List of Characters
Roderigo—a Venetian gentleman; rejected suitor to Desdemona
Iago—newly appointed ensign to Othello, Moor of Venice
Brabantio—Venetian Senator; father to Desdemona
Othello—the Moorish General; husband to Desdemona
Cassio—newly appointed lieutenant to Othello
Duke of Venice—official who appoints Othello in charge of Cyprian mission
Desdemona—wife to Othello; daughter to Brabantio
Montano—retiring governor of Cyprus; predecessor to Othello in Cyprian government
Emilia—wife to Iago; attendant to Desdemona
Clown—servant to Othello
Bianca—a courtesan; mistress to Cassio
Gratiano—Venetian nobleman; brother to Brabantio
Lodovico—Venetian nobleman; kinsman to Brabantio
Senators—officials who discuss Cyprian mission
Messengers—deliver announcements during the play
Two Gentlemen—converse with the governor
Third Gentleman—brings news of the Turkish fleet
Herald—Othello’s herald who reads a proclamation
Sailor—brings message about Turkish fleet
Officers—unnamed characters throughout the play who serve in the military
Attendants—unnamed characters throughout the play whose purpose is to serve the other characters
(The entire section is 160 words.)
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Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Othello (oh-THEHL-oh), a Moorish general in the service of Venice. A romantic and heroic warrior with a frank and honest nature, he has a weakness that makes him vulnerable to Iago’s diabolic temptation. He becomes furiously jealous of his innocent wife and his loyal lieutenant. His character decays, and he connives with Iago to have his lieutenant murdered. Finally, he decides to execute his wife with his own hands. After killing her, he learns of her innocence, and he judges and executes himself.
Iago (ee-AH-goh), Othello’s ancient (ensign), a satirical malcontent who is envious of the appointment of Michael Cassio to the position of Othello’s lieutenant. He at least pretends to suspect his wife Emilia of having an illicit affair with the Moor. A demi-devil, as Othello calls him, he destroys Othello, Desdemona, Roderigo, his own wife, and himself. He is William Shakespeare’s most consummate villain, perhaps sketched in several of Shakespeare’s other characters: Aaron the Moor in Titus Andronicus, Richard of Gloucester in Henry VI and Richard III, and Don John in Much Ado About Nothing. He is echoed in Edmund in King Lear and Iachimo in Cymbeline. He contains strong elements of the Devil and the Vice in the medieval morality plays.
(The entire section is 772 words.)
Brabantio (Character Analysis)
Brabantio is Desdemona's father. A Venetian senator, he is a magnifico, a prominent citizen and landowner in Venice. He charges Othello with bewitching his daughter and dies after Desdemona leaves for Cyprus with Othello and the Venetian forces.
When the play opens, Brabantio's household is being disrupted by Iago and Roderigo, who are crying out to Brabantio that he has been robbed. Brabantio says, "What tell'st thou me of robbing? This is Venice; / My house is not a grange" (I.i.105-06). He believes he is safely within the civilized society of Venice, not on the dangerous and uncivilized fringe of that society. When Iago cries that Brabantio's daughter is at that moment sleeping with the Moor Othello, he appeals to Brabantio's racial prejudices. When Brabantio recognizes Roderigo, he reminds him that he has prohibited Roderigo from pursuing Desdemona as a suitor. Moments later, Brabantio first reveals his racial prejudice when he tells Roderigo, ''O would you had had her! / Some one way, some another" (I.i.175-76). He would prefer anyone to Othello as his daughter's husband, even the unsavory Roderigo.
Brabantio cannot believe Desdemona has freely selected Othello. When Roderigo escorts him to the place where Othello is, Brabantio draws his sword and is ready to fight with the Moor. He accuses Othello of having used spells and charms to seduce and steal his daughter. He makes the same claim to the Venetian senate, arguing that Othello has...
(The entire section is 353 words.)
Cassio (Character Analysis)
Cassio is chosen over Iago to be Othello's lieutenant. He is discredited when he participates in a drunken brawl during Othello's wedding celebration. Cassio survives a murder attempt by Roderigo, wounding his attacker, and is appointed deputy governor of Cyprus after Othello is recalled to Venice.
