Thursday, 28 March 2013

The 7 Secrets of Effective Study and Successful Revision


Be interested in everything. If you know and experience lots of different things there is a point when they start to join up, or to link in some strange and delightful way. With a broad-based knowledge it is also more likely that you will be able to make informed and inspired guesses. These mindmoves are both enjoyable and stimulating.

Give the topic/subject the benefit of the doubt. If you assume that you will be having a tedious experience while studying, your initial thoughts tend to be self-fulfilling. At first many topics are complex and they present initial barriers to entry. Similarly, anything unfamiliar may involve the shock of the new. Rather than turning away, take a leap of faith and keep going until you discover those satisfying moments of lucidity - these are the dawning lights of the understanding at work.

Positive mental attitude - this means not basing your current work or your future expectation on past failures.

Channel your antagonism effectively.


This typically means free from distractions which serve as psychological cues for procrastination. So keep your TV/ games/ phone out of reach. Working in bed may lead to bouts of napping and irregular sleep patterns. Working in the kitchen may lead to sudden weight gain. Libraries are quite good locations because they are 'study-rich' zones of association. My undergraduate years at St Andrews University were spent by the sea. In addition to my work in the library, this is where I did some of my final week's revision:


Highlighter, pencils, cards, image, poster-size paper, post-its.
A library.
Course guide books.
Internet connection (But don't wander off topic...).
Friends, mentors, teachers, tutors...
Past exam papers.


A SMART revision/study plan is essential. Otherwise you revision or study will tend to lack focus. You create openings for procrastination. This in turn leads to feelings of helplessness, fear, stress and anxiety. It's fun to macro and micro manage your work as this approach leads to rising levels of confidence and the sense that goals are being achieved.


Short term rewards include anything that you find immediately pleasurable; from chocolate to music, calling friends, games and TV. Short term rewards may involve working for progressively longer periods without a break. 25 minutes is a decent target, but it depends on the complexity and focus of the work. Generally concentration diminishes sharply after 45 minutes.

Long Term. These are motivational with respect to your emotional or intellectual development, or your education and career progression.


By keeping a record of your progress and performance you will be able to work out why you become distracted, or identify what leads to excellent performance. If you have a sense of progression then the self-fulfilment and motivation will increase. This also helps you to avoid anxiety, because you know that you are doing your personal best.


Remember that most of the people who are considered brilliant and successful have worked very hard to gain their achievements. Perspiration achieves 100 times more than pure inspiration.

In order to master any key skill, craft or topic with proficiency, dexterity and in-depth, typically requires 5,000 hours!

That's why simply revising the night before seldom works...

“Study is the bane of childhood, the oil of youth, the indulgence of adulthood, and a restorative in old age.” --- Walter Savage Landor.

“Study the past if you would divine the future.” --- Confucius

“I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy.” --- John Adams

“If you want to study the social and political history of modern nations, study hell.”
--- Thomas Merton

“Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you.” --- Frank Lloyd Wright

Dr Ian McCormick is the author of The Art of Connection: the Social Life of Sentences
(Quibble Academic, 2013)

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

103 key words - writing about speech

A revision list of 103 key words to describe kinds of speech - please add other suggestions below.

  1. absurdity
  1. aestheticism
  1. affectation
  1. agility
  1. alertness
  1. antagonistic
  1. aptness
  1. archaic
  1. artificiality
  1. badinage
  1. banter
  1. belligerent.
  1. combative
  1. censure
  1. civility
  1. clarity
  1. clowning
  1. colloquy
  1. conceits
  1. courtier / courtly
  1. courtship
  1. decadence
  1. delicacy
  1. discourse
  1. dramatic
  1. effortless
  1. elegance
  1. epigrammatic
  1. erudition
  1. esoteric
  1. exchanges
  1. extravagance
  1. felicity
  1. fencing
  1. fluidity
  1. fooling
  1. frivolity
  1. funny
  1. gallantry
  1. gentility
  1. grating
  1. harsh
  1. heightened
  1. humorous
  1. impenetrable
  1. innuendo
  1. interruption
  1. jargon
  1. judgment
  1. lewdness
  1. lexis
  1. maliciousness
  1. mannered
  1. meekness
  1. melancholy
  1. mildness
  1. mocking
  1. modesty
  1. monologue
  1. mood
  1. natural
  1. parody
  1. passive
  1. pattern
  1. pointed
  1. poised
  1. politeness
  1. polyvocal
  1. precision
  1. quibbling
  1. rallies
  1. realism
  1. refinement
  1. reserved
  1. retorts
  1. rhetorical
  1. rhythm
  1. riposte
  1. rivalry
  1. romantic
  1. rudeness
  1. satire
  1. self-conscious
  1. self-obsessed
  1. self-possessed
  1. sentimentality
  1. shrewdness
  1. shrewish
  1. shrill
  1. soliloquy
  1. spirited
  1. spontaneous
  1. stilted
  1. style
  1. tone
  1. utterances
  1. vanity
  1. villainous
  1. virago
  1. vivacity
  1. volley
  1. wisdom
  1. witty

