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ENG 205 - Othello

1. Getting Started

Exclamation PointFirst Things First - Assignment Requirements

Before you begin work on any research project, examine the assignment closely for any requirements. 

Q. How long is the paper? 

Your paper should be 4-5 pages long.

Q. How many sources?

You should have a minimum of 4 sources: your primary source, Othello, plus 3-4 secondary sources.

Q. What kind of sources?

You should use the text of Othello as your primary source. Options of secondary sources include: literary criticism books, historical books, eBooks, or library database sources.

You may not use secondary sources found on the open internet.

Q. How do you cite sources?

Use MLA format for your citations. You may want to remind yourself what information you need to create the MLA Works Cited page and in-text citations.

Q. What is due?

What do you have to turn in? Is it just a paper? Are there other pieces like a rough draft, outline, summary, reading response, a tutorial, etc.  Make note of all the parts of the assignment and create a checklist to make sure you don't leave anything out.

Q. When is it due?

How long do you have to work on this project? Is there one due date for everything or are there multiple due dates for different parts of the assignment?  Plan out your time, so you don't get stuck doing all the work at the last minute. Plan extra time in case you have problems or get stuck.

Q. What other requirements should you make note of? 

Are there requirements to include a certain number of quotes or paraphrases? Do you need to have a certain number of paragraphs? Make note of any other requirements on the assignment sheet, and ask your instructor for clarification on any parts you're not sure about.

Selecting a Topic

The first thing you need to do before you begin a research project is to select a topic that you're going to write about. Consider the following:

Q. Do you have a choice?

Choose one of the following essay topics:

  1. TRAGIC HERO: There are several characteristics that define a tragic hero. Support or refute the character of Othello as a tragic hero. Be sure to identify three traits that label a hero as tragic, and discuss how you perceive Othello to fit into that molding.
  2. FEMINIST EMILIA: Agree, disagree, or qualify: Emilia is a feminist prototype. She represents progressive, enlightened womanhood.
  3. HANDKERCHIEF: It has been say that Othello "is a play about a handkerchief." How far do you agree or disagree with this viewpoint. What ideas of your own do you have about this?
  4. IAGO--MASTER OR FOOL? "Iago is able to manipulate his victims so skillfully because he thinks in the same terms they do" (Camille Wells Sighs 1997).

"Iago...is fooled by the way his plans run away with him, he fails in knowledge of others and perhaps even of his own desires" (William Empson 1951).

Do you agree with one, both, or neither of these viewpoints? Give your own ideas about Iago's character and role within the play as part of your answer.

  1. HONEST, HONEST IAGO: The word honest is used, in some form fifty-two times throughout the play--frequently about Iago. "What Shakespeare hated in the word, I believe, was a peculiar use...which was then common among raffish low people" (William Empson 1951).

Discuss this view and your own ideas about the uses of the word and its various effects on the audience.

  1. BLACK RAMS/WHITE YEWS: Othello is a drama that explores the contrast between light and dark, between black and white, physically and metaphorically. Discuss these elements of drama where they occur, who or what they apply to, and what the audience learns about human nature and prejudice.
  2. DESDEMONA'S DEFENDER: As Desdemona's confidante and staunch defender, Emilia emerges at the end of the drama as a tragic heroine. How and to what extent do you agree or disagree with this statement?
  3. STRONG DESDEMONA: Agree, disagree, or qualify: Desdemona is not a wimp. She is a soldier's wife and fit to be so. She has good sense, stubbornness, and courage. She can stand up to Othello for the sake of what she thinks is right, even when he is in a dangerous mood and few people would care to face him.
  4. Other topics: come up with your own original essay idea based upon the elements of drama, a comparison of the text with a particular film version, or some other creative way of looking at this timeless tragedy. How is Othello still relevant in the world today?

Q. Do you have an interest?

If you have a choice on what topic you can choose, consider which one you find the most interesting.  Which topic do you think would be the easiest to research? Which topic would you have the most to say about?

Q. Are there sources?

Before you totally commit to a topic, you'll want to make sure that there are enough outside sources on the topic for your assignment. Not every topic is going to have information written about it. Newer topics or topics that aren't as well known may be harder to find sources for.  Do some searching in the library's databases to make sure there are sources, and Ask-A-Librarian to double-check if you're not sure there are enough sources for a topic you're really interested in.