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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: Over the next few days, we’ll be hearing from Dr. Abigail Rokison-Woodall, from The Shakespeare Institute, as she explores the treatment of women in the play. There are three named roles for women in Othello– Desdemona, Emilia, and Bianca. These roles are open to so many interpretations, each depending on the context of the production. Focusing on the role and treatment of women in the play, Abigail will be looking at critical responses to the three central female characters throughout the play’s performance history.

Skip to 0 minutes and 44 seconds Then she’ll also consider the context of women in the Renaissance period and how this compares to the characters we see in the text, then the portrayal of the female characters in performance and how this has changed and developed over the years. And lastly, Abigail will explore the way in which the women are portrayed in the RSC’s current production, specifically looking at Act Four, Scene Three, with Iqbal Khan and the acting company. As you work through this week, consider the questions that Abigail puts forward. Is Desdemona really responsible for her own downfall? How much is dictated by performance choices or by the text? What interpretations of the female characters seem most accurate to you and why?

Skip to 1 minute and 38 seconds And don’t forget to get involved in the discussion boards and let us know what you think. I really hope you enjoy discovering more about the different interpretations of the role of women. And again, I’ll join you in a week’s time to take forward to our conversation.


Welcome to Week 3 of the course where we will be exploring the role of women in Shakespeare’s Othello both in the text itself, throughout its performance history and in the RSC’s 2015 production.

Over the week Dr Abigail Rokison-Woodall from the University of Birmingham’s Shakespeare Institute will be exploring the roles of women in the play, examining the changing critical perspectives on the three main roles for women in the text and considering the characters and language that have built our expectations of them.

You will also get the chance to take a closer look at the willow scene, Act 4 Scene 3, which has already been discussed as one of the frequently edited scenes in the play. As part of this you will hear insights from the RSC 2015 acting company and director Iqbal Khan.

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This video is from the free online course:

Othello: In Performance

University of Birmingham