Friday, 22 March 2013

Thinking about Speech in Shakespeare and Jane Austen

The witty banter and rivalry that we encounter in the plays of William Shakespeare or Oscar Wilde, or the novels of Jane Austen, often presents difficulties for students who are unsure how to write about it. It's not enough just to say that a speech is funny or humorous. Even 'witty' is at times quite vague given the complexity of rhetoric and style that characters had available to them.

First, there are the professed attitudes to love and relationships. Typical roles taken up by characters include the scorner of love, and the woman who rejects her suitors. Whether the underlying motivation is authentic, realistic, or psychologically coherent and credible often matters less than the sheer pleasure to be had from the verbal battles that ensue.

Second, audiences are expected to enjoy the 'badinage' of witty courtiers. This is an opportunity for malicious sentiments to be expressed with wit. Communication shifts in mood and tone from shrewdness and wisdom to extravagance and absurdity. The Elizabethan theatre-goers delighted in merry conceits. They also enjoyed far more lewdness, rudeness and innuendo than our more polite culture affords. There is a strong element of language as a self-conscious game that requires an alertness in speaker and listener. Mood, tone, lexis and rhythm are bonded in the precise judgment required to forge a pert riposte. It's not enough to be carried away by your own extravagance, as this will lead to censure. Aptness, precision, clarity and felicity are highly valued as aspects of effective dialogue.

While the language and style of the pre-modern period may appear stilted, archaic, and old-fashioned, that's not how it would have been heard at the time when it was first composed. The deployment of affectation and difficulty was in fact frequently satirised. Medical, legal and theological jargon was a common subject for satire. Accordingly, the aim of one's speech utterances was to be natural, spontaneous and effortless. But for modern readers the linguistic games of fools and clowns, their quibbles and complex conceits that turned the world upside-down are too often treated as an impenetrable and esoteric discourse.

Yet refined speech was in a sense an acquired skill, the mark of education, refinement and gentility. But this should not be mistaken for mere aestheticism, vanity and decadence. Elegant speech tends to represent the self-possessed rather than the self-obsessed. There is often a mannered vivacity of style, but this tendency is often cut through with a sense that extravagance is being mocked.

The fluid and dramatic exchange of ideas, thoughts, sentiments and intuitions was part of the polyvocal exchanges favoured by renaissance writers. This means that there is a preference for dramatic forms of colloquy, for gallant realism. It is a safely antagonistic modes that favours civil retorts and delicate interruptions. Words are swords, and the relationship between people speaking is like a fencing. This means that the relationship between the sexes is a battle, and a torrent or volley of words is not uncommon when the stakes - real or imagined - are high.

Note also the frequent use of notions of the friend rather than the fiend; of the pleasant and familiar rather than the harsh and grating style that is reserved for the purely villainous characters.

Also worth noting is the significance of the strong roles attached to women's speech. far from being meek, mild, and modest, they range from the vixens and virago to the mocking, satirical. But women can also be melancholy, passive, modest or romantic heroines, at the other extreme. But these roles also serve to highlight the more extreme positions of the shrewish, shrill and belligerent.

 Women are a strong match for men, and often just as combative. But we can become too stuck on the metaphor of fight. It is worth considering the dance or festive party scenes. These scenes balance physical and mental agility. Partners are poised and pattern in their fancy footwork and in the rhythms of their verbal exchanges. The playful force of the intelligent, sparkling 'rallies' is a common feature of spirited language.

