Adaptation and inspiration

Shakespeare often drew his ideas for his plays from other well-known stories. This was the fashion during the time he was writing, and if we think about it many writers still do it today.

However, Shakespeare always changed the stories dramatically to make them more realistic and the characters more human. For example, Shakespeare’s famous tragedy, Romeo and Juliet, is based on a poem by Arthur Brooke. The original poem is a warning to children not to disobey their parents. Shakespeare’s version empowers the young lovers and reveals them to be more perceptive than their parents, who are blinded by hatred.


Research the history of Othello and find out what story Shakespeare got his inspiration from. You may like to look at Historical background for help.

Who was the author of this play, where is it from and what is the basic storyline? Make a list of the differences between Shakespeare’s text and the original:

  • The character names
  • Plot
  • The ending
  • Character intentions
  • Character relationships

NB: You don't need to read the original source text, just note the key information about the story.


Answer the following questions considering your findings:

  • Why do you think Shakespeare chose to give all the characters in his play names, unlike the original?
  • Shakespeare added a certain character to the play that was not in the original. Who was it and why do you think he did this? What purpose does this character serve?
  • Shakespeare changed the path of the title character Othello, why did he do this? Do you think you would feel differently about Othello if he behaved like the main character in the original?
  • Shakespeare added a scene with two female characters at the end of Act 4 that was not in the original. Why is this scene important? How does the added scene change the audience’s opinion of the two female characters?
  • Shakespeare is regarded as quite a modern writer for his time. Considering the difference between these two plays, why do you think this is so? How and why does he change dramatic scripts and do you think we connect with his version more? Explain your reasons.

Extension task

Imagine it is the early 1600’s and you are a local reporter with an assignment from your editor.

Write a newspaper article or ‘pamphlet’ (as they called them in those days) for the ‘Jacobean Times’ reporting how popular Shakespeare’s plays are with the London locals and how he has changed the face of playwriting. Imagine Othello has just hit the local stages. What might the audience response be to the play? Use examples from Othello in comparison to the original source as evidence in your article. You can even make up quotes from locals or Shakespeare himself to flesh out your piece.

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