March Curriculum Conversation: Shakespeare’s Othello: Masks of Deception

Friday, March 11, 2016

On March 20, 2009 IWT offered the first in a series of Curriculum Conversations on cross-disciplinary approaches to teaching canonical texts through diverse writing-to-learn practices. Although writing to learn and writing to read are by now familiar instructional strategies, their use in the classroom remains challenging, especially when applied to familiar texts in the secondary and college curriculum.

Shakespeare’s Othello, written approximately in 1603, is a play that continues to hold center stage in many classrooms today. Perhaps this is because Othello wrestles with themes that are still very much a part of our lives: racism, treachery, jealousy, revenge, and love (among others). In Act I, Scene III, Iago says, “Tis in ourselves that we are thus or thus,” reminding readers that as humans, we are ultimately responsible for our own experiences and have the power to control our own actions. Yet more often than not, the characters in this play behave in ways that cause pain, violence, and heartbreak.

Why does Iago mislead Othello so cruelly? How does treachery and betrayal—real and imagined—flourish in a society where insidious remarks can prompt terrible acts of violence? Why is Othello so susceptible to Iago’s defamation of Desdemona? And what role does Othello’s “otherness” play in these inquiries? Can Othello be read in ways that have yet to be explored in our classrooms? What can Othello teach us about our own contemporary situation? This Curriculum Conversation will address these questions as we explore and grapple with a text that has engaged readers for generations.

IWT Curriculum Conversations foster innovative approaches to teaching and reading texts that contribute to our contemporary sense of an evolving self. Using writing-to-learn strategies, the day’s workshops will focus on Othello and encourage participants to investigate a variety of questions and topics:

  • The origins and rituals of violence and male bonding within the urban culture of Renaissance Italy
  • Attitudes toward race and male/female relationships in 16th-century Italy
  • Contemporary adaptations of Othello—Just how much “contemporary” is too much? When do adaptations of the play violate the integrity of the work?
  • Bringing the work of the workshop into our classrooms and to other plays and literature.

Writing-to-learn practices are the starting point for a rigorous reading of the text through the lens of contemporary and historical nonfiction, fiction, and poetry.


Participants are asked to read Othello before coming to the workshop.  Check this page for updates on which edition will be used in the workshop.

Fee: $350 for tuition, morning coffee, lunch, and materials. The early-bird workshop fee is $300; the deadline for early registration is February 11, 2015.  IWT encourages teachers from the same school to participate by offering a 10 percent discount to schools sending a team of three or more teachers to any of the workshops.

Cancellation Policy: No refunds can be given for cancellations made later than a week before the event.

All workshops take place at Bard College on Friday, March 11, 2016, from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Check-in is from 8:30 to 9:15 a.m.