Renaissance texts deployed a high degree of pointed phrases. Epigrams abound. Witty language is a learned activity and corresponds to humanistic goals of civility and effective communication. But the message is less about frivolity and artificiality than it is about the dynamic range of complex and effective characterisation and invigorating but subtle plot development.

To conclude, there follows a passage from Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice

[A Dance and a Dialogue between Elizabeth and Mr Darcy, Chapter 18]

They stood for some time without speaking a word; and she began to imagine that their silence was to last through the two dances, and at first was resolved not to break it; till suddenly fancying that it would be the greater punishment to her partner to oblige him to talk, she made some slight observation on the dance. He replied, and was again silent. After a pause of some minutes, she addressed him a second time with:—"It is your turn to say something now, Mr. Darcy. I talked about the dance, and you ought to make some sort of remark on the size of the room, or the number of couples."
He smiled, and assured her that whatever she wished him to say should be said.
"Very well. That reply will do for the present. Perhaps by and by I may observe that private balls are much pleasanter than public ones. But now we may be silent."
"Do you talk by rule, then, while you are dancing?"
"Sometimes. One must speak a little, you know. It would look odd to be entirely silent for half an hour together; and yet for the advantage of some, conversation ought to be so arranged, as that they may have the trouble of saying as little as possible."
"Are you consulting your own feelings in the present case, or do you imagine that you are gratifying mine?"
"Both," replied Elizabeth archly; "for I have always seen a great similarity in the turn of our minds. We are each of an unsocial, taciturn disposition, unwilling to speak, unless we expect to say something that will amaze the whole room, and be handed down to posterity with all the eclat of a proverb."
"This is no very striking resemblance of your own character, I am sure," said he. "How near it may be to mine, I cannot pretend to say. You think it a faithful portrait undoubtedly."
"I must not decide on my own performance."
He made no answer, and they were again silent till they had gone down the dance, when he asked her if she and her sisters did not very often walk to Meryton. She answered in the affirmative, and, unable to resist the temptation, added, "When you met us there the other day, we had just been forming a new acquaintance."
The effect was immediate. A deeper shade of hauteur overspread his features, but he said not a word, and Elizabeth, though blaming herself for her own weakness, could not go on. At length Darcy spoke, and in a constrained manner said, "Mr. Wickham is blessed with such happy manners as may ensure his making friends—whether he may be equally capable of retaining them, is less certain."
"He has been so unlucky as to lose your friendship," replied Elizabeth with emphasis, "and in a manner which he is likely to suffer from all his life."
Darcy made no answer, and seemed desirous of changing the subject. At that moment, Sir William Lucas appeared close to them, meaning to pass through the set to the other side of the room; but on perceiving Mr. Darcy, he stopped with a bow of superior courtesy to compliment him on his dancing and his partner.
"I have been most highly gratified indeed, my dear sir. Such very superior dancing is not often seen. It is evident that you belong to the first circles. Allow me to say, however, that your fair partner does not disgrace you, and that I must hope to have this pleasure often repeated, especially when a certain desirable event, my dear Eliza (glancing at her sister and Bingley) shall take place. What congratulations will then flow in! I appeal to Mr. Darcy:—but let me not interrupt you, sir. You will not thank me for detaining you from the bewitching converse of that young lady, whose bright eyes are also upbraiding me."
The latter part of this address was scarcely heard by Darcy; but Sir William's allusion to his friend seemed to strike him forcibly, and his eyes were directed with a very serious expression towards Bingley and Jane, who were dancing together. Recovering himself, however, shortly, he turned to his partner, and said, "Sir William's interruption has made me forget what we were talking of."
"I do not think we were speaking at all. Sir William could not have interrupted two people in the room who had less to say for themselves. We have tried two or three subjects already without success, and what we are to talk of next I cannot imagine."
"What think you of books?" said he, smiling.
"Books—oh! no. I am sure we never read the same, or not with the same feelings."
"I am sorry you think so; but if that be the case, there can at least be no want of subject. We may compare our different opinions."
"No—I cannot talk of books in a ball-room; my head is always full of something else."
"The present always occupies you in such scenes—does it?" said he, with a look of doubt.
"Yes, always," she replied, without knowing what she said, for her thoughts had wandered far from the subject, as soon afterwards appeared by her suddenly exclaiming, "I remember hearing you once say, Mr. Darcy, that you hardly ever forgave, that your resentment once created was unappeasable. You are very cautious, I suppose, as to its being created."
"I am," said he, with a firm voice.
"And never allow yourself to be blinded by prejudice?"
"I hope not."
"It is particularly incumbent on those who never change their opinion, to be secure of judging properly at first."
"May I ask to what these questions tend?"
"Merely to the illustration of your character," said she, endeavouring to shake off her gravity. "I am trying to make it out."
"And what is your success?"
She shook her head. "I do not get on at all. I hear such different accounts of you as puzzle me exceedingly."
"I can readily believe," answered he gravely, "that reports may vary greatly with respect to me; and I could wish, Miss Bennet, that you were not to sketch my character at the present moment, as there is reason to fear that the performance would reflect no credit on either."
"But if I do not take your likeness now, I may never have another opportunity."
"I would by no means suspend any pleasure of yours," he coldly replied. She said no more, and they went down the other dance and parted in silence; and on each side dissatisfied, though not to an equal degree, for in Darcy's breast there was a tolerable powerful feeling towards her, which soon procured her pardon, and directed all his anger against another.
They had not long separated, when Miss Bingley came towards her, and with an expression of civil disdain accosted her: [...]

