Paper 3: Shakespeare’s Othello
Unlike your film proposal, which relied on your own adaptation of a story, your final research project will be a more traditional paper, focusing on Shakespeare’s Othello and developing critical argument or thesis that you will analyze and support with textual evidence from primary and secondary sources. Your paper will analyze some aspect of gender, race, or cultural beliefs through your interpretation of Othello, how Shakespeare dramatically presents these issues as a means to propose (advance) and/or to expose (challenge) them. This will be a documented paper that relies on your own interpretation of the play but also requires the incorporation of three secondary sources (see “Critical Sources and Paper Guidelines” below). Keep your focus narrow so that you can explore your thesis in detail by means of a thorough interpretation of your topic. You might think about a particular approach to your topic, applying a psychological, cultural, gender/feminist, or racial perspective.
Develop your critical thesis by selecting one of the five designated prompts on pages 3 and 4 of his assignment to serve as a framework for your paper (this is a requirement). We’ll analyze each of these prompts more thoroughly in online discussions. For now, think (and free-write) about what interests or challenges you in the play. As you read and reread, ask yourself questions to help develop a working thesis, one that positions your topic within other texts or contexts to explore your argument in a meaningful way. Consider what conflict or moral dilemma the play addresses, for example, how and in what way racial or gender stereotypes are presented and/or challenged in Othello.
There are several ways to approach your paper, but as noted above, you will need to keep your focus narrow in order to analyze your thesis in depth. Don’t just present a list of characters or a summary of events; instead develop an interpretation of the play that demonstrates the significance of your argument, what you believe Shakespeare hopes to show his audience as well as how conflicts or tensions in Othello relate to our world today. The last section of your paper (no more than one page) can reflect back on your own reading of Othello as you consider how it speaks to a particular issue in the twenty-first century.
As with other papers begin your critical thesis toward the end of your introduction and develop your focus through key points or sub-arguments (topic sentences) that serve as body paragraphs in support of the evidence and analysis you present. Although you are incorporating additional sources that will add to the depth of your reading, these should not overwhelm your own interpretation and voice.
Remember to title your paper – an original title! Also identify the prompt topic number for your paper under your name, course, and date listed on the upper left corner.
Critical Sources and Paper Guidelines
This paper requires that you engage critical sources, summarizing and paraphrasing main points, briefly quoting when appropriate and connecting key ideas from primary (Othello) and secondary critical sources as a means to enrich your own interpretation. In addition to your primary text – the play itself, as noted above, this paper requires the use of three academic sources as listed below.
• Primary Source: Shakespeare’s Othello (cite the edition used for your paper)
• One article from Bb folder: ‘Critical Articles on Othello’.
• One academic or peer-reviewed journal article on Othello downloaded from a CUNY database: Academic Search Complete, Humanities Source, Bloom’s Literature, Project Muse, JSTOR, Literature Resource Center from Gale, etc. (See Searching Databases English)
• One third secondary source that addresses the play directly or indirectly as you choose, for example a historical source on gender in early modern London, a theatrical guide or website, a film or documentary on the play, a current news event.
All sources must be cited in your paper (in-text citations) and on your Works Cited page using MLA format. Use sources to clarify your position: the intent of the paper is to inform your audience about your critical focus and perspective, but it is important that you think of your rhetorical purpose as something more than summarizing a list of secondary sources. Quotes should make up no more than 15% (at most 20%) of the paper as they highlight (not replace) a point you want to make.
Note: Do not use plot summaries, separate discussions of characterization, plot, or setting in place of a peer-reviewed journal article. There will be a menu tab on our Bb site for ‘Othello.’ This page will offer supporting materials for writing Paper 3, including a sample annotation, a sample paragraph with in-text citations and work cited plus guidelines for citing and documenting sources on Othello. You can also review “How to write about Othello” from Blooms Literature database. Make sure also to review definitions/examples for writing a thesis, also how to write a close reading, etc. Writing Centers offer helpful tips and tools for writing as well as writing resources/handouts to help with your paper.
For extra support with writing, please contact QCC’s Center for Tutoring and Academic Support: CTAS. QCC students can receive one-on-one tutoring live online for a number of courses as well as all writing assignments. Students may also submit writing assignments to Tiger Write. Students will receive a response with feedback from a writing tutor within 48 hours. CTAS has put together a collection of guides and resources to help you in your studies.
Paper Due: December 9 (for revision) to December 16 (final date to submit paper for credit). All papers must be uploaded to the Turnitin link on the Bb Assignment page. Please note: After December 9, I will not comment on papers for revision; also Paper 3 will not be accepted past December 16. (Make sure to check that I have received and can open your paper.)
