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Part 2: How To Analyse ‘Othello’ For The Year 11 Modules | Year 11 English

Unsure about the difference between analysing 'Othello' for the Common Module vs analysing it for Module B? Well, this article will show you everything you need to know!

Now you’ve read the Ultimate Othello Cheatsheet and know your way around the play you’re ready to think about how to analyse Othello. If you’ve missed our article, Part 1: The Ultimate ‘Othello’ Cheatsheet, go read it now. In this article, you’re going to learn how to analyse Othello for the different Year 11 English Adv Modules and ace your assignments and essays!

 

In this article, we’ll discuss:

 

Why do I need to link my ‘Othello’ analysis to the module?

The modules are an indication of what you need to focus on when you analyse Othello. They describe a way of analysing texts.

It’s like using different camera lenses to focus on different things in your photos!

Each English Module teaches you a different method of textual analysis and develops your critical thinking skills. This is why it’s crucial that you are familiar with the different English modules.

Remember, you can maximise your marks if you know exactly what you need to focus on in your texts. This will also help you draft responses that respond to specific questions as opposed to simply memorising and regurgitating a generic essay. This is an essential skill to refine before Year 12.

Bear in mind, not all schools study Othello. Furthermore, the schools that do study it, approach it from different ModulesDifferent schools will choose to study Othello for different modules. Let’s see the ways your school might study Othello:

English Adv Module  What is the Module’s focus? What do I need to do?
Common Module Reading to Write Human experiences and writing skilfully Reflect and analyse
Module A Narratives that Shape Our World Context and importance of storytelling in our world Compare and analyse
Module B Critical Study of Literature Textual integrity and text’s critical reception Evaluate and analyse
Module C No Module C for Year 11  –

Need help with the Modules? We explain the different modules in more detail in our Overview of the Beginner’s Guide to Year 11 English Advanced.

 

See what a Band 6 Othello essay looks like!

Learn what markers want to see in a Band 6 response.

 

Common Module: Reading to write

The Common Module has two main focuses:

  1. Human experience
  2. Learning how to write skilfully

If you want to learn more about the Common Module, take a read of our detailed Guide on the Year 11 Common Module: Reading to Write.

 

Human experience:

Reading to Write focuses on the human experience and how it is represented in texts.

Human experience are universal experiences, emotions, and ideas experienced by everyone, anytime.

Think about love, jealousy, prejudice etc!

You may notice that human experiences often become major themes in texts.

As such, you will need a strong understanding of the plot, characters, and themes. (See Part 1: Ultimate Othello Cheatsheet for plot, characters and themes)

Here are some questions you should ask yourself to flesh out your analysis of the human experience:

Questions Example
Does Shakespeare represent themes related to the human experience in Othello?

  • Relate to values (his context and ours!) and the human condition.
As we’ve covered in our Part 1 of this article (Ultimate Othello Cheatsheet), Shakespeare explores themes like:

  • Prejudice and racism
  • Jealousy
  • Appearance vs reality
  • Women’s rights

These are universal themes that still apply in his society and today’s society.

Does this text represent your personal experience and/or world issues?

  • How does this make you feel?
  • What is your response?
Although racism and misogyny are less common in today’s society, it still exists. As such, Shakespeare’s text is still relevant today.
What is Shakespeare trying to say about the world?

  • Why is this message important?
  • How does Shakespeare do this?
 Shakespeare warns audiences about many issues including:

  • The danger of jealousy, power, and greed
  • The need to overcome racism and prejudice against women
  • The need to be critical and search for the truth

 

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Skilful writing

This course also introduces you to critical analysis. This means you will need to do a “close reading” of Othello to find themes and techniques, and develop your analytical skills.

As the name suggests, you are expected to develop your writing skills by reading ‘Othello’.

You will learn how Shakespeare develops his own voice and uses genre and form to convey his message. Then you will develop your own voice and successfully use genre and form in your writing too.

Your school may ask also ask you to write an imaginative recreation. This is where you write a creative piece inspired by Othello, like a fan-fiction! This task could take the form of a podcast, creative, or drama script.