Dr Ian McCormick is the author of The Art of Connection: the Social Life of Sentences
(2013) Also available on Kindle, or to download.

America and the Great Tradition

Faith in the Western Tradition
"The trials of the citizen now surpass anything that previous generations ever knew. Private and public propaganda beats upon him from morning till night all his life long. If independent judgment is the sine qua non of effective citizenship in a democracy, then it must be admitted that such judgment is harder to maintain now than it ever has been before." (Preface)

Readers may be familiar with the 54-volume set called Great Books of the Western World. Women are entirely absent from this history, which was published in 1952. The choice of texts is based primarily on the ancient Latin and Greek classics; renaissance and enlightenment philosophy and literature, and some of the key texts on politics, history and science from the nineteenth century. Despite its American roots and sponsorship, only Herman Melville, William James, the "American State Papers" and "The Federalist" are featured from the native seats of learning.

From the start the editors are quite explicit in their 'liberal' male ideology:

The aim of liberal education is human excellence, both private and public (for man is a political animal). Its object is the excellence of man as man and man as citizen. It regards man as an end, not as a means; and it regards the ends of life, and not the means to it. For this reason it is the education of free men. Other types of education or training treat men as means to some other end, or are at best concerned with the means of life, with earning a living, and not with its ends.

The authors proclaim the aspirational goal of adult education and they outline a 10-year reading programme that will address the real needs of citizens in a democratic and enlightened society. Considering that this set was published seven years after the end of the second world war, this didactic project is undoubtedly a highly optimistic enterprise.

So far as I can determine, none of the editors or academic advisor was female. Curiously and perhaps ironically, the final volume is dedicated to Sigmund Freud. This provides an opportunity to reflect on the dangers of a patriarchal society. Toward the end are short essays by Freud: "Thoughts for the Times on War and Death" and "Civilisation and its Discontents."

But perhaps the seeds of destruction were there all along? In Plato's utopian-totalitarian state; in Homer's epic culture of warfare; in the chaotic and random world of Lucretius; in the tragic vision of Greek drama; in the wicked psychologies at work in Machiavelli and Hobbes; in Swift's bitter satire on enlightenment and rationality; in the raving ideology of Karl Marx.
Plato - Philosopher

The Preface takes up arms against experiential, vocational and work based learning. In this regard the demon is John Dewey's psychology of learning, quoted as follows

"An occupation is a continuous activity having a purpose. Education through occupations consequently combines within itself more of the factors conducive to learning than any other method. It calls instincts and habits into play; it is a foe to passive receptivity. It has an end in view; results are to be accomplished. Hence it appeals to thought; it demands that an idea of an end be steadily maintained, so that activity must be progressive, leading from one stage to another; observation and ingenuity are required at each stage to overcome obstacles and to discover and readjust means of execution. In short, an occupation, pursued under conditions where the realization of the activity rather than merely the external product is the aim, fulfills the requirements which were laid down earlier in connection with the discussion of aims, interest, and thinking."

