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Othello: Essay Questions

A list of potential essay questions to form revision and speed planning practice

Jealousy is at the core of all the tragic events that occur in Othello.’ In the light of this statement, explore the dramatic function of jealousy in Shakespeare’s play. In your answer, you must consider relevant contextual factors.

‘Despite his suffering, Othello learns nothing.’ In the light of this statement, explore Shakespeare’s presentation of Othello in the play. In your answer, you must consider relevant contextual factors.

‘Othello depicts a world riddled with corruption and prejudice’. In the light of this statement, explore Shakespeare’s presentation of the values of the world in which the play is set. In your answer, you must consider relevant contextual factors.

‘Irony is a powerful device that Shakespeare uses to heighten the tragedy of Othello.’ In the light of this statement, discuss Shakespeare’s use of irony in the play. In your answer, you must consider relevant contextual factors

‘Othello’s foolishness, as much as Iago’s cleverness, is responsible for the tragedy that unfolds.’ In the light of this statement, explore where responsibility for the tragedy might lie. In your answer, you must consider relevant contextual factors.

‘The settings in Othello are not just times and places in which action happens: they are deeply symbolic and add greatly to the meaning of the play as a whole.’ In the light of this statement, explore Shakespeare’s use of settings in the play. In your answer, you must consider relevant contextual factors.

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Othello: Study Guide for GCSE English Literature

With key themes of love, loyalty, jealousy and power, Othello: The Moor of Venice , is about as close as Shakespeare gets to classical tragedy and its twisting intrigue will have your students gripped. Unpick every startling scene with this comprehensive resource offering targeted, detailed notes and analysis to lead students through the play.

  • Walkthrough – Build understanding of the chosen text with insightful and relevant commentary and analysis. All scenes are concisely summarised, then examined in detail.
  • Whole-text Analysis – Explores: Characterisation • Relationships • Setting • Themes • Ideas and Messages • Language • Form • Structure • Context
  • Student-friendly plot summary
  • Key term glossary
  • Further reading
  • Original illustrations

Woven into the analysis throughout you will find:

  • Discussion prompts to encourage debate and individual interpretation
  • Active learning tasks to deepen understanding
  • Essay tips and questions for excellent exam practice
  • Key term definitions to ensure students grasp difficult concepts

Suggested answers are provided for questions and activities.

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What do teachers say about this resource (11309).

A well organised resource that does what it says on the tin: it gives a good overview of the play which would help any pupil make sense of what happens in the play as a whole and also understand some of the overarching framework such as themes, relationships, context and form and structure... I liked the regular questions, discussion prompts and debate bubbles at the end of each scene. These gave regular checking points to help pupils consolidate their understanding of the text... I thought the summary, analysis and information given on the play was well pitched at the correct level to support GCSE pupils... The educational value of this resource lies in the support that it would give to pupils. It would be a perfect companion to studying Othello in the classroom. Pupils could use it to check their understanding of any sections they were unclear of; equally, teachers could use the resource and set certain sections as homework for pupils to read ahead or cover a scene that they were not able to look at in the classroom... A very thorough resource which would be perfect to support GCSE pupils. It would greatly help pupils by giving them a good reference resource they could access to help consolidate their knowledge of the text as they studied it in the classroom. J Hathaway, Head of English & Peer Reviewer
  • GCSE 9-1 Eduqas English Literature (QC720)
  • GCSE English Literature Study Guide
  • GCSE WJEC English Literature (3720)
  • William Shakespeare

othello essay gcse

William Shakespeare

Everything you need for every book you read..

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on William Shakespeare's Othello . Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Othello: Introduction

Othello: plot summary, othello: detailed summary & analysis, othello: themes, othello: quotes, othello: characters, othello: symbols, othello: literary devices, othello: quizzes, othello: theme wheel, brief biography of william shakespeare.

Othello PDF

Historical Context of Othello

Other books related to othello.