Here are some things you need to think about when writing a Common Module response:

What to focus on: How to do it: 
Analyse key scenes and moments in Othello Find specific quotes and techniques to see how meaning is conveyed!
Think about how Shakespeare conveys meaning and shares his message Consider form, genre, techniques, and structural choices
Develop your own voice Think about what tone and personality you want to show in your responses. It’s like developing your own style of writing
Reflect on your own writing and Shakespeare’s writings to improve your own! Think about sentence syntax, perspectives and tenses, and clarity of writing.

 

Analysis example:

Now that we know what we need to focus on in the Common Module, let’s analyse Othello through the Common Module lens.

Before you analyse a key scene, you should answer the following questions holistically.

This will help you better understand the text’s relevance to the Common Module (as seen in the above example). After you’ve done this, you can apply the following questions to a specific key scene to break down its meaning.

Let’s break down Iago’s speech to Brabantio in Act 1, Scene 1:

Zounds, sir, you’re robbed! For shame, put on your gown.
Your heart is burst, you have lost half your soul.
Even now, now, very now, an old black ram
Is tupping your white ewe. Arise, arise,
Awake the snorting citizens with the bell
Or else the devil will make a grandsire of you.
Arise, I say!

 

1. Does Shakespeare represent themes related to the human experience in Othello?

Yes! There are some human-experience-related themes are explored in this excerpt:

Themes Technique Analysis Link to Module
Racism
  • Animal motif: “old black ram is tupping your white ewe”
  • Devil motif: “the devil will make a grandsire of you”
  • Animal and devil imagery is used to refer to Othello throughout the text. This highlights how minorities are often viewed as savages or inhuman.
  • Racism and prejudice against minorities is a long-standing issue in society.
  • Many people may have experienced it directly or witnessed it in their lifetime.
Appearance vs reality
  • Biblical allusion: “bell”
  • Dramatic irony
  • In the bible, a bell is rung to announce a death. This foreshadows the detrimental events that follows Iago’s manipulation. This also refers to the death of his reputation
  • Dramatic irony is seen when Iago describes Othello as ‘the devil’. The audience knows that Iago is the true devil for his manipulation, not Othello.
  • Dramatic irony is also seen when Iago portrays himself as ‘helping Brabantio’ when in reality, Iago only wants to fuel Brabantio racist attitude to destroy Othello.
  • Facades always exist within society. Everyone has either held an appearance or been fooled by another’s appearance.
  • For instance, social media and news outlets uphold biased views (appearance) that don’t always present the whole truth.
Women
  • “You’re robbed”
  • By telling Brabantio that Othello ‘robbed’ his daughter, highlights the misogynistic view that women are viewed as property or objects owned by men
  • The patriarchy existed throughout history. Today, its ingrained ideals are still affecting women’s rights.

 

2. Does this text represent your personal experience and/or world issues?

These themes are universal. So, they can apply to you personally, and/or the world today!.

 

3. What is Shakespeare trying to say about the world? Why is this message important?

Shakespeare warns audiences about the need to overcome racism, and to be critical and search for the truth. We shouldn’t blindly trust people because it can lead to catastrophic or traumatic events.

 

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Module A: Narratives that Shape our World

Module A is all about context and the importance of storytelling.

You will engage in a comparative study of Othello and a later adaptation of that text to flesh out the importance of storytelling in different contexts.

Here are some possible adaptations of Othello:

  • A Double Life” (1947) – Film noir by George Cukor
  • Othello” (1951) – Tragedy film by Orson Welles
  • Othello” (1965) – British drama film by Stuart Burge
  • Othello” (1986) – Italian drama film by Franco Zeffirelli
  • Othello” (1995) – American drama film by Oliver Parker
  • O” (2001) – American High School film by Tim Blake Nelson

Each of these adaptations have their own personal take on Othello. You will find that some stick closely to the original, whereas others change it significantly.

Consequently, when you analyse your texts in Mod A, always think about why something is done in a particular way!

If you want to read more about Module A, take a look at our Year 11 English Adv Guide: Module A.

 

Context:

In this module, you will see how Shakespeare’s context – including the historical conditions, social attitudes, and societal values – influences the way he writes his text.

How does his text reflect his societal values? What does he say about it?

You will need to analyse how Shakespeare represents his context in Othello, and compare that to the adaptation’s representation of their own context.

Find similarities and differences and provide an explanation for them!

