Murder is Out of Tune: Act V in Othello

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SWBAT analyze the impact of the author’s choices regarding how to develop and relate elements of a story or drama by examining the circumstances of Desdemona's death.

Big Idea

You take my breath away, but I can still speak.


This class lesson offers a hodge-podge of activities as we wind down Othello.  The quiz will assess students' understanding of the middle portion of the work before we begin the final Act.  As customary with any Shakespearean tragedy, students are prepared for chaos and perdition to ensue.  I like to take a few moments at the end of the lesson to consider how Shakespeare presents Desdemona's death.  We will consider why Shakespeare suspends reality a bit in describing her death.  Essentially, Desdemona is smothered then comes back to life.  Students will consider why Shakespeare chooses this method of death and why is it necessary for her to come back to life.

Othello Quiz: Act III-IV

30 minutes

In order to assess students comprehension and understanding of Acts III and IV, I will give students a quiz on these Acts.  Since we have done much work on decoding Shakespearean language, the quiz will also ask students to decode several quotes from these Acts and explain their significance and meaning to the themes recurrent in the play.

Read Act V in Othello

30 minutes

Following the quiz, we will begin reading Act V of Othello.  I advise students that this Act will determine the extent to which Iago's plan for revenge will be successful.  As is customary in a Shakespearean tragedy, death and destruction are set to ensue.  I advise students to fasten their seatbelts and enjoy the ride as the characters come to terms with their jealousies and ambitions.

Suspending Reality: The Death of Desdemona

10 minutes

Following the reading of Act V in Othello, I want students to reconnect with the murder of Desdemona.  In scene ii, the text states that she is smothered by Othello.  However, she comes back to life in the scene to name her murderer to Emilia.  In fact, Desdemona is able to recite two more lines.  I play the video version of the scene and ask students to compare the two versions.  I ask them to consider why Shakespeare is asking his audience to suspend reality and believe that once Desdemona is smothered, she is well enough to recite a few lines and then die without any further violent acts perpertrated against her.  Is this medically possible when someone is smothered?  Othello does state that Desdemona is "not dead"; however, is the final performance of her death possible?  The class will engage in a whole class discussion in determining Shakespeare's dramatic license and why he scripted the scene this way.

It is only necessary to play this clip to 5:55.