Susan M. Kochman, Hempfield Area High School, Greensburg, PA.
What's On for Today and Why
Songs are often overlooked in Shakespeare's plays; this lack of attention will be addressed by having students dramatize Desdemona's "Willow Song." Creating a choral reading, singing and performing the song, or staging a music video helps students recognize how music and lyrics contribute to the mood and meaning of a scene. The students' creativity and active participation in whatever form the dramatization takes will make both the song and scene more memorable.
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 camcorder and videotape are optional
What To Do
1. Ask students to recall any plays they have read or seen that have songs or music in them. (If they can't think of any plays, resort to movies.) Discuss specific examples and their responses to these songs or music, and note what effects the songs produced on the audience.
2. Tell students that they will create a performance of a song in Othello. Read aloud Othello 4.3 up to line 62. Discuss the meaning and mood of the lines.
3. Divide students into groups of four or five and have them prepare a dramatization of Desdemona's song. Have each group "script" the song, parceling out lines and phrases to different students, or perhaps saying or singing certain lines all together. Each person in the group must contribute either by reading, singing, acting out a part, or adding sound effects. Encourage the students to be creative in scripting their choral reading. They may also choose to set the words to a modern tune or write their own music for the song.
4. Each group will present its version of the song to the class. When all the groups have performed, discuss what the students discovered throughout the process, noting differences among groups in performance and interpretation, and determining what the song contributes to the scene.
How Did It Go?
Discussing the exercise afterwards will reveal students' understanding of the effects of songs on drama. Having students write their individual reactions in a journal prior to class discussion is an effective means of preparing students for discussion.
Extend this activity over a few more days to allow the students to bring in costumes and props and videotape the students' performances for later viewing and analysis.
If you test at the end of the unit, include an essay question that asks students to discuss specifically how Desdemona's song enhances the mood of the scene and their understanding of the play.
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.