Research Essay on Shakespeare’s Othello

Literary Research Essay: Shakespeare’s Othello


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The purpose of this assignment is to demonstrate the skills you have gained throughout this semester: analysis of literature; understanding existing debates, conversations, and questions that surround literature, and entering into such critical conversations successfully. This essay allows you to focus on the dramatic form, specifically Othello. Your argument should reflect independent thinking and intellectual curiosity. This assignment gives you practice in academic inquiry—formulating a research question, identifying sources, contextualizing information, synthesizing sources, and arguing your perspective. You should be able to demonstrate a thorough understanding of the function of dramatic elements such as plot, dramatic sequence, characterization, theme, and style, as well as understand their effect on the audience.


Your intended audience is a group of readers who are familiar with Othello by Williams Shakespeare. Therefore, you should refer to specific examples to support your thesis, but you do not need to summarize the plot. You may assume that the audience appreciates the play as a work of literature. Your tone, vocabulary, diction, etc. should always be appropriate for academic writing and should respect the diversity of your audience.


For this assignment, you will write a 1500-2000 word academic research essay where you make an interpretative argument about an issue from Othello and support your position with evidence from that text as well as from three secondary sources. In other words, you might think of Essay 3 as an extended essay that involves more analysis and references from secondary sources. The purpose of the research paper is to inform the reader (your audience) about a topic of which they know little and to persuade him/her to consider your interpretation of the literary text as a valid one.


  • Compose an essay that, through sufficient analysis and evidence, answers a research question about Othello.
  • Understand and respond to literary criticism on your topic.
  • Effectively integrate textual evidence such as quotations and examples from the primary source as well as from scholarly secondary sources.
  • Follow MLA guidelines (8th) and create a works cited list.
  • Practice writing that is stylistically concise and mechanically and grammatically correct.









You will provide evidence for your argument using not only your own analysis of the play, but also the critical analysis argued by scholars in no fewer than three secondary, scholarly sources. Your fourth source will be the play itself.

A secondary, scholarly article must fulfill the following criteria:

  • Published in a peer-reviewed journal
  • At least 7 pages in length
  • Include a works cited page
  • Must contain an argument, and not just a retelling of the play (like Sparknotes, Schmoop, etc.)


  • State your thesis—be clear, concise, and specific—early in your paper, forecasting the argument that follows
  • Topic sentences follow the pattern and language set by the thesis
  • Present evidence in the form of paraphrases and direct quotes from primary and secondary sources proving your claims. You must provide a minimum of three scholarly sources from the library databases. You cannot use any sources or titles containing the words “Summary,” “Review,” or “Overview.”
  • Use appropriate in-text citations for paraphrases and direct quotes from primary and secondary sources.
  • Reach a minimum of 1500 words, but do not exceed 1800 words (this does not include your heading, header, or Works Cited page)
  • Block quotes of any text are not acceptable
  • Demonstrate that you understand and can apply the concepts and terms for reading and interpreting drama that we have studied
  • Exhibit appropriate tone for an academic essay, which means no instances of first or second person, no slang/colloquial wording, and no contractions
  • Follow MLA format (8th): double-spaced, 1-inch margins, first page heading, right hand corner header, parenthetical citations, and a Works Cited list.


  • Choose topic using research question guidelines
  • Research chosen topic for required sources during Library Day
  • CAREFULLY read, summarize, and cite ALL sources that you come across in your research (upcoming homework assignment: Abstract & Annotated Bibliography)
  • Draft thesis statement
  • Outline essay (include in-text citations as you write)
  • Draft essay (include in-text citations as you write)
  • Bring full draft to workshop day
  • Revise essay
  • Submit essay to the CORRECT Dropbox on eCampus


Theme: What theme is conveyed in this text? Why/how?


What theme is conveyed about appearances vs. reality in Othello? What key scenes or points in the plot contribute to this theme? How does this theme relate to the play’s tragic ending?


What theme is conveyed about jealousy in Othello? What role does jealousy play in the drama? Which characters exhibit signs of jealousy? Is Othello unreasonably jealous? What about Iago or Roderigo?

Character: Which character in this text is interesting and/or plays an important role? What are his/her motives? How and why is his/her role significant?


Does Iago have a motive or motives for his hatred of Othello? Is he simply “Evil” or is there more to him? Pay close attention to Iago’s soliloquies as well as the language/strategies he uses to manipulate other characters.  Why does Iago refuse to speak at the end?


What is the significance of Emilia—is she good, bad, or morally ambiguous? Trace the development of her character throughout the play. How does her character change during the course of the play? Pay close attention to moments when Emilia decides to be silent and when she decides to speak.

