play’s protagonist and hero. A Christian Moor and general of the
armies of Venice, Othello is an eloquent and physically powerful
figure, respected by all those around him. In spite of his elevated
status, he is nevertheless easy prey to insecurities because of
his age, his life as a soldier, and his race. He possesses a “free and
open nature,” which his ensign Iago uses to twist his love for his
wife, Desdemona, into a powerful and destructive jealousy (I.iii.381).
daughter of the Venetian senator Brabanzio. Desdemona and Othello
are secretly married before the play begins. While in many ways
stereotypically pure and meek, Desdemona is also determined and
self-possessed. She is equally capable of defending her marriage,
jesting bawdily with Iago, and responding with dignity to Othello’s
ensign (a job also known as an ancient or standard-bearer), and
the villain of the play. Iago is twenty-eight years old. While his
ostensible reason for desiring Othello’s demise is that he has been
passed over for promotion to lieutenant, Iago’s motivations are
never very clearly expressed and seem to originate in an obsessive,
almost aesthetic delight in manipulation and destruction.
Michael Cassio -
lieutenant. Cassio is a young and inexperienced soldier, whose high
position is much resented by Iago. Truly devoted to Othello, Cassio
is extremely ashamed after being implicated in a drunken brawl on
Cyprus and losing his place as lieutenant. Iago uses Cassio’s youth,
good looks, and friendship with Desdemona to play on Othello’s insecurities
about Desdemona’s fidelity.
wife and Desdemona’s attendant. A cynical, worldly woman, she is
deeply attached to her mistress and distrustful of her husband.
jealous suitor of Desdemona. Young, rich, and foolish, Roderigo
is convinced that if he gives Iago all of his money, Iago will help
him win Desdemona’s hand. Repeatedly frustrated as Othello marries Desdemona
and then takes her to Cyprus, Roderigo is ultimately desperate enough
to agree to help Iago kill Cassio after Iago points out that Cassio
is another potential rival for Desdemona.
courtesan, or prostitute, in Cyprus. Bianca’s
favorite customer is Cassio, who teases her with promises of marriage.
father, a somewhat blustering and self-important Venetian senator.
As a friend of Othello, Brabanzio feels betrayed when the general
marries his daughter in secret.
Duke of Venice -
official authority in Venice, the duke has great respect for Othello
as a public and military servant. His primary role within the play
is to reconcile Othello and Brabanzio in Act I, scene iii, and then
to send Othello to Cyprus.
governor of Cyprus before Othello. We see him first in Act II, as
he recounts the status of the war and awaits the Venetian ships.
of Brabanzio’s kinsmen, Lodovico acts as a messenger from Venice
to Cyprus. He arrives in Cyprus in Act IV with letters announcing
that Othello has been replaced by Cassio as governor.
kinsman who accompanies Lodovico to Cyprus. Amidst the chaos of
the final scene, Graziano mentions that Desdemona’s father has died.
servant. Although the clown appears only in two short scenes, his
appearances reflect and distort the action and words of the main
plots: his puns on the word “lie” in Act III, scene iv, for example,
anticipate Othello’s confusion of two meanings of that word in Act
IV, scene i.
This is perhaps one of Shakespeare's more interesting plays, if you will. In comparison to Macbeth it isn't quite the walk in the park.
I think conceptually it enables the reader to see that characters can influence characters to such a degree that the original traits are masked and changed. Tragedy in this play is definitely a main component - and a great emphasis that perhaps the villain doesn't always find their true defeat. In a way, wasn't the "villain" successful? He lied to everyone and pretty much killed whomever got in his way.
Before I begin expounding on this thought, let me first say that I am not a Shakespearean “Scholar”. I am just a teacher who loves teaching Shakespeare on the off-chance that one of my students will get bitten by the bug and want to study and read more of the man than just the set works that he or she has to cover for exam purposes.
Having taught Othello to matric classes for the past 4 years, I have developed a few theories of my own about Shakespeare’s “bit” actors,... Read more→
Othello was the final play in my effort to read all of Shakespeare before his 450th. It was a great time reading them all, and Othello was one of the most difficult and darkest (so often pitting light against darkness).
While racism in Elizabethan England wasn't the same as that of the 21st century, it certainly was a backdrop to the play, and Shakespeare, this time, seemed to challenge it.