According to Iago, Cassio is "a great arithmetician" (I.i.19), one "That never set a squadron in the field" (I.i.22). Cassio knows battle only from books, unlike Iago who has had a good deal of experience in combat. Cassio is apparently a handsome man, and the ladies are attracted to him. But Cassio also has his weaknesses. When Iago tries to get him to have a drink in celebration of the Turks' defeat and Othello's marriage, Cassio says, "I have very poor and unhappy brains for drinking" (II.iii.30-31). Cassio is the perfect dupe for Iago. Cassio is attractive, and this fact encourages Othello's belief in Iago's suggestion that Desdemona desires Cassio. Cassio's inability to drink also gives Iago another weapon in his plan to abuse both Cassio and Othello.
Cassio represents the class privilege of which Iago is so envious and resentful. It rankles Iago that Cassio seems to have bought into the idea that he is socially superior. When they are drinking together, Cassio tells Iago that "the lieutenant is to be sav'd before the ancient" (II.iii.105-106). Cassio is perhaps referring to a commonplace for maintaining military order, but the implication is...
(The entire section is 393 words.)
Desdemona (Character Analysis)
Desdemona is the daughter of Brabantio, a man of some reputation in Venice. As such, she is part of the upper class of Venetian society. Desdemona elopes with Othello and accompanies him to Cyprus. After Cassio is discredited, she pleads for his reinstatement, an act which her husband interprets as proof of Iago's insinuations that she is unfaithful. She is ultimately murdered by Othello.
Apparently, Desdemona has many suitors vying for her hand in marriage, but she freely chooses to marry Othello, a decision which greatly upsets Brabantio, Iago, and Roderigo. She testifies before the Venetian senate that the story Othello has told about their mutual attraction is true. In that story, Othello recounts how he was invited to Brabantio's home to tell of his journeys to foreign places. Being forced to leave the room on frequent errands for her father and his guests, Desdemona was unable to hear the full account of Othello's exploits in those foreign places. But she was intrigued, and on another occasion Othello told her his story in full. Othello tells the duke and the senators, "She lov'd me for the dangers I had pass'd, / And I lov'd her that she did pity them" (I.iii.167-168). Despite what her father and Iago might think, Desdemona does seem to love Othello truly; and, despite Othello's jealous suspicions, she is faithful to him until the end.
In one sense, though, Desdemona presents a contradiction, some critics have argued. After Othello...
(The entire section is 707 words.)
Emilia (Character Analysis)
Emilia is Iago's wife. She travels to Cyprus with her husband and acts as a waiting woman to Desdemona. She gives Iago Desdemona's handkerchief, which he had asked her to steal. After Othello murders his wife, Emilia reveals Desdemona's fidelity and is mortally wounded by Iago for exposing the truth.
When Emilia and Iago arrive in Cyprus, we get some sense of the relationship between Emilia and her husband. Cassio greets Emilia with a kiss, and Iago says, "Sir, would she give you so much of her lips / As of her tongue she oft bestows on me, / You would have enough" (II.i. 100-102).
Emilia is a strong-willed woman who apparently will not suffer her husband to abuse her. She tries to please Iago by recovering for him the handkerchief dropped by Desdemona, unknowingly contributing to Desdemona's death. But when she understands what Iago has done and why he has so often asked her to steal that handkerchief, she exposes him and will not be silenced even when he commands her to "hold your peace" (V.ii.220). Emilia is the only character whom Iago cannot totally manipulate.
The play offers other evidence of Emilia's strong-willed and independent nature. After Othello has struck Desdemona and humiliated her in public, Emilia explains to Iago what has happened. She says that, undoubtedly, some knave has slandered Desdemona to make Othello jealous, an absurd accusation similar to Iago's own accusation that Emilia has been unfaithful with the...
(The entire section is 347 words.)
Iago (Character Analysis)
Iago is Othello's ancient, or ensign. When Othello promotes Cassio, Iago feels slighted and plots revenge against them both. He manipulates Cassio into discrediting himself and urges Roderigo to slay Cassio. When the plot fails, he kills Roderigo to keep from being exposed. Iago convinces Othello of Desdemona's unfaithfulness and maneuvers him into killing her. He then murders his own wife, Emilia, and is taken into custody by Cassio at the play's end.
Iago is a soldier with a good deal of experience in battle, having been on the field with Othello at both Rhodes and Cyprus. He is also one of Shakespeare's greatest villains. He is a master manipulator of people and gets the other characters in the play to do just what he wants. He manipulates others through a keen understanding he seems to have of what motivates them. For example, Iago uses the vision Roderigo has of a union with Desdemona to manipulate Roderigo. Cassio is a man driven by the need to maintain outer appearances, and he easily accepts Iago's advice that he recover his rank by going through Desdemona. Iago also uses to his advantage the fact that Desdemona is of a kind and generous nature, one who will gladly accept the opportunity to persuade her husband to make amends with his lieutenant. And, finally, Iago uses Othello's jealous nature and his apparent insecurity to convince Othello of Desdemona's infidelity. Emilia is the only one, it seems, that Iago cannot manipulate, perhaps because...
