Othello Characters guide studies each character's
role and motivation in this play.
Duke of Venice: Introduced to us in Act I, Scene
III, he sends Othello with his wife Desdemona to Cypress
to thwart a suspected Turkish invasion there. The Duke
hopes Othello's leadership of his Venetian forces
will see the Venetian's triumphant. When Brabantio
tries to have Othello punished for allegedly seducing
his daughter Desdemona with witchcraft, the Duke displays
his wisdom, learning the truth by allowing Brabantio,
Othello and Desdemona to tell their sides of the story.
He later wisely tells Brabantio to accept Othello and
Desdemona's marriage, arguing Brabantio will gain
a "son" in the process. Responsible for Cassio
being made Governor of Cypress (replacing Othello),
in Act IV, Scene I and for Othello being recalled from
Brabantio: Desdemona's father and a senator
in Venice, he is initially outraged in Act I, Scene
I when Iago and Roderigo unfairly report that his fair
daughter has been seduced by Othello who must have been
using "magic" to persuade her to be intimate
with him. In Act I, Scene III, Brabantio tries to petition
the Duke to punish Othello, but this fails when it is
learned that Desdemona fell in love with Othello by
her own free will. Told by the Duke to accept Othello
and Desdemona's marriage, Brabantio resists, never
liking Othello despite his reputation as a soldier,
which is how Othello is readily accepted and respected
by the Duke and others...
Gratiano: Brother to Brabantio, we see little
of him, except largely in Act V, Scene I, when he discovers
with Lodovico, the wounded Cassio, thought to have been
wounded by Roderigo when we later learn it was really
Iago who stabbed him.
Lodovico: Kinsman to Brabantio, and very active
in Act V, Scenes I and II, he discovers the wounded
Cassio along with Gratiano and is scolded with Gratiano
by Iago for not doing more to help Cassio when both
men are still unaware that Iago wounded Cassio, not
In Act V, Scene II, Lodovico criticizes Othello for
murdering his wife Desdemona and falling from grace
to act like a common slave not the respected man he
once was. Additionally, Lodovico plays an active role
in the discovery process of Iago's treachery, by
finding on the dead Roderigo a note indicating Cassio
was to be killed, learning that Othello killed Desdemona,
discovering Othello's and Iago's plot to kill
Cassio and finally learning the sad story of how Othello's
handkerchief was used by Iago to manipulate Othello
into believing his wife was unfaithful which led to
her death as well as Iago's wife, Emilia.
Responsible by nature, he seizes control of events
in the final scene, taking Othello's sword from
him after he wounds Iago and later places Cassio in
charge of the evil Iago while he heads abroad to recount
the sad events that have happened in Cypress.
Othello: A noble "Moor", in the service
of the Venetian State, Othello is introduced to us in
the very first scene by the term "Moor", when
Iago complains that Othello has made Cassio his lieutenant
and not him. We also learn from Iago that Othello has
a relationship with the fair Desdemona. Respected by
the Duke of Venice, who is the first to address him
by name (Othello in Act I, Scene III) and who sends
for him when Cypress is threatened by Turkish forces,
Othello is continuously described by his critics (Brabantio,
Iago) as a "Moor" a reference to his dark
skinned appearance and a reference to the race of Muslim
peoples of north-western Africa to which Othello belongs.
Though made Governor of Cypress in Act I, Scene III,
Othello's fortunes rapidly change for the worst
as Iago succeeds in making Othello believe his loyal
wife is having an affair with his lieutenant Cassio,
a belief that leads to Othello killing his loyal, loving
wife and later himself when he realizes that he was
wrong and merely tricked by Iago.
Tactful and wise, Othello does not fight Brabantio
when he accuses him of bewitching his daughter in Act
I. Instead he offers no resistance and speaks with Brabantio
before the Duke where Othello with Desdemona's
testimony, proves his marriage is one made of love not
witchcraft. Polite and courteous, he addresses the Duke
and company in Act I as "My very noble and approv'd
good masters," (Act I, Scene III, Line 77).
Nonetheless he allows the threat to his pride that
Desdemona's infidelity would represent, to allow
him to trust Iago on some very circumstantial evidence
(Iago saying Cassio boasted of sleeping with Desdemona,
Cassio having Desdemona's handkerchief and Cassio
talking about a woman Othello does not realize is Bianca)
which leads to his murdering his wife, to prevent her
abusing other men when we really know it is to avenge
his own pride.
Ultimately Othello realizes this but too late after
killing his loving and trusting wife. Othello does stab
Iago in revenge but Iago lives, whilst Othello does
not, committing suicide shortly after realizing he misplaced
his trust in Iago when he should have trusted his wife.
In addition to losing his life, Othello also loses
his reputation in Act V, when Lodovico scolds Othello
for acting like a common slave, when until recently
he was so much more, a man well respected by the Duke
of Venice amongst others. A tragic figure, Othello allowed
his misplaced trust (in Iago's honesty) and his
pride to undo all that he had...
