assign a word to summarize the importance of the handkerchief.  Reference the attached outline of the assignment for more specific directions.

Read Act IV: Scene i

30 minutes

In this portion of the lesson, we will assign roles and read Act IV, scene i of Othello.  In this scene, the term cuckold surfaces to describe a man whose wife is cheating on him.  Of course, Othello feels this definition suits him, following Iago's warning to beware of Cassio and Desdemona.  To explain the definition of a cuckold, I play this quick clip from the television show The Office in which the character Andy defines it succinctly. 

As we read the scene, I want students to notice how Iago once again wields language like a weapon.  He taunts Othello by suggesting that perhaps Cassio and Desdemona sleep together platonically as opposed to intimately.  This ridiculous contention drives Othello more to the edge, and he begins to think that Iago is mocking him.  There are also references to Othello's head and the suggestion that horns are sprouting from it.  This description is a direct reference to a cuckold.  According to Shakespearean lore, a man who was being "cuckolded" by his wife sprouted horns from his head.

Theme as Portrayed in Othello

10 minutes

In this section, students will write a reflection on how Othello is affected physically and emotionally to the thought that his wife is having an affair.  Essentially, there are two themes that pervade this scene: one is the manner in which Othello's military background affects his personal life.  When he realizes that his wife is having an "affair," his first reaction is to inflict violence.  This reaction emphasizes the incompatibility of Othello's military background and his personal life.   Secondly, the other theme that surfaces is jealousy.  Othello becomes so consumed with jealousy it becomes more than just an emotion; it affects him physically.  Othello for the second time in the play falls into an epileptic fit when he cannot cope with his wife's supposed infidelities.

To scaffold this lesson for students who may have trouble identifying two themes, I write the following question on the board:  How is Othello affected physically and emotionally to the thought that his wife is having an affair?  We then engage in a whole class discussion probing into why he reacts this way.  This discussion is very helpful in assisting students see these themes.

Students will begin the reflection and finish for homework.