At Compass Rose Academy, students in Creative Writing are approaching Shakespeare from a somewhat unique angle. In addition to discussing the usual literary aspects of plot, characterization, etc., we are also focusing on what lessons we can draw from a writer’s standpoint. As all writers more or less steal from other writers (Shakespeare himself stole all his plots from other sources), we’re looking to do the same. This time, from one of the best, in one of his best works, Othello.
Othello is a story that resonates with audiences because of the personal nature of the struggle between Othello, the tragic hero, and the horrid villain, Iago. Iago’s intense resentment and jealousy towards Othello spurs him to plot Othello’s downfall. Othello, who claims he is “not easily jealous” becomes “wrought in the extreme” by Iago’s lies. Eventually, the villain does get caught, but not before he exacts a terrible revenge against his supposed friend.
The students studying the play have grown to despise Iago, yet, in a strange way, admire his insight and quick thinking. In another situation, his skills would be commendable. Instead, Iago uses his strengths to achieve hideous goals. From a human standpoint, this story reinforces the importance that it’s not our skills themselves, but what we do with them that counts.
We extend that lesson into the classroom by focusing not just on how Shakespeare uses dramatic irony to draw the reader in, or the difficulty of writing an entire play in the poetic form of blank verse, but also on how each of us has strengths as a person, and as a writer, and how we should skew toward our strengths, rather than dwell on our weaknesses. It seems like common sense that it is easier to move from good to great, than poor to mediocre. This is because areas in which we are subpar are often areas we aren’t all that interested in, and so do not devote time to them because we are engaged in our interests, which usually trend with our strengths.
In our Creative Writing course, our main, overarching lesson is to always lean toward what we do well, first. A secondary, no less important goal is to form a greater understanding of human nature. We’re not all going to write like Shakespeare, nor should we be expected to. But we can be the best versions of ourselves, both from a writing standpoint and a personal one as well.
In the end, reading great literature not only gives us deep insight into how to become effective writers, but it also teaches us important personal lessons about human nature, so that, when we engage in our own writing, our understanding is deeper, richer, and fuller. In this way, we not only become better writers, but, because our understanding of human nature is deepened, better human beings as well.
Compass Rose Academy English Language Arts Teacher
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