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This content is taken from the University of Birmingham & Royal Shakespeare Company's online course, Othello: In Performance. Join the course to learn more.

Skip to 0 minutes and 6 seconds JACQUI O’HANLON: Welcome to Othello, In Performance, and online course created by the Royal Shakespeare Company, the University of Birmingham, and the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. I’m Jacqui O’Hanlon, Director of Education at the RSC and your lead educator for this course. Over the next four weeks, we will be exploring there are many ways in which Othello has been performed and interpreted here at the RSC. This week, I will be joined by the other educators and expert voices talking about the play as a whole, responding to a very simple question that we often start within rehearsals, which is, what’s this play actually about? The answers to that question are as varied as the possible interpretations of the play.

Skip to 0 minutes and 51 seconds In the following weeks, we will go on to explore three central themes in the play. First of all, race with Dr. Nick Walton from the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, then the role of women with Dr. Abigail Rokison-Woodall from the Shakespeare Institute, and finally, tragedy with Dr. Anjna Chouhan from the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. Each week, we will focus on one of those themes, examining how they have each been explored in different interpretations of the play and ultimately considering the relevance of Othello to our world today. So returning to the question we are exploring this week, what is the play Othello actually about? Well, as with any of Shakespeare’s plays, Othello means lots of different things to different people.

Skip to 1 minute and 44 seconds The play is first believed to have been performed in 1604. And the context in which it would have been seen by audiences then is, of course, very different. King James had very recently come on to the English throne, following the death of Elizabeth. And the first recorded performance of Othello given in the court of King James. So in exploring the many different kinds of meaning that can be drawn out from the play, we will look specifically at people– the characters we meet in the play and the significance of their relationships with each other.

Skip to 2 minutes and 17 seconds We’ll give a special focus to Iago, as a driving force throughout the play and perhaps the character most likely to divide opinion in terms of understanding motivation for his actions. Then we’ll look at places– the different settings Shakespeare uses in the play and their significance for both his original audiences and audiences today. And lastly, we’ll consider perspectives– the different ways in which the play has been interpreted over time, what kind of lens has been used in the past to see the play through. Throughout this week, I will be posing various questions to help you think about how productions of Othello, both in the past and now, might explore those ideas.

Skip to 2 minutes and 57 seconds And I really look forward to hearing your thoughts and reflections on our discussion boards.


Welcome to Week 1 of the course where we will be looking at a question that is often grappled with in rehearsal: what is Othello all about? As part of this we will be looking at four different elements of the play: the context of its publication, the people or characters in the text, the places or settings and the different perspectives that it can be viewed through.

Over the week Jacqui O’Hanlon from the Royal Shakespeare Company will be exploring this topic, alongside the other course educators and the RSC acting company.

You will also get the chance to hear from Professor Michael Dobson from the Shakespeare Institute, who will be looking in detail at the settings of the play and their significance and RSC Artistic Director Gregory Doran who will be looking in more detail at the choices he made when directing the play for the RSC in 2004.

Before continuing with the week you may want to take visit the RSC’s homepage on Othello to think about what happens in the play and to recap on the events in the text.

If you are new to FutureLearn you may like to take a look at our quick start guide. You might also like to read these tips and tools for social learning, to you help you get the most from FutureLearn’s features.

You are free to learn at your own pace, but we encourage the conversation to happen around the current week’s activities. If you still haven’t completed the course at the end of the final week, don’t worry! The course materials will remain open to you on the site indefinitely.

To gain the most from the course you are encouraged to visit the profiles of the course leaders and to consider following them on FutureLearn. This will make it easy for you to see their comments in your activity feed and when using the ‘Following’ filter in discussions.

Jacqui O’Hanlon (Lead Educator)
Michael Dobson
Gregory Doran
Nick Walton

Finally, what brings you to this course on Othello? Tell the other learners about yourself in the Comments at the bottom of this step.

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This video is from the free online course:

Othello: In Performance

University of Birmingham