Symbols, Allusions, Imagery (or Other Figures of Speech): What are some important symbols in the text? How are they significant?


What is the significance of religion in Othello? Locate as many religious allusions as you can. Do any patterns exist? If so, what are they? Do the religious references contribute to a particular theme in the play? If so, what theme and how?


What is the significance of animal imagery in Othello? Locate as many references to animal/beasts that you can find. What patterns exist? Does the animal imagery contribute a particular theme in the play? If so, what theme and how?

What does the handkerchief symbolize in Othello? How does its significance change depending on the character with whom it is associated?

Historical/Ideological: How is/are __________** represented in this text? What do these representations have in common? How do they relate to the text’s theme or historical context?

**Social identities and constructs you might choose to analyze include gender (men or women), marriage, motherhood, race, social class etc. If adopting this approach, read corresponding section in p. 1921-1930 in Norton textbook.

How are the female characters in Othello portrayed? In particular, how do the men in the play view the women?


Think about the two depictions of marriage in the Othello. Analyze each of these depictions. How does each depiction help to convey particular themes in the play?


How important is race is Othello? In particular, does racism play a role in Othello’s downfall? If so, how? Consider references to black and white made throughout the play.





NOTE: The rubric is based on the course Grading Criteria and the essay prompt. Categories are NOT weighted equally. Essays that fail to meet basic requirements—e.g., plagiarism, insufficient length—will lose points and earn grades not represented by this grid. In accordance with Blinn College’s Grading Standards, if you fail the “Assignment Requirements,” you cannot earn an A, B, or C overall.


  Unsatisfactory Needs Improvement Adequate Proficient Excellent

Argument (the essay as a whole)



No argument; Essay just summarizes the play or reports on its content/construction; Argument doesn’t respond to prompt Confusing argument; Undeveloped ideas; Frequent summary; Little meaningful interpretation; Essay isn’t focused on theme Argument is present but not always clear or well developed; Contains little original thought; Skips essential sections; Makes generalizations Thoughtful and well-developed argument; Claims are focused and specific; Lacks clarity or precision to fully support thesis Original, insightful, clearly articulated, and fully developed argument about one focused aspect of Othello/Trifles and its theme




Missing thesis; Thesis does not state controlling idea of essay (i.e., thesis and body don’t match) Unclear thesis; Reader must guess or assume; Does not state a claim interpreting the play and its theme(s) States a claim that interprets the text but is simplistic or formulaic; May also be incomplete, vague, general, or broad States a reasonably complex and thought-provoking claim about Othello/Trifles; May be wordy or awkward Thesis clearly states a complex, insightful, and original claim; Projects the essay’s organization




No real organization; Essay lacks logical paragraphing (e.g., may have only one body paragraph) Poor or inconsistent organization; Logic is often unclear and confusing; Body paragraphs lack unity and cohesion; Missing topic/point sentences Has an organizational pattern; Sometimes lacks logic or cohesion; Lacks clear topic and point sentences & transitions needed to guide readers Clear point-by-point organization; Unified cohesive body paragraphs; Appropriate topic and point sentences; May lack balance or need better transitions Logical point-by-point organization; Unified, cohesive paragraphs; Effective topic and point sentences; Useful transition throughout




The play is rarely quoted; Examples rarely relate to the topic sentences; Lack of source integration throughout the essay Insufficient examples; Unsupported claims; Only a superficial use of sources; Support is frequently unclear or off topic; Sources are poorly integrated Examples & details are relevant but could be chosen more carefully; Support is vague and general; Source material is integrated, but not effectively Appropriate, concrete examples and details from Othello/Trifles that support the topic sentences; Quotes are skillfully integrated Specific, well-chosen examples from both primary & secondary sources that clearly, sufficiently support the topic sentences; Gracefully integrated

Explanation of Evidence 



Little or no analysis or explanation of the evidence; Analysis only repeats ideas in the secondary sources Primarily vague and superficial analysis; Readers must guess or assume; Readers left asking many questions Gives some thoughtful analysis of the evidence but also superficial and general analysis; Leaves readers with questions Usually provides insightful, relevant, detailed analysis of the evidence; Draws logical conclusions Carefully, thoroughly explains the meaning or significance of the evidence; Shows how to interpret the play

Formatting & Citations 


Formatting makes the paper difficult to read; Citations aren’t in MLA style and are hard to understand Formatting or citations are not in MLA style; Many citation errors; May be missing some citations Formatting and citations are in MLA style but with a few errors; Some source attribution is incorrect or insufficient Paper is formatted correctly with minor errors; All sources are cited in basically correct MLA style Correct formatting in MLA style; Sources are cited internally and on the Works Cited page in MLA


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