  • Full Title: The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice
  • When Written: c. 1603
  • Where Written: England
  • When Published: 1622
  • Literary Period: The Renaissance
  • Genre: Tragedy
  • Setting: Venice and Cyprus
  • Climax: The murder of Desdemona, by Othello
  • Antagonist: Iago

Extra Credit for Othello

Moor or less? In Elizabethan England, the term "Moor" could be used to refer to a wide range of non-European persons, including black Africans, North Africans, Arabs, and even Indians. References to Othello's origins throughout the play are contradictory and ambiguous Iago calls Othello a "Barbary horse" (1.1.110); Barbary was an area in Africa between Egypt and the Atlantic Ocean. Roderigo , however, calls him "thick-lips" (1.1.65-6), suggesting that he may come from further south on the African continent. Brabantio calls him "sooty" (1.2.70); Othello, along with numerous other characters, refers to himself as "black." It is impossible to know now exactly what Shakespeare or his audience would have thought a "Moor" is.

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Othello Essay

Othello Essay

Subject: English

Age range: 11-14

Resource type: Lesson (complete)

English GCSE and English KS3 resources

Last updated

20 February 2022

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othello essay gcse

Othello assessment resource designed to ease KS3 students towards answering GCSE English Literature questions, particularly for Paper 2 and Shakespeare. Includes an assessment task, indicative content, activities around exploring the extract, writing introductions and conclusions, writing frames and more.

Designed for KS3 English students, this lesson supports those working towards GCSE English Literature exams. Differentiated throughout and includes engaging tasks, success criteria, web links and more.

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Othello complete scheme of work that includes 15 lesson packs, a six week homework pack with differentiated activities, an escape room for revision and an assessment and planning resource. Perfect for KS3 English study but easily adaptable for other age groups. Includes differentiated activities, engaging resources and extensive teacher and student notes. 1) Shakespeare Introduction (Comedy, History, Tragedy) 2) Othello Introduction (Act 1 Scene 1) 3) Brabantio, Iago and Roderigo language and context 4) Desdemona lesson on first meeting her 5) Language analysis and analytical paragraphs 6) Iago's soliloquy analysis and context 7) Dramatic irony lesson 8) Iago's soliloquies and plans 9) Act 3 lesson exploring language 10) Act 3 Scene 3 lesson looking at how Othello is manipulated 11) Act 4 lesson exploring character 12) Desdemona lesson on Act 4 Scene 3 13) Act 4 and 5 lesson exploring foreshadowing and imagery 14) Ending lesson focusing on the end of the play and tragedy as a genre 15) Writing your own Shakespearean tragedy lesson 16) Six week homework pack 17) Assessment and planning resource 18) Escape room for recapping plot, characters, context and themes 19) Scheme of work document

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Othello Exam Questions

First of all let’s look at the broad categories questions usually fall into:

You must be able to discuss the following when it comes to  characters :

  • a tragic hero? (does he recognise his flaws and gain self-knowledge?)
  • his nobility (is he a good man?) / strengths & weaknesses / virtues & flaws
  • his relationship with Desdemona & treatment of her
  • his manipulation by Iago and transformation into a jealous brute
  • the extent to which he is responsible for the tragedy which occurs at the end of the play
  • our level of sympathy for him
  • the real ‘hero’ of the action?
  • flaws and virtues?
  • his motivation
  • how he controls & manipulates all of the action/characters
  • too good to be true or a believable character?
  • dramatic function in the play?

Emilia / Bianca:

  • Emilia’s dramatic function in the play
  • foils to Desdemona – worldly and cynical rather than pure and innocent
  • add variety to Shakespeare’s presentation of women & his exploration of their position in society
  • symbol of goodness
  • extent to which he contributes to the tragedy

All characters:

  • contrast the extremes of good and evil presented in the characters in the play
  • the play is very pessimistic about human nature
  • the play is very pessimistic about human relationships

The major  themes  in the play are:

  • Revenge / Power
  • Good vs Evil
  • Appearance vs Reality (Deception/Manipulation)
  • Love & Hate / Loyalty & Betrayal
  • Women’s position in society

For each theme – no matter what the wording – ask yourself

  • WHO  does this theme apply to?
  • HOW / WHY  does this character have to deal with this issue?
  • Do they  CHANGE  over the course of the play?
  • Are there any  SCENES  which highlight this theme specifically?
  • What are our  FINAL IMPRESSIONS  of this issue?

