Lectures on Othello, Ibsen and women in 19th century literature

By Thomasina Rowntree, 6.2 and English Don

Last week, the Sixth Form English Literature began their week with a trip to London to attend a series of lectures given on Shakespeare’s Othello. It was a brilliant opportunity which really enhanced our understanding of the play.

The first lecture was given by Richard Marriott on Dramatic Structure and the tragic pattern of Othello. He also spoke about the idea of ‘anthropological dualism’ which is transparent throughout the play, as characters are challenged by certain aspects of their personalities.

The second lecture focused on the importance of storytelling. This provided helpful context, as Dr Mason talked about Cinthio’s play, The Story of Disdemona of Venice and the Moorish Captain, which was Shakespeare’s only source material for Othello. She highlighted the changes that Shakespeare made and the significance these had, especially presentation of female characters.

The third lecture on ‘A Feminist Approach’ followed on from this theme. This emphasised the contrast between Emilia and Desdemona. The final talk was a close analysis of a small section of the play. It was very good practice to look closely at the play and the literary techniques used. All of the lectures were brilliant revision for 6.2 students.

On Thursday, a small group of us were invited to Churcher’s to attend a workshop followed by a lecture on Ibsen and Women in 19th Century Literature, led by Dr Sophie Duncan from Christ’s College Oxford. It was amazing context for Tess of the d’Urbervilles and The Importance of Being Earnest. In the workshop, Sophie talked about the moral and legal disparities between men and women in Victorian society.

The lecture was titled ‘Fragile heroines and Modern Revolutionaries’. She spoke about women’s struggle for suffrage and the transition from women who were taught all their lives how to be wives and mothers to militant suffragettes, who Sophie argued could be seen as terrorists. She explained this by talking about the surrounding social changes which were taking place. The experience was enhanced by Alex’s insightful questions and engaged conversation during the workshop, which we all benefited from. Many thanks to the English Department for organising these wonderful trips.