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Teaching Guide

Teaching Othello

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  • an activity exploring Shakespeare's vision of Venice.

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Instructions for You

Objective: The Reduced Shakespeare Company is famous for its abridged versions of the Bard's tales. They've performed all 37 plays in 97 minutes; they've done "Shakes on a Plane;" and they've even created an Othello rap, which tells the whole story in under three minutes. 

Your students will watch RSC's Othello rap, participate in a class discussion, and create their own condensed versions of a classic story of their choosing. 

Length of Lesson: 2 class periods (one for viewing and discussion of the Othello rap, and one for student performances).

Materials Needed:

Video clip of RSC's Othello rap 

Step 1: In class, show your students RSC's Othello rap

Step 2: Divide students into small groups and have them discuss the questions below. (Encourage them to take notes during their discussions so they'll be ready to share their group answers in Step 3.)

  1. Why is Adam’s performance interrupted by his cast mates?
  2. One of the cast members says that it’s hard for the crew to recreate the play because the role of Othello was written for a black actor. Is this true? Do you think it’s possible for a white actor to perform the role of Othello effectively? Why or why not?
  3. Why do you think the cast decides to use the genre of rap to perform their reduced version of Othello?
  4. Discuss the implications of adapting Othello to a rap song. What is the point the RSC is trying to make here?
  5. If you were hired to create a condensed Othello performance piece, how would you do it? Would you write a song? A skit? An underwater synchronized dance routine? Something else? Explain.

Step 3: Bring the class back together and let the group take turns reporting out their answers to the questions. 

Step 4: Time for your students to take center stage. Here's a prompt for them: 

You're on. Take some time to create your own “reduced” version of a classic tale. You can develop your own take Othello if you like, or you can venture into completely new territory. The only catch is that the story you whittle down to five minutes or less should be well known enough that the majority of your classmates and your teacher will be familiar with it. (Most classic lit or fairy tales should work.) 

Choose your story and get started. Write a song, a skit, a poem, a rap—whatever strikes your fancy. Just keep it under five minutes and be sure your masterpiece hits on all the key parts of the story.

Step 5: Encourage students to perform their pieces for the class. Your more theatrical students might consider wearing costumes or including a few props, whereas students who are less inclined to speak publicly may want to read their reduced tales from their seats (or share them in small groups). 

(California English Language Arts Standards Met: 11th and 12th grade Speaking 1.1, 1.2, 1.12, 1.14, 2.3.)

Instructions for Your Students

The Reduced Shakespeare Company (RSC) is famous for its mini-me versions of Big Willy’s plays, including Othello, which they've turned into a three-minute rap. Yes, really. 

In this activity, you’ll watch and discuss RSC’s “Othello Rap” and then try your hand at a little reducing. 

Step 1: In class, watch the RSC's take on Othello

Step 2: Divide into small groups and discuss the following questions. (Psst! Take notes so you'll be ready to share your groups answers with the rest of the class in Step 3.)

  1. Why is Adam’s performance interrupted by his cast mates?
  2. One of the cast members says that it’s hard for the crew to recreate the play because the role of Othello was written for a black actor. Is this true? Do you think it’s possible for a white actor to perform the role of Othello effectively? Why or why not?
  3. Why do you think the cast decides to use the genre of rap to perform their reduced version of Othello?
  4. Discuss the implications of adapting Othello to a rap song. What is the point the RSC is trying to make here?
  5. If you were hired to create a condensed Othello performance piece, how would you do it? Would you write a song? A skit? An underwater synchronized dance routine? Something else? Explain.

Step 3: When your group is done answering all the questions, you can get ready to “rap” (terrible pun intended) with your classmates and teacher about the RSC’s performance.

Step 4: You're on. Take some time to create your own “reduced” version of a classic tale. You can develop your own take Othello if you like, or you can venture into completely new territory. The only catch is that the story you whittle down to five minutes or less should be well known enough that the majority of your classmates and your teacher will be familiar with it. (Most classic lit or fairy tales should work.) 

Choose your story and get started. Write a song, a skit, a poem, a rap—whatever strikes your fancy. Just keep it under five minutes and be sure your masterpiece hits on all the key parts of the story.

Step 5: We triple dog dare you to perform your piece for your class. Feel free to wear a costume or include a few props. Alternately, you could just read your reduced tale from your seat. (Exaggerated accents are strongly encouraged.)

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Common Core Standards  

The following standards are covered in this course:

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.9
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.8
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.9
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.8
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.9
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.9
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.9
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.1

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