Here are some things you need to focus on when analysing context in Othello:

  • Both text’s context
    • Think about values, societal attitudes, technological advancements, environmental and political climates etc.
    • What has changed and what stayed the same?
  • Both texts’ main message
    • What are the composers saying about their own society?
    • Relate the message(s) to values (the composers and ours) and the human condition.
  • Changes and similarities between the original Othello and the adaptation
    • Think about genre, form, structural choices, and techniques.
    • Relate this to the text’s context.
  • Representation of context in the text
    • Think about characters, plot, setting, techniques, form, genre etc.

For example, if you had to think about Parker’s 1995 adaptation:

  Shakespeare Parker
Context
  • Conflict between Europe and the Ottomans
  • Highly religious: believed in Determinism and Fate
  • Believed in the Natural Order and Great Chain of Being
  • Highly racist and misogynistic
  • More secular – don’t believe in fate
  • Values ambition and free will – idea of the ‘American Dream’
  • Better understanding of human psychology. Society now understand that good vs evil is an inaccurate representation of people. Instead, people are grey.
  • Racism still exists, but less obvious
  • Have some ingrained patriarchal standard
Message
  • The danger of jealousy, power, and greed
    • Shakespeare warns audiences about the consequences of having any sort of free will and ambition as they will be punished by God.
  • The need to overcome racism and prejudice against women
  • The need to be critical and search for the truth
  • The danger of jealousy, power, and greed
    • Unlike Shakespeare, Parker’s film focuses on the detrimental effects of unbridled ambition, as opposed to ambition on its own like Shakespeare.
  • The need to overcome racism and prejudice against women
  • The need to be critical and search for the truth
Form
  • Drama
  • Film
Holistic Similarities
  • Parker kept the original names and characters
  • Parker also dressed the characters in Elizabethan-like clothes.
  • Parker used the same Elizabethan dialogue (nearly word-for-word as Shakespeare)
Holistic Differences
  • Roderigo was a minor character who acted as a chess piece for Iago. He wasn’t explored as deeply as Parker’s.
  • Cassio was given more character in Shakespeare’s text.
  • Parker cut down on a large portion of Shakespeare’s dialogue (most likely to fit the drama into a 2 hour film)
  • Othello’s dreams were visualised with adultery
  • Roderigo was given a larger role in the film. He became a comic figure and has personal issues
  • Cassio’s character was barely explored in the film.

We unpack Shakespeare’s context in detail in Part 1 of our Othello Guide: Ultimate Othello Cheatsheet.

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Importance of storytelling:

Module A: Narratives that Shape Our World also delves into the importance of storytelling in human society.

Humans use storytelling to reflect on themselves as individuals, cultures and nations.

This can be done in a critical light or an appreciative light! For instance, Shakespeare uses Othello to criticise his society’s racist, misogynistic, and prejudiced views. However, he also uses Othello to reaffirm his society’s belief in God, and subsequently, importance of morality.

So, you need to examine why Shakespeare and the adaptation’s composer chose to represent things in a certain way.

 

But don’t confuse stories and narratives!

A story refers to the content of a narrative, including the plot, characters, and settings.

On the other hand, a narrative refers to the story and its expressions. In other terms, a narrative refers to how the story is expressed.

In simple terms, stories can be written in many ways, whereas, a narrative is one particular way a story is expressed.

So, the Othello we read from Shakespeare is a narrative, as it is only told by Shakespeare himself. However, the story of Othello can be retold, as seen in the numerous film adaptations.

This means that when you’re analysing Othello and the adaptation for Mod A, you need to ask yourself:

  • Why is it important that we see society reflected in texts?
  • What’s the significance of retelling stories?
  • What is the main message in both texts? What does that say about our society?

 

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Example

Let’s consider a specific example to show you how to analyse texts for Module A.

Remember, when you are analysing texts on your own, you should look at the text holistically first, before you dig deeper into key scenes.

 

1. Identify the context, and text’s purpose/message

Before we go into detail for both of the texts, you need to have a strong understanding of the context. We covered this in the above example.

 

2. Compare the similarities and differences between the two texts

Let’s compare Iago’s soliloquy in Shakespeare’s Othello (Act 2, Scene 3) and Oliver Parker’s Othello (1995). Here, Iago is claiming that he can’t be a villain because his advice to Cassio and Othello are so good. However, he also says that that argument is one you will hear from a devil: they will put on a heavenly exterior to commit their sins, like he is now.