OPEN QUESTIONS:

  • Relevance to a modern audience
  • Pessimistic play

STYLE QUESTIONS:

  • Language & Imagery
  • Dramatic Irony
  • Compelling Drama – scene or scenes

SAMPLE QUESTIONS

Othello & Iago:

 “ Othello’s foolishness, rather than Iago’s cleverness, leads to the tragedy of Shakespeare’s Othello ” (2008)

“ It is Othello’s egotism and lack of self-knowledge, and not Iago’s evil schemes, which ultimately bring about the tragedy at the end of the play “

“ Othello is arrogant, impulsive and violent. While Iago sets up the conditions for tragedy to occur, it is Othello, ultimately, who we must hold responsible for the tragic events which unfold “

“ A combination of Iago’s skill, Othello’s weakness and a measure of good luck, bring about the tragedy in Othello “

“ Iago cannot be blamed for the deaths of Desdemona and Othello “

“ We cannot blame Othello for being fooled by Iago. Everyone else in the play, including Iago’s wife, believes that he  is honest and true “

“ Othello and Iago are both egotists, obsessed with proving how clever and capable they are, and hell bent on revenge when they feel they have been wronged “

“Othello is the principal agent of his own downfall” (1994)

“ Othello is essentially a noble character, flawed by insecurity & a nature that is naive & unsophisticated ” (1990)

“ Othello is a good man who is skilfully manipulated by Iago. For this reason, despite his credulousness, we continue to feel sorry for him “

“ Iago’s schemes succeed, not because Othello is weak, but because he is so noble “

“ Othello is a noble hero who loses, but ultimately regains our sympathy “

“ We do not approve of Othello’s behaviour, yet we nonetheless pity him “

“ Othello is not a tragic hero; he is a gullible fool “

“ Othello is not a tragic hero. He never really takes responsibility for his errors of character and judgement”

“ Despite his suffering, Othello learns little of himself or of human relationships “

To what extent do you agree with Othello’s assessment of himself as an “ honourable murderer ” who “ loved not wisely but too well “?

“ The collapse of Othello and Desdemona’s marriage is the real tragedy of this play “

“ Iago is the real hero of Shakespeare’s play Othello ”

“ Iago is a likable villain ”

“ Iago is motivated by jealousy of others good fortune and by a lust for power ”

“Iago is a charming villain, but it is difficult to understand his motivation”

“ Iago is an evil villain with no redeeming qualities “

“ While we are repulsed by Iago’s evil, we are fascinated by his ingenuity “

“ Iago is the most evil but also the most fascinating character in the play Othello”

“ Desdemona is not a credible character, she is an unrealistic saint who does nothing to try and prevent her fate ”

“ Desdemona is a woman, not an angel; she lives and loves with her whole person, both body and soul ”

“ Desdemona’s dramatic function in the play is to act as a symbol of purity, innocence and goodness but this means that her behaviour is not always entirely believable ”

“ Desdemona and Iago are at opposite poles in the play, Othello, the one representing pure love, the other hate incarnate “. (1986)

Emilia / Bianca: 

Discuss the importance of the character Emilia in the play as a whole. (1994)

“ Women are not presented in a very positive light in Shakespeare’s Othello “

“ Cassio may be a ‘proper man’ but he is also an honest fool whose weakness plays no small part in the tragic death of Desdemona ”

“ Shakespeare’s play Othello demonstrates the weakness of human judgement ” (2008)

“ Shakespeare’s Othello presents the very best and the very worst in human nature ”

“ Shakespeare’s Othello presents us with a dark and pessimistic view of human nature”

“Shakespeare’s Othello presents us with a dark and pessimistic view of human relationships”

“ In the play Othello, naive, innocent characters are no match for the evil machinations of the world weary Iago “

“ The destructive power of jealousy is dramatically presented in Shakespeare’s play Othello ”