Paper Length: five plus pages (1400-1800 plus words), typed and double-spaced, twelve-point font only. Use either New Times Roman or Garamond as your font– not bold or italicized. (The works cited page does not count toward the number of words for your paper.)
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See Prompt Topics (pages 3-4)
Prompt Topics (Required) for Paper: 3 Othello
Look over the prompts below and free-write on any one that appeals to you. These will also be used for informal assignments online. Select one prompt to serve as framework for your paper and make sure you state the number of the prompt on your final paper.
Although each prompt below asks several questions, these aren’t to be answered individually or in a list but rather to help you think about how to approach your main idea and point of view.
Remember to identify the prompt number you’ve chosen on the upper left corner of your final paper. Formatting your paper correctly and documenting in-text citations and your works cited correctly in MLA format count toward your paper grade.
1. Race and ‘Othering’: Explore how Shakespeare dramatizes private and public attitudes toward race in Othello as well how these attitudes affect characters, their beliefs, motivations, and actions. It’s best to select one character for this topic even as you consider the many facets of racial othering. For example, how and in what way do early modern views of race affect Othello’s character? In turn, how does race ultimately affect Othello’s view of himself and his treatment of Desdemona? Consider how other characters such as Iago (and Brabantio) contribute to undermining Othello’s self-confidence by focusing on his being not only a ‘Moor’ but also an outsider in Venice.
2. Women: In the play’s three couples, Othello and Desdemona, Iago and Emilia, and Cassio and Bianca, Shakespeare creates a kind of “structural ring” in which masculine and feminine gender roles are explored. Focusing on one, at most two, female characters, write an essay in which you discuss precisely how feminine gender roles are handled. You might begin asking whether you can identify a single role early modern women were expected to fulfill or whether you can instead identify an array of expectations. How are women treated in relation to these expectations? Are they treated in the same way by all male characters and how do they respond? Is any one woman representative of the feminine, or might it be helpful to consider Desdemona, Emilia, or Bianca as representing different attributes of the feminine?
Note: It you chose to write about the role of women in your paper, remember to create a clear argument and keep your focus narrow. Once again, select one or compare and contrast two female characters. You can still address feminine roles in general, but by limiting your focus you’ll be able to explore your topic in more depth.
3. Tragic Character: Review Aristotle’s definition of a tragic hero. Given his final action, why is Othello considered the tragic hero – (why is the play titled after him rather than Iago or even Desdemona?). Do you feel the same toward Othello from beginning to end? Trace your response to his character as it transforms, paying particular attention to significant scenes and to Othello’s final speech. How do changes in Othello’s character support a theme Shakespeare hopes to get across to his audience? What in your opinion, causes this change? Is Othello a victim of a racist ideology, an ‘outsider’ excluded from particular relationships in Venetian society yet called upon for his military prowess and value to Venice? While a victim of racial stereotypes, is Othello also influenced by misogynistic beliefs about women? Consider how these intersecting views make Othello more vulnerable to Iago’s manipulation and affect Othello’s transformation. (Another thought – might you consider another character to be the ‘tragic hero’ instead?)
4. Motivation and revenge: Although most all characters refer to “honest” Iago, we (the audience) are the only ones who are complicit in his scheme for revenge. What causes Iago’s deep-seated hatred, his need to deceive others and keep his own motives hidden from view? Is being given a lower position in service as Othello’s ancient rather than his lieutenant enough reason to cause such murderous rage? Or is his jealousy due to rumors of Othello and Emilia “twixt his sheets,” or his own attraction to Desdemona, Cassio, Othello, or his wish for “reputation”? Janet Adelman believes Iago is threatened by Othello’s goodness, which in turn causes him to experience the emptiness or lack within his own self: “For Iago the desire to spoil always takes precedence over the desire to possess: one need only contrast him with Othello to see the difference in their relation to good objects” (Adelman 137). How do you analyze Shakespeare’s presentation of Iago? What does Shakespeare hope that we, as audience, come to see, experience, or understand?
5. Important Objects/Metaphors: The handkerchief as symbol of chastity: Some critics have commented that Shakespeare’s use of the handkerchief in Othello is not believable: no one would be moved to revenge by such a small object. In fact, when Iago acquires Desdemona’s handkerchief, he names it as one of those “trifles light as air.” He claims, however, that it is these “trifles” that can become “confirmations strong / As proofs of holy writ” (3.3.323-325). The handkerchief, we might say, works as a signifier, pointing to some concept in the mind of those who use it. The handkerchief however doesn’t stay in one place: it has a history, different stories that surround it, so that it seems to take on a life of its own. What the handkerchief “represents” changes over time and from character to character. In your response, discuss your reading of what the handkerchief represents; consider its cultural and/or symbolic value, its own history and interactions with other; what it means for those characters who use it, and what it comes to mean for us, the readers of the play.
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