 

Shakespeare

And what’s he then that says I play the villain?
When this advice is free I give and honest,
Probal to thinking and indeed the course
To win the Moor again? For ’tis most easy
Th’ inclining Desdemona to subdue
In any honest suit. She’s framed as fruitful
As the free elements. And then for her
To win the Moor, were to renounce his baptism,
All seals and symbols of redeemèd sin,
His soul is so enfettered to her love,
That she may make, unmake, do what she list,
Even as her appetite shall play the god
With his weak function. How am I then a villain
To counsel Cassio to this parallel course,
Directly to his good? Divinity of hell!
When devils will the blackest sins put on
They do suggest at first with heavenly shows
As I do now. 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 strives 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.

 

Parker

 

Now, let’s create a table of the similarities and differences.

Shakespeare Parker
Similarities
  • Elizabethan language is used in both
  • The soliloquy is mostly kept the same in both
Differences
  •  The soliloquy is a little longer than Parker’s one.
  • We view Iago’s soliloquies as a window to his mind as it reveals his thoughts and plans. He seems more open in Shakespeare’s soliloquies, than Parker’s.
  • Parker cuts down on some of Shakespeare’s dialogue, and changes some lines
  • The bonfire was added: Iago throws a log into the fire and rubs his hands with ashes. It’s a visual metaphor for the sins he is about to commit.
  • Iago talks directly into the camera, as though he’s telling the audience his plans. However, Parker’s Iago seems much more manipulative than Shakespeare’s, as he hides more from the audience as seen below:
    • Chiaroscuro lighting is used: Half of Iago’s face is in the shadow implying that he is still withholding information.
    • At the end of the scene, Iago lifts his hand to cover the camera as though he is hiding the rest of his plans from the audience.

 

3. Analysis: How does context influence the way things are represented? 

Shakespeare’s society is a highly religious society compared to Parker’s secular society. This means that Shakespeare’s society believed in fate and determinism, whereas Parker’s believed in free will and value ambition.

As such, although both societies explore the same themes, they have slightly different messages.

Let’s see what the message is, and how it’s portrayed:

Shakespeare Parker
Message and connection to context Shakespeare warns his audience about the dangers of practising free will and having ambition, as God will seek retribution.

This is because they are a highly religious society that believed that God pre-determines everyone’s fate and place in society. So, if you challenge your place in society, you are challenging God’s will.

Parker warns his audience about the dangers of having unbridled ambition.

In Parker’s society, free will and ambition are valued, due to the rise of the American dream. People are expected to work hard and find their own success. However, it is frowned upon when people begin to rely on harmful methods to achieve their own success, like manipulating others.

Technique and analysis Shakespeare’s Iago is likened to the devil himself. He is manipulative but seems to be truthful in his soliloquies.

  • Motif of devil and hell: “Divinity of hell! / When devils will the blackest sins put on / They do suggest at first with heavenly shows / As I do now.“:
    • Iago aligns his values with the devil. He wants free will and will do anything to get what he believes he deserves (his promotion).
    • Note: The devil is not only symbolic of evil, but also free will.
  • Metaphor of net: “And out of her own goodness make the net
    That shall enmesh them all.“:

    • Iago is a master manipulator (Machiavellian) as all his small actions are interconnected with each other. He is the spider and the other characters are mere bugs stuck in his net of schemes.
Iago has more directorial control than Shakespeare’s Iago and even attempts to manipulate the audience. As such, he is portrayed as more ambitious and manipulative than Shakespeare’s Iago:

  • Iago talks directly to the camera, breaking the fourth wall:
    • Like Shakespeare’s soliloquies, Iago breaks the fourth wall to update the audience about his plans and thoughts.
  • Chiaroscuro lighting is used to hide half of Iago’s face in the shadows, and at the end of the scene, Iago lifts his hand to cover the camera to block the audience from his next actions:
    • Unlike Shakespeare, Iago is seen to withhold information from the audience.
    • The shadow on half of his face indicates that he is still holding back his darker side.
    • Also, by covering the camera at the end of the scene, he is telling the audience that they can no longer witness his plans and actions, illustrating that there is more to his character than what he lets on.
Analysis and link to context Since Shakespeare’s audience is highly religious, they strongly believe in the dichotomy of ‘good’ vs ‘evil’. As such, by likening Iago to the devil, his audience understands one mustn’t find their own fate as it is an insult to God. Due to Parker’s secular society’s value of ambition, Parker portrays a more manipulative Iago to draw the line between good ambition and unbridled ambition. Unlike Shakespeare’s society, having free will and ambition is not a bad thing. It is only bad when one loses control and harms others.

