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"Divinity of hell!": Soliloquies, Cutting and Computers

Teachers' Rating:
  7 ratings


July 1998
Janet Field-Pickering, Folger Shakespeare Library, Head of Education 1996-2000.

Plays/Scenes Covered
Othello 2.3.356-382 (or any soliloquy)
What's On for Today and Why

Students struggle with soliloquies—the language is poetically rich and dense, and they often complain, "Why can't Shakespeare just get to the point?" This lesson sets students loose on the language and gives them permission to cut Shakespeare down to size. In the process of reducing a soliloquy to half its former length, students get a clearer understanding of a character's thoughts and intentions. In debating what is essential to the soliloquy and what is expendable, they discover how the language of the soliloquy works.


This lesson will take one to two class periods.

What You Need

Folger edition of Othello
Available in Folger print edition and Folger Digital Texts


A computer lab


The text of the soliloquy (below)

Othello Handout
What To Do

This activity works best with a networked computer lab in which each student works at a computer. If, like many teachers, you don't have access to a networked lab or one computer per student, change the group size to four and have each group work together at one computer station.


1. Put the text of the Othello 2.3 soliloquy on every computer screen. (You can use the text from the handout below.)


2. Assign the students to groups of five and seat them at adjacent computers. Tell them to read the soliloquy on the screen in front of them. Their ultimate goal is to cut the text in half. Their immediate task is to cut two or three lines and paste them below the asterisks at the bottom of the screen.


3. When the students have selected two or three lines and moved them, play musical computers. Hum a few bars of "Pop Goes the Weasel" as each student in the group moves to the computer to his or her right—except for the fifth person who circles around to sit at the first computer. A few rules: a "line" can mean an entire line or phrase. No student may move the same line twice. The cut lines are moved below the asterisks in the order in which they are cut—no deleting. The soliloquy must preserve its sense and meaning—no random cuts for the sake of cutting.


4. Tell the students to read what is in front of them, cut two or three more lines and paste them below the asterisks. Have the students move from screen to screen in this manner until at least ten lines appear below the asterisks on each screen and all the members of a group have circled back to their original computer screens.


5. Save and print the altered texts. Have each group discuss its five different versions and select the best one. Print a copy of the new script for each member of the group. Here is a sample script.

Sample Script Group #3
And what's he then that says I play the villain,
When this advice is free I give and honest,
the course
To win the Moor again? For 'tis most easy
Th'inclining Desdemona to subdue
In any honest suit
How am I then a villain
To counsel Cassio to this parallel course
Directly to his good. For whiles this honest fool
Plies Desdemona to repair his fortune,
And she for him pleads strongly to the Moor,
I'll pour this pestilence into his ear:
That she repeals him for her body's lust;
And by how much she strive to do him good,
She shall undo her credit with the Moor.
So will I turn her virtue into pitch,
And out of her own goodness make the net
That shall enmesh them all.
Probal to thinking, and indeed
She's framed as fruitful
As the free elements. And then for her
To win the Moor—were't to renounce his baptism,
All seals and symbols of redeemed sin—
Even as her appetite shall play the god
With his weak function.
His soul is so enfettered to her love
That she may make, unmake, do what she list,
Divinity of hell!
When devils will the blackest sins put on,
They do suggest at first with heavenly shows,
As I do now


6. Give each group five to ten minutes to figure out how to stage the final script, with everyone in the group participating (lines can be shared or spoken in unison). Have each group perform its version in front of the class.


7. After all the groups have performed, discuss the choices made.

Discussion Prompts
Did any patterns emerge—were all the performed versions similar or different in terms of the lines that were cut?
Did some versions seem to preserve the meaning of the text better than others?
Argue the case for discarded lines—should the lines be returned to the script or are they expendable?


8. Homework assignment: have each student create a new poem using some or all of the discarded lines.

How Did It Go?
This lesson requires that students engage in a number of activities--text analysis, group work, performance, class discussion, and writing. If the students are actively involved in all stages of the process, if they are able to debate the relative merits of individual and group choices, if they take words and phrases and create a poem that might lead them even further in their understanding of character or language, they will end up with a clearer understanding of how a soliloquy works and why.

If you used this lesson, we would like to hear how it went and about any adaptations you made to suit the needs of YOUR students.

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