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Images of Othello: A Shakespearean WebQuest


When reading Shakespeare's plays, we use whatever description Shakespeare gives us to create a mental picture of a character. Through close reading of the text, we look at what a character says about himself or what others say about him to form that picture. Though this is often limited, it is the most reliable resource we have. Once we have an image fixed in our head, we proceed to envisage the characters as we continue to read.

This lesson will use the "infinite variety" of resources on the Internet to let students find their own image of Othello. The lesson will take them on a WebQuest, first to textual references, and then to on-line searches for images of Othello in film, play productions, and art. The student will write an essay about the casting of Othello at the conclusion.


By completing this lesson, the student will:
  • Look closely at the text of "Othello"

  • Use an online dictionary

  • Use various search engines

  • Use an online Shakespeare concordance

  • Make intelligent decisions about character

  • Write an intelligent essay (with imbedded images) about the casting of "Othello"

Estimated Time of Completion

One to Two 45-minute class periods


  • Access to the Internet

  • The text of "Othello"

  • A copy of "In Search of Shakespeare" (To order, visit Shop PBS)

  • Handout - "A Few Words About Othello"

Introductory Activities

Watch the Royal Shakespeare Company perform key scenes from "Othello" (Episode 3, 48:00-53:00) and the examination of the play's inspiration (45:00-47:00) in In Search of Shakespeare. We see scenes from "Othello" with the British actor Ray Fearon in the title role. In an interview, Fearon says that the play is about "jealousy, race, and love." But just how important is the race and physicality of the actor cast as Othello to the play?

Over the years the Moor has been played by a variety of actors - white actors in blackface, white actors made up to look like Arabs, heavily - accented Africans.

So the question is: What is a Moor and what does Othello look like?

To begin, have the students look up the word "Moor" at (see Online Resources below) or in any good dictionary. They should print out or write down the meanings that apply to a human (as opposed to topography). What does Michael Wood in "In Search of Shakespeare" tell us about the inspiration behind Othello and Shakespeare's understanding of racism? Have your students conduct research on people of African and Asian descent in Elizabethan England. How did they arrive in England and where did they live? What roles did they play in society?


Instruct your students to look at the list of words on the handout that are used to either describe Othello or that resonate around him throughout the play. Have them choose at least 10, look them up in a dictionary and decide if they have negative or positive connotations.

Then have them look to see where their words occur in the play and what they tell us about the character of Othello. They should search for the exact lines at The Literature Network (see Online Resources below).

Have the students look up images of Othello. As they find interesting pictures, they should save them onto their computers to be included in their final report. They should keep the words they found in the previous exercise in mind as they search. Here are some instructions for them to show how they should search:

Find photos of Othello at Google Images (see Online Resources below).You can also search for images at Lycos, AltaVista, or any other search engine. You should try to find out anything they can about the actors by looking at the URLs listed there. Save at least 10 of those photos for use later in their essay.

Look to see how Othello has been portrayed on film and video by going to The Internet Movie Database (see Online Resources below). Select a few of these and read as much as you can about them.

Search out any drawings or paintings of Othello to see how the character has been portrayed in art. This can also be done by using Google Images, Lycos, or AltaVista and typing in "Othello art" or "Othello painting".

Sort through these pictures and think carefully about the play before you attempt to write the concluding essay. How have these images made you think or rethink your original ideas? Is Othello really a play about race and physicality? Can a white person play the title role in the 21st Century?

Extension Activities

Imagine that you are the casting director for a new, live production of "Othello." You have done extensive research on the look of the title character and you want to make a report to the director and producer on how Othello has been portrayed. Citing evidence from specific films, theater productions, and artwork, make a proposal for the type of actor you feel they should be looking for. Include images that you have collected in your research by pasting them directly into your document.

After completing your essay, design a PowerPoint presentation that includes some of the history of Othello casting and suggestions for the leading role. This presentation should be aimed at the director and producer and should be persuasive.

Online Resources

Google Images:

The Literature Network:

The Internet Movie Database:



Masterpiece Theatre - Othello:

UK National Archives:




Standard 1: Students read a wide range of print and non-print texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.

Standard 2: Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).

Standard4: Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.

Standard 5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.

Standard 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and non-print texts.

Standard 7. Students conduct research on issues and interests by generating ideas and questions, and by posing problems. They gather, evaluate, and synthesize data from a variety of sources (e.g., print and non-print texts, artifacts, people) to communicate their discoveries in ways that suit their purpose and audience.

Standard 8. Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.

Standard 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.

Standard 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).



Language Arts

Standard 1. Uses the general skills and strategies of the writing process

Standard 5 : Uses the general skills and strategies of the reading process

Standard 6 : Uses reading skills and strategies to understand and interpret a variety of literary texts

Standard 7 : Uses reading skills and strategies to understand and interpret a variety of informational texts

World History

Standard 27: Understands how European society experienced political, economic, and cultural transformations in an age of global intercommunication between 1450 and 1750

About the Author

Michael LoMonico teaches at Stony Brook University and is the Associate Director of Education for The English-Speaking Union of the United States. He is the founder and editor of Shakespeare magazine and has served as Master Teacher and Director of the Folger Library's Teaching Shakespeare Institutes.


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