Cassio: Othello's friend, Cassio was made
Othello's lieutenant rather than Iago who expected
the appointment. Disrespectfully described by Iago as
lacking real "battlefield" experience, Cassio
is instead a schooled soldier, not one who learned his
craft on the front-line as Iago has. Deeply admiring
of Othello's wife Desdemona, it is this admiration
that Iago uses to suggest he is having an affair with
Desdemona, leading to her death and indirectly that
of Emilia and Othello as well.
Through the course of this tragedy, Cassio's fortunes
change considerably. In Act I, he is Othello's
loyal and trusted lieutenant. In Act II, he is Othello's
loyal friend in Cypress and respectful admirer of Desdemona
but in Act II, Scene III, is manipulated to fight Roderigo,
hitting him and Montano, and consequently losing his
position as Othello's "lieutenant".
In Act III, Iago is Othello's remorseful friend who
hopes Desdemona's good words will reinstate him,
unaware that they merely implicate him in Iago's
plan to make him look like Desdemona's lover and
Cassio also reveals himself to be a neglectful boyfriend
to his mistress Bianca.
In Act IV, Cassio is manipulated into talking about
his girlfriend Bianca, unaware that Othello, hiding
nearby assumes his hand gestures are descriptions of
Finally in Act V, Cassio first fights off an ambush
by an Iago manipulated Roderigo, then is stabbed by
Iago in the dark to later outlive Othello, Desdemona
and Emilia and be placed in charge of the now exposed
and captive Iago.
Iago: Othello's ancient, a position below
lieutenant. Perhaps Shakespeare's most evil figure,
not for his treachery which is arguably surpassed by
Macbeth (who kills his king in his sleep while staying
at his castle as a trusting guest), but for the manner
in which he effortlessly manipulates all those around
him to do his bidding (kill Cassio, destroy Othello,
discredit Desdemona's virtue) by taking advantage
of their trust and using his victim's own motivations
(Roderigo's desire for Desdemona, Cassio's
desire to be reinstated) and weaknesses (Othello's pride,
Cassio's impaired judgment whilst drunk), to achieve
Though Iago does kill when he stabs and murders Roderigo,
he created most of his devastation through the use of
others who unwittingly follow their own agenda which
Iago subverts to achieve a web of events which succeeds
in making Cassio first lose his position as Othello's
lieutenant, then petition Desdemona to be reinstated
which allows Iago to suggest Desdemona's adultery
and later to motivate Roderigo to kill him (Cassio).
Iago's character is complex, but in Act I, Scene
I, where he describes his disgust at being overlooked
for Othello's lieutenant, we can see that a primary
motivation for Iago's skillful manipulations was
revenge and anger; revenge for Cassio replacing him,
anger that Othello overlooked him. Thus it can be seen
that Iago's manipulations are driven by a basic
desire to avenge those who hurt him but also to gain
what he believes is his, indeed Iago's suggestion
that Cassio and Desdemona are having an affair earns
Iago Othello's trust and the position as his lieutenant
in Act III, Scene III.
However being made lieutenant only satisfies his pride,
his continuing with his plan to discredit Desdemona
shows us that it is not enough for Iago to have what
he believes is his, he must punish Othello for overlooking
him in the first place by making Othello disbelieve
and destroy his virtuous wife...
Iago is pragmatic. We see this in the manner in which
he uses opportunity to aid his plan to hurt Cassio and
Othello. When Iago realizes Cassio's admiration
of Desdemona, he immediately formulates a plan to use
this to make Othello suspect adultery.
Though Iago appears to have the goal of misery for
Othello and Cassio, he does not appear to have a specific
detailed plan, he continually refers to using insights
he makes about Cassio, Othello, Roderigo and Desdemona
to further his plan in his asides in the play.
Iago's pragmatism is also evident in his use of
Roderigo. He uses this well-healed (wealthy) Venetian
for money by promising to forward gifts on to Desdemona
he instead uses for his own ends.
However when Roderigo suspects this in Act V, he plots
to have Roderigo kill Cassio since if Cassio wins, he
still wins by having Roderigo eliminated. Ultimately
this fails, so Iago kills Roderigo himself.
Cunning in the extreme, Iago nearly gets away with
his plan; Othello does kill Desdemona, Iago is made
lieutenant, but Cassio despite his attack in Act V,
lives and he (Iago) is eventually caught and exposed.
If Iago has an Achilles heal, it was his wife Emilia,
who despite threats and orders from Iago, revealed to
all Iago's treachery by declaring Desdemona's
innocence and explaining how she found Desdemona's
handkerchief, passing it on to Iago... For this Iago
shows his total ruthlessness by killing Emilia and escaping,
only to be later caught.