Nonetheless, as the quotations that follow suggest, the issues present are just as relevant today, as they were some 60 years ago:

"If leisure and political power require this education, everybody in America now requires it, and everybody where democracy and industrialisation penetrate will ultimately require it. If the people are not capable of acquiring this education, they should be deprived of political power and probably of leisure. Their uneducated political power is dangerous, and their uneducated leisure is degrading and will be dangerous. If the people are incapable of achieving the education that responsible democratic citizenship demands, then democracy is doomed, Aristotle rightly condemned the mass of mankind to natural slavery, and the sooner we set about reversing the trend toward democracy the better it will be for the world."

"We believe that the reduction of the citizen to an object of propaganda, private and public, is one of the greatest dangers to democracy. A prevalent notion is that the great mass of the people cannot understand and cannot form an independent judgment upon any matter; they cannot be educated, in the sense of developing their intellectual powers, but they can be bamboozled. The reiteration of slogans, the distortion of the news, the great storm of propaganda that beats upon the citizen twenty-four hours a day all his life long mean either that democracy must fall a prey to the loudest and most persistent propagandists or that the people must save themselves by strengthening their minds so that they can appraise the issues for themselves."
A Library of Great Books to the Rescue
"Great books alone will not do the trick; for the people must have the information on which to base a judgment as well as the ability to make one. In order to understand inflation, for example, and to have an intelligent opinion as to what can be done about it, the economic facts in a given country at a given time have to be available. Great books cannot help us there. But they can help us to that grasp of history, politics, morals, and economics and to that habit of mind which are needed to form a valid judgment on the issue. Great books may even help us to know what information we should demand. If we knew what information to demand we might have a better chance of getting it."

The full text of the Preface is available here.

Dr Ian McCormick is the author of The Art of Connection: the Social Life of Sentences
(2013) Also available on Kindle, or to download.

Also worth a look: The PhD Roadmap: A Guide to Successful Submission of your Dissertation / Thesis. 

Thursday, 14 March 2013

The Art of Description: 25 Tips

'Scott has spent pages and pages upon describing a country scene, this is very uninteresting, but it is intensely good literature.'

(The Newbolt Report: “The Teaching of English in England” (1921))

In popular literature description appears to have been devalued in favour of character and plot. Description can be enjoyable in itself, but often it relates to, and helps to build the plot, mood, character, or atmosphere.  In our busy modern world perhaps we feel that we don’t have time to wallow in description. I have heard some writers saying that they don't bother doing the scene setting any more. This is sad.

In fact, our age is one of immense (simulated) visual and sonic richness and variety. Never have we had such an immense range of sensory stimuli. Nonetheless, we are often so caught up in the flow that we lack either the creative engagement or the critical detachment that would enable the production of delightful or striking descriptive prose.

Descriptive writing vividly re-connects us to the world, and it stimulates deeper, more sustainable thinking and feeling about our lived and our imagined experiences.

What techniques are involved in effective description, and what should be avoided?

In my view, description should avoid

  1. writing that is dull and flat.
  1. lazy words: had, was, get, nice, good, bad, really.
  1. padding - unnecessary description
  1. simply listing words or items
Effective description

  1. selects key details to convey and focus the primary impression of the scene
  2. cultivates magic and mystery
  3. presents what was plain or the banal so that it stands out in a more vivid way
  4. chooses interesting words
  5. aims for specificity and clarity in word choice 
  6. develops creative writing skills by reading and critically dissecting literary texts
  7. makes the scene vivid to the reader: clear, strong, credible
  8. considers handling of time and place, and transitions between them
  9. use frames, snapshots, or photographs. These can then be placed in a logical sequence
  10. considers the reflective mood of the observer
  11. employs the five senses
  12. copes well with a sense of proximity and distance
  13. plans its ideas in advance (e.g. spider diagram, mindmaps, notes)
  14. prioritises and foregrounds key details
  15. varies sentence type and structures, with a consciousness of pace and rhythm
  16. considers rhetorical strategies
  17. employs striking figurative tropes such as simile, pathetic fallacy and metaphors
  18. borrows from poetry a sense of sound (e.g. assonance, alliteration)
  19. employs a beginning, a middle and the sense of an ending
  20. attends to the flow of thoughts by using connectives and transitional words
  21. checks accuracy of spelling, grammar and punctuation

