How can I analyze the characters in William Shakespeare's play Othello?

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thanatassa | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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Writing a character analysis for William Shakespeare's play Othello requires reading through the play carefully, making notes about each character as you read, rather than being caught up in the story line. 

For each character, you might ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is this a major or minor character?
  • What is the character's main function in the plot of the play?
  • What are the character's main relationships with the other characters of the play?
  • What sort of ethics or morals does the character display?
  • What motivates the character?
  • Does the character develop over the course of the play or is the character static?

Thus, for example, in an analysis of Othello, you would start by making a list of the answers to the questions above:

  • Othello is the protagonist, or leading character of Othello.
  • The plot begins with Othello falling in love with Desdemona, then marrying her, and finally killing her.
  • Othello is a well respected soldier, but as a Moor, suffers some degree of racial discrimination from some of the Venetians. He is husband to Desdemona, friend to Cassio, and thinks Iago is his friend (but Iago actually hates him).
  • Othello is a morally good character, but prone to jealously and loses his temper easily. He is very honest, and doesn't know when people are lying to him. He has a trusting disposition.
  • His main motivations are love for Desdemona and jealousy when he thinks she is committing adultery. 
  • Othello develops from a simple soldier to a complex and intelligent man in love under the good influence of Desdemona. Under the bad influence of Iago, jealousy corrupts his fundamentally good nature.

For your assignment, for each character, take a basic list of the main features of the character and shape it into paragraph form, emphasizing the aspects of the character you consider most important as the thesis statement for that character.

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