“ Shakespeare’s Othello is concerned not so much with jealousy, as with misunderstanding ”

“ Shakespeare’s play Othello powerfully portrays a world dominated by jealousy and revenge”

“ Evil ultimately conquers good in Shakespeare’s play Othello ”

“In Shakespeare’s play Othello, we witness a profound inability to distinguish between appearances and reality”

“ Appearances do not mask a sinister reality in this play, yet Iago manages to convince every character that there is more going on than meets the eye”

“ Love and hate are presented as opposite sides of the same coin in Shakespeare’s play Othello ”

“ Shakespeare’s Othello initially questions, but then confirms racist stereotypes ”

“ The role and status of women is dramatically explored in Shakespeare’s Othello”

Open questions:

“Shakespeare’s Othello remains relevant for a modern audience”

“ Despite the striking portrayals of goodness and nobility, the play Othello leaves the audience with a sense of dismal despair ”

Style questions:

“ Image of animals, images of storm and images of heaven and hell predominate in Othello ” (1990)

 “ Irony is a powerful dramatic device used by Shakespeare to heighten the tragic dimension of his play Othello ” (1998)

Othello contains many scenes of compelling drama. Choose one scene which you found particularly compelling and discuss why you found it so.

One response to “ Othello Exam Questions ”

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Aspects of tragedy - exemplar student response and commentary

Below you will find an exemplar student response to a Section B question in the specimen assessment materials, followed by an examiner commentary on the response.

Paper 1A, Section B -  Othello

Sample question.

'Othello's virtue and valour ultimately make him admirable.'

To what extent do you agree with this view?

Remember to include in your answer relevant comment on Shakespeare's dramatic methods.

Band 5 response

It is true that in Act 1 of the play, Othello's actions and behaviour, his virtue and valour can be seen as admirable. He is after all a tragic hero, and his position in the tragedy demands that he begins in a position of greatness before he suffers his tragic fall. Shakespeare establishes Othello's greatness through focusing on his military prowess and his valour at the start of the play before charting his hero's descent as he tumbles into chaos. Othello is a soldier for whom the 'big wars' make 'ambition virtue'.  By Act 3, however, there is little in him to admire: his valour belongs to a seemingly different world and there is nothing virtuous about a husband who colludes in a plot to destroy his wife.

Although Iago is used by Shakespeare at the start of the play to cast doubt on the magnificence of Othello and to test his virtue, when Othello appears he is impressive. Iago tries to persuade him to run away from the raised father whose daughter Othello has married, but Othello has full confidence in himself and the virtue of his actions. In rhythmic and controlled language he tells Iago he must be found: 'My parts, my title, and my perfect soul/ Shall manifest me rightly'. Although it could be claimed that this smacks of arrogance, Othello commands the stage and perhaps the audience's admiration. When Brabantio comes with bad intent, accusing Othello of theft and witchcraft, Othello is unperturbed; he tells his pursuers and accusers to put up their swords for the dew will rust them; they shall command more with their years than their weapons. His measured language is a sign of his confidence, self-discipline and virtue.

When Othello appears before the Duke he is equally impressive. Shakespeare uses the senators to counteract Iago's attempts to defame Othello, by having them refer to the general as 'valiant' (reminding us of his exploits in the field) and the Duke anyway has more interest to employ Othello against the general enemy Ottoman than listen to Brabantio's claims of sorcery. Even so, Othello's virtuous defence of himself and his love for Desdemona is all the more admirable (and certainly from a feminist perspective) because he asks that Desdemona be called to speak for herself. If Othello is found foul in her report, he says, the Duke should not only take away his trust and office but that sentence should fall upon his life. By twenty first century standards, Othello's affording Desdemona a voice and showing her unwavering respect, is virtuous indeed. There is also perhaps something if not admirable then at least mesmerising in his declaration of love and his story of how he wooed her:

                             She loved me for the dangers I had passed,

                             And I loved her that she did pity them.

