Damian Bariexca is an English teacher at Hunterdon Central Regional High School in Flemington, NJ. He teaches Multicultural Studies, Sophomore English, and Major American Writers. Damian is also an actor with Shakespeare '70, a repertory theater company in Mercer County, NJ.
Othello 5.1 and 5.2
What's On for Today and Why
Students will analyze text and utilize outside resources to determine Iago's fate, which is not addressed by Shakespeare in the play. They will then present their findings in an organized "trial" scenario. Since students will be researching criminal and civil laws, there is the option of making this an interdisciplinary project with a social studies class.
This lesson will take a minimum of two 45-minute research periods (spread out over a week or so), one 80-minute block of group work, and one 80-minute block to present.
What You Need
Folger edition of Othello
Available in Folger print edition and Folger Digital Texts
Internet access (optional)
A jury of students or fellow teachers (optional)
Props for courtroom (optional, but fun; have students bring these from home)
An Internet search for the phrase "law library" will yield many results, but here are some possible starting points for Internet law research. Remember also to check your state's home Web page for additional resources:
Indiana University School of Law - Bloomington Virtual Law Library (http://www.law.indiana.edu/v-lib/)
Cornell Law School Legal Information Institute (http://www.law.cornell.edu/)
Georgetown University Law Library (http://www.ll.georgetown.edu/)
Law Library of Congress (http://www.loc.gov/law/public/htdoc/)
What To Do
1. To introduce the activity, solicit examples from students of "bad guys" who receive their comeuppance in order to produce a relatively "happy" ending (i.e., Scooby-Doo cartoons, the Jaws movies, etc.).
2. Ask students what Iago's punishment was for his role in the story. Have a student re-read Lodovico's closing lines from the play (5.2.424-435). Ask students why Shakespeare did not write about Iago's fate. Tell them that it's just as well, because they are now the ones in charge of his fate.
3. Divide your class into four groups: Criminal, Civil, Federal, and Defense. Using library and Internet resources (see "What You Need" below for a list of potential starting points), have each prosecuting group determine a list of charges and possible sentences and then research corresponding laws in their area. While they do this, the defense group will analyze potentially "harmful" text evidence and develop refutations.
4. Each prosecuting group must give the defense group a list of charges. While the defense group researches the laws and defenses, prosecuting groups will search for textual evidence to apply to their arguments. Defense groups may also want to research similar cases to see how defense teams have defended clients who were very nearly clearly guilty.
5. Once the outside research has been completed, students will have an in-class work day (or days) to strategize their approach. Each group must develop opening and closing statements, a list of witnesses, questions, rationales for charges, and corresponding textual evidence. (You may want to have each group meet with you at least once to discuss progress, problems, etc.)
6. On the day of the trial, encourage students to bring props from home. A robe, a gavel, "evidence," are all fun ways to add to the proceedings.
7. Conduct "The Trial of Iago" in much the same way as a real trial. Have each team deliver opening statements, each prosecuting team deliver its cases, and the defense team deliver its rebuttal.
8. If you can bring students in from a study hall or lunch period to act as a jury, have them take notes, deliberate, and return a verdict and a sentence at the end of the trial.
Lesson Extension: Have students write Act 6 of Othello, wherein they script a trial based on the same textual analysis. Or you could have students conduct the same court case with 17th-century English or Italian laws in place of current laws.
How Did It Go?
Did students conduct adequate law research to set forth a coherent case? Was text fully analyzed and were passages effectively used in the prosecution and defense? Did the sentence fit the crime? Did all students participate equally?
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.