Though Iago appears to be managing everyone else's
insecurities to his personal advantage, Iago does indeed
have his own insecurities, lending credibility to his
character since no man is immune from insecurity or
Iago shows his insecurity by his need to be made lieutenant,
which reveals his own desire to reach a status he seems
to need to be comfortable.
Likewise, in Act II, Scene I, when Iago reveals that
he suspects Othello is having an affair with his wife
Emilia as a peripheral motivation for manipulating Othello,
he again shows his insecurity, one which he uses in
Othello against Desdemona.
Iago's great misjudgment of course is of his own
wife. She stands up to him to defend Desdemona despite
all the risks it entails, unraveling Iago's web
At the end of the play, Iago differs from many of Shakespeare's
villains in that he is left standing, if guarded; most
villains in Shakespeare's plays tend to die at
the hands of those they oppressed in a recurring theme
of restoration of order. Iago by contrast does not die,
we can only speculate that his future will be miserable...
Roderigo: A wealthy Venetian gentleman, Roderigo
pays Iago to keep him informed of Desdemona's activities
since he hopes to one day marry her. Trusting of Iago,
he nonetheless questions Iago repetitively on his loyalty
to him in Act I, and later on what has happened to gifts
given to him to pass on to Desdemona in Act V.
Nonetheless he listens to Iago's calls not to
give up when he learns of Desdemona's marriage,
unaware he is being led on a fool's quest to simply
finance Iago. Lured by Iago to fight Cassio twice (First
in Act II, Scene III and later in Act V, Scene I), Roderigo
is ultimately killed by Iago.
Montano: Othello's predecessor in the Government
of Cyprus, Montano deeply respects Othello. Nonetheless
Montano is trusting and easily manipulated since he
readily believes Iago's assertions that Cassio,
Othello's "lieutenant" has a drinking
A victim of Roderigo and Cassio's first fight,
he is wounded trying to break up the fight, a contributing
factor to Othello demoting Cassio.
Clown: Servant to Othello, he mocks the musicians,
Cassio had arranged to play before the castle in an
effort to appease Othello in Act III, Scene I.
The Clown mocks the Cyprian Musician's instruments,
wondering aloud if they are "wind instruments?"
(Line 6) before Cassio pays him relay a message to Emilia
to come and talk to Cassio which she does, revealing
Othello and Desdemona have discussed him, Othello wanting
to reinstate Cassio as his lieutenant but being prevented
by Cassio's infamy on Cypress from his fight with
Desdemona: Daughter to Brabantio and wife to
Othello, Desdemona is continuously distrusted by those
who should love and trust her most. First in Act I,
her father Brabantio refuses to believe she could love
Othello without Othello using witchcraft.
Later Othello, her husband ignores her pleas of innocence
to the accusation of infidelity by Othello. Loving and
loyal right to the end, she refuses to tell Emilia that
Othello killed her since she does not want her love
to suffer even when he killed her...
Well meaning, she helps Cassio by trying to speak of
his demotion to Othello but this earns her Othello's
wrath since he sees it as proof that she is having an
affair with Cassio because she is concerned for his
Naive to some extent, she finds it impossible to believe
a woman could be unfaithful, Emilia contrasting with
her belief that such people do exist since in the right
circumstances she herself, would commit adultery.
Emilia: Wife to Iago and not particularly loved
by Iago, Emilia could be argued to be a major seed in
Iago's downfall. Though introduced in Act II, Scene
I (Lines 96-108) in less than respectful tones by Iago,
Emilia is trusted as a friend by Desdemona. Nonetheless
she is loyal to Iago, giving Desdemona's handkerchief
to Iago instead of back to Desdemona.
Emilia's greatest character development occurs
in Act IV, Scene II, where she declares that she would
be unfaithful in the right circumstances, revealing
considerably less naivety than Desdemona who barely
believes adulterous people exist.
As Desdemona's confidante, she ironically and
unwittingly reveals the source of Othello's anger
when she says that Othello has obviously been tricked
into believing Desdemona would be unfaithful by an evil
man (Iago but not named).
In Act V, Scene II, Emilia reveals her true loyalties
however by refusing to be dismissed by Iago when she
reveals that she gave Iago Desdemona's handkerchief,
a revelation that proves Desdemona was not unfaithful.
For this, Emilia is stabbed by her husband, dying whilst
singing the "Willow Song", a song told to
her by Desdemona..
Bianca: Mistress to Cassio, Bianca plays a limited
but significant role in this play. As Cassio's
neglected girlfriend, she is given Desdemona's
handkerchief to copy by Cassio, only later to return
it angrily back to Cassio, which a hiding Othello takes
as proof that Cassio has Desdemona's handkerchief
proving that Desdemona was unfaithful to him.
Bianca is later implicated in Cassio's wounding
by Iago even though she is innocent and it was Iago
who in the dark stabbed Cassio.
Sailor, Officers, Gentlemen, Messengers, Musicians,