However, when Shakespeare shifts the scene to Cyprus and the influence of the Venetian state diminishes, Iago, the tragic villain, is able to work his poison on Othello and expose his weaknesses, those aspects of his character that are far from virtuous. Othello's trust in Iago, the ancient he overlooked for lieutenant, shows a terrible lack of judgement. Iago persuades him that Cassio is unworthy and then that Desdemona is unfaithful and from the point that Iago says 'I like not that', Othello's insecurities, raging jealousy and barbaric inclinations are exposed. Having swallowed Iago's poison, Othello damns Desdemona, threatening to 'tear her all to pieces'. It is interesting here to note the dramatic contrast Shakespeare sets up between Othello and the Duke. In Act 1, in Venice, when the Duke is called upon to exercise judgement, he listens to both the accounts of Brabantio and Othello. Here in Cyprus at the outpost of civilization, Othello listens only to the lies of Iago.

There is dramatic contrast too in the different ways Othello speaks. Othello's earlier speeches which contain so much gravitas are now worn down. His love, 'the fountain from the which [his] current runs' is degraded into a 'cistern for foul toads/ to knot and gender in'. He falls under Iago's spell, pulled into the orbit of Iago's filthy linguistic energies and there is not much that is virtuous about his behaviour from now onwards and not much to admire.

His humiliation and public striking of Desemona and his cruel murder of her are all too terrible to forget in the final judgement of him. It is true that when he strikes her there are reminders of his valour and virtue in Lodovico's surprise that he could have misjudged Othello's character so greatly in thinking him good, but these reminders simply intensify the repugnance felt at Othello's actions.  It is also impossible to admire the man who strangles his wife believing that he is an honourable murderer. His pride at enacting the hand of Justice makes him detestable – at a point when he hesitiates, he blames her balmy breath for almost persuading Justice to break its sword.

His final speech, when he perhaps understands the appalling consequences of his folly, is seen by some critics as cathartic, a return of the virtuous and valiant Othello of Act 1. Interestingly, in this speech when he judges himself (and tries to shape how others might think), Othello seems to underplay the significance of his valour and contribution to the state. Though he reminds his stage audience that he has done the state some service, he quickly says 'no more of that'. However, it is clear that as the speech goes on, his assessment of himself is ultimately coloured by his pride and his highly developed sense of self worth and, although he has some dignity, there is not ultimately much honour. His concern at the end is for his public image and, as he has done from the start, he uses language to construct an artifice of his own identity.  He speaks of himself as if he were legendary or part of a defined myth. The use of the definite article is instrumental in achieving this effect – 'the base Indian', 'the Arabian trees'; only fragments of detail are supplied here but he conveys the idea that these images are huge and famous. His final speech is calm and controlled, but it reaches a crescendo of dramatic impact when he does the most dramatic thing he can do, transferring his construction of his identity of himself into the here and now, and suddenly and climactically ends his life. This is the self dramatizing that Leavis so condemns.

So, while it is true that from the moment Othello first appears he is attractive, by ever increasing degrees as the plot develops, he becomes repellent. As we stand back to make our final judgement on whether his valour and virtue ultimately make him admirable, it is surely not possible to overlook his despicable behaviour. What perhaps should be done in the final evaluation is to reconsider the nature of his virtue and valour at the start of the play and question whether it was always founded on sand. From his words early on 'I fetch my life and bearing/ from men of royal siege' to his final words of the play, 'to die upon a kiss' his sense of his own significance is overwhelming.  Othello is certainly not 'ultimately' admirable and the question must be asked, is he ever?  

It is also important to note that even when he is most glorious – and apparently admirable, there are many who cannot countenance his 'pride, pomp and circumstance'.

Examiner commentary

This is a very confident and accomplished response, and although the ideas are a bit overpacked at times and the argument a little overdone, the candidate writes in an assured way.

The response is well structured and the task is always in the candidate's mind. The candidate argues perceptively with a strong and assured personal voice. There is a confident use of literary critical concepts and terminology and the written expression is very secure. Quotation is neatly woven into the argument.

