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Othello Characters

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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 Cypress.

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 Roderigo.

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 Desdemona.

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 his ends.

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 indeed misjudgment.

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 of manipulation.

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 problem.

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 Roderigo.

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 welfare.

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.

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