So, Iago is given more directorial control and is even seen to withhold information from the audience. He is his an internal director in the movie.

 

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Module B: Critical Study of Literature

Module B Critical Study of Literature is all about completing a close reading of the text and evaluating its literary and cultural value.

This is done by examining:

  • Textual integrity
  • Critical reception

If you like to learn more about Module B: Critical Study of Literature, take a read of our Beginner’s Guide to Year 11 English: Module B, here.

 

Textual integrity

Textual integrity is a way of evaluating a text’s literary value. Quality texts will have textual integrity.

NESA describes textual integrity as:

The unity of a text; its coherent use of form and language to produce an integrated whole in terms of meaning and value

In simple terms, textual integrity is determined by 3 main elements:

  • Organic unity: There needs to be unity and coherence throughout the whole text.
    • Think about form, plot, motifs and symbols, structure, perspective, content, techniques, and themes.
  • Universal themes: Universal themes are often themes that relate to the human condition. It can be experienced by all people at any time throughout history.
    • Think greed, love, justice, mortality, death, adolescence etc.
  • Audience reception/engagement: The way the audience responds to a text is another way to figure out whether a text has textual integrity or not.

 

Critical reception

Critical reception refers to the way the audience responds to the text. Is it discussed in a positive light or negative?

Often, the way an audience responds to the text is an indication of the cultural relevance between the context and the text.

So, you should:

  • Do some research about audience receptions of the Othello in different contexts
  • Think about how yorespond to the text.

 

Example

We will show you what you need to look for when you evaluate Othello‘s textual integrity. Remember, you will still need to go through a deeper analysis of the form, structure, and techniques in Othello to show that textual integrity exists.

So, let’s analyse Shakespeare’s Othello textual integrity and critical reception.

 

 Element What is consisted in it? Evidence
Organic unity Form and structure: 
  • Othello is a drama/play script
  • There is a coherent progression of events
  • Characters stay true to themselves
  • The setting is consistent throughout the play
  • The genre is also consistent throughout the play: tragedy
Plot:
  • The plot has no contradicting events or major unexplained plot holes
  • All the events are related to each other in one way or another
Motifs and symbols:
  • Shakespeare uses motifs and important symbols throughout the play like:
    • ‘Green Eyed Monster’ used to represent jealousy
    • Animal/beast vernacular used to refer to Othello
    • Devil imagery used to describe Iago
Content and techniques:
  • Shakespeare uses a wide range of techniques to convey meaning:
    • eg. Iambic pentameter, motifs and metaphors, biblical allusions etc.
Themes:
  • Themes are consistent across the drama. Shakespeare doesn’t change his position
Universal themes
  • Jealousy
  • Racism and prejudice
  • Greed and power
  • Appearance vs reality
  • Power of women
  • Love
  • Corruption
Audience reception/engagement Shakespeare’s audience:
  • Othello was one of Shakespeare’s most popular play during his time
  • It was first played in 1604, according to the Master of the Revels (published in 1842)
  • It was then printed in 1622 in the First Folio; a collection of Shakespeare’s plays. The preface referred to Othello as a play that “had beene diverse times acted at the Globe, and at the Blackfriars by his Majesties Servants” highlighting its popularity.
Today’s audience:
  • Today, Othello is still a popular text due to the universal themes that are explored in it.
  • It has been played in the theatres across the globe, including South Africa (starring John Kani), Washington DC with an all-black cast, and military bases in Britain.
  • The text has also been adapted in numerous films like “A Double Life” (1947) – Film noir by George Cukor”Othello” (1951) or Tragedy film by Orson Welles.
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Written by Tammy Dang

Tammy is a former student of Matrix and is now studying Law / Media (Screen and Sound Production) at UNSW. She is a Digital Content Writer for the Matrix Education blog. Tammy aspires to become a lawyer in the future while continuing to run her art business.

 

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