There is perceptive understanding that Shakespeare has constructed this drama to shape meanings. Comment here is often implicit, but there is valid discussion of the structure of the play in relation to the task and on language choices.

Contextual understanding is clear with a sharp focus on military and gender contexts. These are well linked to the tragic genre.

As the candidate fully engages with the task and valour and virtue, there is perceptive exploration of the tragic genre thereby implicitly establishing connections across literary texts.

There is perceptive and confident engagement with the debate here and the candidate clearly knows the text well and selects appropriate material for the argument. The candidate is really thinking about the task and offers some complexity in the answer, well aware of the ambiguities that the play and task set up.

This response seems consistent with the band 5 descriptors.

This resource is part of the Aspects of tragedy resource package .

Document URL https://www.aqa.org.uk/resources/english/as-and-a-level/english-literature-b/teach/tragedy-b-exemplar-student-response-commentary-band-5

Last updated 16 Dec 2022

COMMENTS

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    Shakespeare uses dialogue to convey the innerworkings of his characters. 3. Othello is often called a tragic hero. Discuss his heroic qualities as well as his flaws which lead to his demise. At the beginning of the play Othello is presented as an honorable man of noble stature and high position.

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    References to Othello's origins throughout the play are contradictory and ambiguous Iago calls Othello a "Barbary horse" (1.1.110); Barbary was an area in Africa between Egypt and the Atlantic Ocean. Roderigo, however, calls him "thick-lips" (1.1.65-6), suggesting that he may come from further south on the African continent. Brabantio calls him ...

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    Othello assessment resource designed to ease KS3 students towards answering GCSE English Literature questions, particularly for Paper 2 and Shakespeare. Includes an assessment task, indicative content, activities around exploring the extract, writing introductions and conclusions, writing frames and more. Designed for KS3 English students, this ...

  15. Othello Revision Notes

    Both Othello and Iago feel jealous because they have lost possession of something they held dear. Emilia assesses that it is monstrous, destroys love, honour and nobility in those it afflicts. Quotes on Jealousy…. "A jealousy so strong that judgement cannot cure" - Iago. "Good God, the souls of all my tribe defend from jealousy" - Iago.

  16. Othello Exam Questions

    Othello: "Othello is the principal agent of his own downfall" (1994) " Othello is essentially a noble character, flawed by insecurity & a nature that is naive & unsophisticated " (1990) " Othello is a good man who is skilfully manipulated by Iago. For this reason, despite his credulousness, we continue to feel sorry for him ".

  17. Othello essay plans Flashcards

    Othello essay plans. use of power and powerlessness. Click the card to flip 👆. Conflict between what power represents and what represents power, Iago lives through the fictions he has fabricated, sets in motion the representation of power. -Iago's godlike sense of power, fades towards end (loses voice)?, reaches peak in climax (his power ...

  18. Aspects of tragedy

    Band 5 response. It is true that in Act 1 of the play, Othello's actions and behaviour, his virtue and valour can be seen as admirable. He is after all a tragic hero, and his position in the tragedy demands that he begins in a position of greatness before he suffers his tragic fall. Shakespeare establishes Othello's greatness through focusing ...

  19. Othello themes essay

    GCSE English. Themes in Othello. Jealousy is a major theme of the play. The imagery surrounding jealousy makes it a monster which controls the characters. Othello represents how jealousy is one of the most corrupting and destructive of emotions. "Othello jealousy overpowers him, as he trembles, at the idea of Desdemona and Cassio together.

  20. Essay on 'Othello'

    GCSE Coursework Essay on 'Othello'. A tragic event is a disastrous and dreadful event. A tragedy is usually when someone is killed. A hero is usually a man who is courageous and displays noble qualities; he is perceived by people to be very muscular and strong. So a tragic hero is a person who is an exceptional person, but has a fatal flaw.

  21. Othello essay

    Othello or the moor (as many Venetians called him) is the tragic hero of this play; as he is the main character in the play and the one the ends up ruining his admirable life because of his own weaknesses. Othello has three main flaws that bring about his demise, these three 'vulnerabilities' are; Othello has poor judgment when it comes to ...