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Literature Before 1660: Othello

ENGL 020.301
TR 3-4:30pm

Course Online: Synchronous Format

fulfills requirements:
Sector 1: Theory and Poetics of the Standard Major
Sector 3: Early Literature to 1660 of the Standard Major

Shakespeare’s Othello has been one of the most controversial and popular Shakespearean plays, which addresses such critical issues as race, religion, gender, class, and sexuality. In this class, we will examine these issues in the past as well as the present by studying Othello from a variety of critical perspectives through close-analysis of the play-text and adaptations on film and stage, beginning with the play’s earliest performance. We will first devote several weeks to read slowly and closely the text of the play by paying attention to Shakespeare’s use of language, metaphor, genre, and dramatic form. Then we will investigate the complex meanings of race, religion, gender, social status and sexuality in premodern England through Othello as well as other medieval and early modern materials. Besides recent interpretative criticism and the performance history of the play, including the use of blackface on stage and in film, the course will also include global adaptations of the play in various forms from Verdi’s opera Otello to Bhardwaj’s film Omkara, Toni Morrison’s play Desdemona and Tayeb Salih’s novel Season of Migration to the North. Our goal throughout the course will be discussing the relevance of Othello (and of pre-1660 literature in general) to our understanding of race, religion, gender, sexuality, class, and immigration in today’s world. Using Othello and its afterlives as a case study, therefore, this class aims a deliberate exploration of not only “Literature before 1660,” but also its relevance in today’s world.


This course is tentatively scheduled to be conducted remotely. There will be a mix of synchronous and asynchronous Zoom sessions on Canvas. Asynchronous components include, but not limited to, participating discussion forums, completing short writing assignments, and watching recorded lectures. Students should be able to attend synchronous sessions on the scheduled class time (T/R 3-4.30 pm Philadelphia time). [Students who are in different time zones and unable to attend should notify the instructor accordingly and immediately.] Additional requirements will include midterm exams, short papers and a final project. Tentatively, students will be assessed based on the completion of assignments (%40); participation (%20), and exams/papers (%40).


The required texts are:

The Oxford Shakespeare: Othello. Edited by Michael Neill. Oxford University Press, 2006 [required editions]

Toni Morrison, Desdemona. Oberon Books [any edition is ok]

Tayeb Salih, Season of Migration to the North. New York Review Books Classics [any edition is ok] 

All other materials will be provided in e-text versions on Canvas and/or electronic reserve at Van Pelt Library.