Sadly, even the models of excellence (A*) outlined by the exam boards seem to lack flair and imagination. But here they are, in case you need to refer to them:

Content and organisation

· content is well-judged, sustained and pertinent, firmly engaging the reader’s interest

· the writing is well-crafted in an appropriate form with distinctive structural or stylistic features

· paragraphs are effectively varied in length and structure to control detail and

· there is a sophisticated organisation of detailed content within and between paragraphs

· a wide range of appropriate, ambitious vocabulary is used to create effect or convey
precise meaning

Sentence structure, punctuation and spelling

· there is appropriate and effective variation of sentence structures 

· there is a sophisticated use of simple, compound and complex sentences to achieve
particular effects 

· accurate punctuation is used to vary pace, clarify meaning, avoid ambiguity and create deliberate effects 

· virtually all spelling, including that of complex irregular words, is correct

· tense changes are used confidently and purposefully

Dr Ian McCormick is the author of The Art of Connection: the Social Life of Sentences
(2013) Also available on Kindle, or to download.

Othello. 20 Recommended Resources on Shakespeare's Tragedy

Part 1: Introductions for younger readers and viewers

Video SparkNotes: Shakespeare's Othello summary. 9 mins 14 sec

Cliffs Notes. 7 mins 45 sec

This Short Animated Version of the Play is an excellent taster if you have but a small appetite

Part 2:

If you consider that reciting or performing Shakespeare requires a stiff, posh, upper class, drama-school  British accent, think again. 

Prof David Crystal demonstrates 'authentic' Original Pronunciation

Part 3:

Essential viewing for advanced students is a classic production from the BBC, directed by Jonathan Miller.

This is a Claustrophobic and Complete version which is highly recommended. This made-for-TV production features Anthony Hopkins as Othello, with Bob Hoskins as the treacherous, jealousy-ridden soldier Iago. 3 hrs 23 mins. Available here.

Classic film (1952). Orson Welles' daring and visually adventurous production of William Shakespeare's classic play. Welles, one of the greatest directors ever, revered Shakespeare and was determined to bring his own versions of the Bard's work to the silver screen, though the studios resisted the idea. Without studio funding, Welles struggled for three years to make "Othello" with his own money.

The film won the Grand Prize at the Cannes Film Festival and critical acclaim but was rarely seen for many years. Over $1 million dollars in restoration work was spent, including re recording the score and re creating the sound effects, as well as updating the audio to digital. "Othello" remains a testament to Welles' legendary genius.

Film (1995). Director: Oliver Parker. Stars: Laurence Fishburne, Kenneth Branagh, Irène Jacob. Takes some liberties but haunting and effective none the less.

Short excerpt from Laurence Olivier's 1965 film version

Othello's final speech. Directed by Trevor Nunn. Actors include Ian McKellen, Imogen Stubbs and Willard White. 1989

Another Production: The 'Complete Play' in performance. 1 hr 38 mins

International Productions:

A play by Indu Art Theatre & Film Society. Director: Yasin Khan. Dramatic tension and atmospheric production with strong acting.

Highly recommended AUDIO only selections: 

Paul Robeson's Broadway Othello, directed by Margaret Webster, ran from 1943 to 1945. It presented a black actor in the title role for the first time in the 20th century. It remains the longest running Shakespeare play ever staged in the United States. This audio taping was recorded in studio during the summer of 1944 and is available in its entirety from Pearl Plays & Poets (Pavilion Records). Act V, Scene 2. Here. Othello - Paul Robeson Desdemona - Uta Hagen Iago - Jose Ferrer Emilia - Edith King Cassio - Alexander Scourby. Available here.

