Honors College class puts Othello on trial
The idea came to English professor David Lee Miller last summer: Why not put Shakespeare’s Othello on trial in an Honors College classroom?
Students had enjoyed mock trial assignments in his classes in the past, but this time he was thinking about something more intense, more dramatic: a class with students and actors and lawyers and documentary filmmakers.
The course, “The Trial of Othello, the Moor of Venice, for the Murder of the Beauteous Desdemona,” was born. It’s one of more than 400 courses available through the South Carolina Honors College each year, many of them special seminars specifically designed to meet students’ interests and goals.
Students in the Othello class do plenty of intense reading about the play as well as background material on race and gender in early modern England. But the 15 students in this spring’s section spent time in one of the moot court trial rooms in the School of Law, while students from an advanced acting class in the theater department impersonated characters from the play — being deposed and giving character testimony.
Columbia’s Sinkler Boyd law firm hosted the prosecution and defense teams in its downtown Columbia office, where a trial lawyer conferenced with students to discuss strategies for the trial. And a team of students worked with a documentary filmmaker to videotape the entire experience.
OK, it’s not your typical Shakespeare class.
“The way it all came together — the heavens are smiling on us,” Miller said. “And without the Honors College a class like this could never have happened. The Honors College lets faculty think outside the box and encourages us to do it. Then it gives us students who will run with it.”
The class this spring was Miller’s first experience teaching in the Honors College, where faculty members across the university propose classes they are interested in teaching, often in a non-traditional format.
Miller’s goal: “I want students years from now to think back and know this was one of the great experiences they had in college.”
This story originally appeared in Carolinian magazine.
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