(The entire section is 1157 words.)
Othello (Character Analysis)
Othello, a Moor, is a general and commander of the Venetian armed forces, and later governor of Cyprus. He secretly weds Desdemona and provokes Iago's enmity by promoting Cassio. He later relieves Cassio of his rank when he believes that the lieutenant started a drunken brawl. Othello gradually succumbs to Iago's plot, and, believing that Desdemona is unfaithful, smothers her. When he realizes she was innocent of Iago's accusations, he commits suicide.
Othello is a noble and imposing man, well respected in his profession as a soldier. At the beginning of the play, he enjoys great successes and everything seems to be going his way. Desdemona has chosen him over all of her other Venetian suitors, and Othello prevails over Brabantio's charges that Othello has coerced and abducted her. The duke of Venice and the Venetian senators place him in charge of the troops sent to defend Cyprus against the Turks. Things continue to go Othello's way when he arrives in Cyprus and discovers that the tempest has entirely eliminated the Turkish threat. He and Desdemona act differently toward each other in Cyprus. They are more openly loving, much less formal than they appeared in Venice. The couple celebrate their marriage; and, even when that celebration is interrupted by the brawling of Cassio and Montano, Othello still appears confident and self-controlled. In the tradition of the best strong-armed heroic types, he says, "He that stirs next to carve for his own rage /...
(The entire section is 1545 words.)
Roderigo (Character Analysis)
Roderigo is a Venetian desperately desiring, but a rejected suitor of Desdemona. He becomes Iago's pawn, wounds and is wounded by Cassio in an unsuccessful attempt to murder the lieutenant, and is killed by Iago.
Roderigo is identified in the Dramatis Personae as a gull, a dupe or easy mark. Roderigo is gullible; he believes everything Iago tells him and does everything Iago commands of him. At the beginning of the play, at Iago's instigation, he alarms Brabantio with the news that Desdemona has eloped with the Moor. He sails with Iago to Cyprus and, while there, serves as a pawn in Iago's plan to destroy Othello and Cassio. Upon instruction, he picks a fight with Cassio when the latter keeps watch during the general celebration. Later, he attacks Cassio in the dark and wounds him, suffering a wound himself. Roderigo has given Iago money to negotiate with Desdemona on his behalf and thinks that the tasks Iago assigns him are intended only to remove Cassio from the picture, paving Roderigo's way to possessing Desdemona. Although his actions are despicable, he does evoke a measure of sympathy in the way that he is so utterly manipulated and ultimately betrayed by Iago, who stabs the wounded Roderigo on the dark street in order that he might not reveal Iago's involvement in Cassio's wounding.
Roderigo is continually threatening to quit his pursuit of Desdemona and cease giving Iago money for his intervention in that matter. Each time he does so,...
(The entire section is 423 words.)
Other Characters (Descriptions)
Othello and Desdemona are characters of some stature in the communities of both Venice and Cyprus. In their public appearances throughout the play, they are often accompanied by attendants.
Bianca is a courtesan, a prostitute, in Cyprus. She falls in love with Cassio and pursues him, an unexpected turn of events given the callousness and lack of affection usually associated with her profession. Iago is aware that Cassio is not as affectionate toward Bianca as she is toward him, and he takes advantage of the one-sided relationship. On the pretext that he is questioning Cassio about Desdemona, Iago really questions Cassio about Bianca. He does this in order to increase Othello's jealousy, as the latter stands off to the side unable to hear but able to see Cassio's cavalier and mocking attitude. When Cassio finds the handkerchief belonging to Othello and planted in his quarters by Iago, he gives it to Bianca so that she might remove its valuable stitching. This fortunate event lends itself to Iago's plan since it increases Othello's hatred of Cassio, who seemingly equates Desdemona with a common prostitute.
In a comic interlude that temporarily breaks the building tension, the clown appears and speaks to a group of musicians who have been directed by Cassio to play outside the quarters of Desdemona and Othello. The clown tells the musicians they sound nasal, alluding to the nasal...
(The entire section is 1519 words.)