Also highly recommended for clarity and excellent production values is this Complete Audio production from the Donmar Warehouse, London, UK, 2008:

AUDIO Essays

Sadly these might be available solely for British-resident students to listen in:

As part of the Shakespeare Unlocked season on the BBC, writers from Sierra Leone, Brazil, India, Iran and China explain why a playwright from sixteenth century Stratford resonates so powerfully in their own countries. With Eldred Jones, Aimara Resende, Poonam Trivedi, Narguess Farzad and Yong Li Lan. In this third essay Professor Eldred Jones explains that Shakespeare took from Africa as much as Africa has taken from him. These essays explore Shakespeare's place on the global stage; with writers and scholars from around the world explaining his importance within their own culture. There are references to Hamlet and Othello in Iranian literature for example - as well as in African and Chinese works. Othello was first translated into Persian 170 years ago by a Persian prince because the themes of jealousy and honour struck a chord with the Iranian psyche. Authors the world over have recognised a profound affinity between Shakespeare's themes and their own traditional culture, be in it Chinese, Indian or African. Link.

Web Resources

Web English teacher: William Shakespeare, Othello. Lesson plans and other teaching resources. Here.

Universal Teacher. Quality online resources. Here.

Teacher's Guide to the Signet Classic Edition. A 17-page pdf file. Here.

More Academic Resources. Here. 

Wikipedia Entry:


Laurence Fishburne and Kenneth Branagh as Othello and Iago respectively, in a scene from the 1995 version of Othello.
 Shot between 1948 and 1952, Orson Welles directed The Tragedy of Othello: The Moor of Venice (1952), produced as a black-and-white film noir. The film stars Welles as Othello and Suzanne Cloutier as Desdemona. The troubled production was filmed over the course of three years as Welles' time and money permitted, in Mogador, Morocco and Venice. Lack of funds (and costumes) forced Roderigo's death scene to be shot in a Turkish bath with performers wearing only large, ragged towels. The film won the Palme D'Or at the 1952 Cannes Film Festival. Rather than focusing on racial mis-matching, the film plays on a difference between Desdemona and Othello in age, size and personal attractiveness. The film noir colouring of the picture minimised any commentary on Othello's blackness, to the point that the critic F. R. Leavis wrote that the film made no reference to Othello's colour.

Unlike Welles's film, Laurence Olivier's Othello (1965), based on John Dexter's National Theatre Company's production, brings issues of race to the fore, with Olivier putting on an 'African accent' and entering in a large 'ethnic' necklace and a dressing gown. He commented, however, that he did "not dare to play the Moor as a full-blooded negro". One contemporary critic found the coloration too much, commenting that Olivier was "blacker than black, almost blue" .

Trevor Nunn's 1989 version filmed at Stratford, cast black opera singer Willard White in the leading role, opposite Ian McKellen's Iago.

The first major screen production casting a black actor as Othello would not come until 1995 with Laurence Fishburne opposite Kenneth Branagh's Iago (not that there have been many major screen productions of Othello, most film versions to date have been filmed stage productions). It was made during the O. J. Simpson trial and commentators such as Cartmell draw parallels between the two whodunit murder stories, and wonder if the film's release was not a little to do with the publicity surrounding the film star's drama.

Malayalam film Kaliyattam is an adapted version of Othello against the backdrop of the Hindu Theyyam performance. In 1998, Suresh Gopi received the National Film Award for Best Actor, and Jayaraj the award for Best Director for their work on the film.

Omkara is a version in Hindi set in Uttar Pradesh, starring Ajay Devgan as Omkara (Othello), Saif Ali Khan as Langda Tyagi (Iago), Kareena Kapoor as Dolly (Desdemona), Vivek Oberoi as Kesu (Cassio), Bipasha Basu as Billo (Bianca) and Konkona Sen Sharma as Indu (Emilia). The film was directed by Vishal Bhardwaj who earlier adapted Shakespeare's Macbeth as Maqbool. All characters in the film share the same letter or sound in their first name as in the original Shakespeare classic. It is one of the few mainstream Indian movies to contain uncensored profanity.

Other film adaptations


Graphic novels

Othello, an adaptation by Oscar Zarate, Oval Projects Ltd (1985). It was reprinted in 2005 by Can of Worms Press and includes the complete text of the play.

In January 2009, a manga adaptation was published in the United Kingdom, with art by Ryuta Osada. It is part of the Manga Shakespeare series by Richard Appiganesi, and is set in Venice in carnival season.