Shakespeare’s Othello: The Moor
link Source: www.edx.org
list 4 sequences
assignment Level : Introductory
chat_bubble_outline Language : English
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Key Information

credit_card Free access
verified_user Fee-based Certificate
timer 20 hours in total

About the content

In this course, we'll read William Shakespeare’s Othello and discuss the play from a variety of perspectives. The goal of the course is not to cover everything that has been written on Othello. Rather, it is to find a single point of entry to help us think about the play as a whole. Our entry point is storytelling.

We'll look at the ways in which Shakespeare's characters tell stories within the play––about themselves, to themselves, and to each other. We'll consider, too, how actors, directors, composers, and other artists tell stories through Othello in performance. By focusing on storytelling, we can see how the play grapples with larger issues including power, identity, and the boundary between fact and fiction.

From lectures filmed on-location in Venice and conversations with artists, academics, and librarians at Harvard, students will have unprecedented access to a range of resources for "unlocking" Shakespeare's classic play.

  • Develop a critical stance on Othello and its protagonist, the “Moor of Venice,” through the central motif of storytelling.
  • Use primary sources, including sixteenth-century accounts of Africa and nineteenth- and twentieth-century performance artifacts, to evaluate the play in multiple historical contexts.
  • Looking at adaptations of the play from the nineteenth century to the present, evaluate Othello as a platform for conversations about race, gender, class, and nationality.

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Syllabus

Part 1: Story and Identity

In Part 1, we read Acts 1–2, considering the ways in which Othello represents himself to Desdemona and to the Venetian Senate through fantastic tales.

By the end of this unit, you will be able to:

  • Analyze Othello’s monologue in Act 1, Scene 3 and use it as a lens through which to view the play as a whole
  • Assess the way storytelling is associated with witchcraft, lying, and other subversive behavior, setting up the tragedy of Othello and Desdemona’s relationship
  • Understand the historical contexts for Shakespeare’s representations of Othello
  • Explore how Shakespeare transformed his sources in creating his character and the play as a whole

Part 2: Story as Fabrication

Part 2 brings us to Acts 3–4, where we see how Iago stages scenes to convince Othello that Desdemona is unfaithful.

By the end of this unit, you will be able to:

  • Compare and contrast Othello’s storytelling with Iago’s machinations to sabotage Othello and Desdemona’s relationship, considering the thin line the play draws between fiction and lying
  • Use Othello’s monologue in Act 4 to interpret the handkerchief, one of the play’s most central props/symbols
  • Evaluate the multiple meanings available in the play’s variant versions and their implications for performance
  • Discover how two famous African-American actors, among the first black actors to play Othello, interpreted the play and leveraged it for their own activism

Part 3: Operatic Othellos

Part 3 introduces us to Giuseppe Verdi's Otello and Mehmet Ali Sanlikol's Othello in the Seraglio.

By the end of this unit, you will be able to:

  • Delve into the history of operatic adaptations of Othello, beginning with the nineteenth-century Italian composers Verdi and Rossini
  • Discover Otello in the Seraglio, which transposes the play to the Ottoman court, revising the “orientalism” of both the play and its operas
  • Explore music as a means for telling Othello’s “story,” including representing gender, nationality, and race
  • Consider how adaptations bring new meaning to old texts through setting, language, medium, and other artistic choices

Part 4: Revisionist Othellos

In Part 4, we continue our study of Othello's afterlives with Toni Morrison's Desdemona and Keith Hamilton Cobb's American Moor.

By the end of this unit, you will be able to:

  • Weigh divergent feminist responses to Othello by Toni Morrison, Djanet Sears, Paula Vogel, and Ann-Marie MacDonald
  • Consider how genre becomes a tool for rewriting Othello from a female perspective
  • Encounter American Moor, a new play that dramatizes a black actor’s experience auditioning to play Othello
  • Evaluate why Othello provides continuing material for engaging issues surrounding race, gender, class, colonialism, and other topics
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Instructors

Stephen Greenblatt
Cogan University Professor of the Humanities
Harvard University

Bailey Sincox
Teaching Assistant
Harvard University

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Harvard University

Harvard University is a private Ivy League research university in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Established in 1636 and named for its first benefactor clergyman John Harvard, Harvard is the United States' oldest institution of higher learning, and its history, influence, and wealth have made it one of the world's most prestigious universities. The Harvard Corporation is its first chartered corporation. Although never formally affiliated with any denomination, the early College primarily trained Congregational and Unitarian clergy. Its curriculum and student body were gradually secularized during the 18th century, and by the 19th century, Harvard had emerged as the central cultural establishment among Boston elites. Following the American Civil War, President Charles W. Eliot's long tenure (1869–1909) transformed the college and affiliated professional schools into a modern research university; Harvard was a founding member of the Association of American Universities in 1900. A. Lawrence Lowell, who followed Eliot, further reformed the undergraduate curriculum and undertook aggressive expansion of Harvard's land holdings and physical plant. James Bryant Conant led the university through the Great Depression and World War II and began to reform the curriculum and liberalize admissions after the war. The undergraduate college became coeducational after its 1977 merger with Radcliffe College.

The university is organized into eleven separate academic units—ten faculties and the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study—with campuses throughout the Boston metropolitan area: its 209-acre (85 ha) main campus is centered on Harvard Yard in Cambridge, approximately 3 miles (5 km) northwest of Boston; the business school and athletics facilities, including Harvard Stadium, are located across the Charles River in the Allston neighborhood of Boston and the medical, dental, and public health schools are in the Longwood Medical Area. The endowment of Harvard's is worth $37.1 billion, making it the largest of any academic institution.

Harvard is a large, highly residential research university. The nominal cost of attendance is high, but the university's large endowment allows it to offer generous financial aid packages. The Harvard Library is the world's largest academic and private library system, comprising 79 individual libraries holding over 18 million items. The University is cited as one of the world's top tertiary institutions by various organizations.

Harvard's alumni include eight U.S. presidents, several foreign heads of state, 62 living billionaires, 359 Rhodes Scholars, and 242 Marshall Scholars. To date, some 157 Nobel laureates, 18 Fields Medalists, and 14 Turing Award winners have been affiliated as students, faculty, or staff. In addition, Harvard students and alumni have won 10 Academy Awards, 48 Pulitzer Prizes, and 108 Olympic medals (46 gold, 41 silver and 21 bronze).

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