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Othello

Character summaries from Shakespeare's gripping, suspenseful tragedy

Othello Main Characters

The beautiful, the strange, the innocent, the corrupted: learn the transformative power behind the characters of Othello.

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Othello

Othello is a Moorish (African) general in the Venetian army and an eloquent storyteller who is respected, but often treated as an outsider. He has promoted Cassio to lieutenant while leaving Iago as ensign. Othello falls in love with Desdemona and they secretly marry; later, he leaves to Cyprus to stop the Turks. During this campaign, Iago manipulates Othello and his insecurities to make him think his wife has been unfaithful with Cassio. Othello orders Iago to kill Cassio, himself going to smother Desdemona while she is asleep. When Othello learns the truth too late, he wounds Iago and in despair, kills himself.

Farewell the tranquil mind; farewell content

— Othello; Act 3 Scene 3

Desdemona

Desdemona is the daughter of the Venetian senator Brabantio. Amazed by Othello’s stories of his life, she falls in love with him. She defends their secret marriage to her father when he finds out, but he disowns her, and she follows her husband on his campaign to Cyprus. Iago manipulates Roderigo, Cassio and Othello through their love for her and resulting jealousy. Her caring nature leads her to innocently agree to help Cassio, as well as naively wonder as to the causes of Othello’s mistrust. She continues to proclaim her innocence, even when publicly struck by Othello, and later on her deathbed as he smothers her.

And his unkindness may defeat my life / But never taint my love

— Desdemona; Act 4 Scene 2
Iago

Iago

Iago, an ensign (standard-bearer), claims he is seeking revenge on Othello for promoting Cassio instead of him, but his evil, manipulative actions are without justification. He tells Senator Brabantio of Othello’s secret marriage to Desdemona and later gets Cassio drunk, stoking him and Roderigo to fight over her. He convinces Cassio to ask Desdemona for help regaining his recently lost post as officer and plants the strawberry handkerchief Othello had given to Desdemona on Cassio, which leads Othello to suspect her of infidelity. He then convinces Othello to attack Cassio. When his wife Emilia tells the truth of his plotting to Othello, Iago kills her. Othello wounds him, he is arrested and sent to trial without ever explaining his actions.

O, beware, my lord, of jealousy; It is the green-eyed monster

— Iago; Act 3 Scene 3

Cassio

Michael Cassio is noble and loyal, albeit inexperienced, and he is promoted to lieutenant in the Venetian forces by his general Othello. In Cyprus, Iago gets him drunk and incites Roderigo to fight with him over Desdemona. Othello blames Cassio for the fight and then strips Cassio of his recently conferred lieutenant status. Cassio is convinced by Iago to ask Desdemona for help in regaining this status. Iago manipulates Cassio's friendship with Desdemona to make Othello think they are having an affair. Othello orders Iago to kill Cassio, but he is only wounded. Cassio becomes governor of Cyprus after Othello’s death.

Reputation, reputation, reputation! O, I have lost my reputation!

— Cassio; Act 2 Scene 3
Emilia

Emilia

Emilia is the wife of Iago and a handmaiden to Desdemona. Iago regularly mistreats and humiliates her. He convinces her to take Desdemona’s handkerchief in order to win his good graces which spurs Othello’s jealousy. When Othello questions her about Desdemona's guilt, she defends her and suspects that someone else is manipulating him. When she finds Othello killing Desdemona and discovers her husband’s role in the plotting, she refuses to stay silent – which results in Iago murdering her.

‘Tis not a year or two shows us a man

— Emilia; Act 3 Scene 4

Othello Minor Characters

Bianca
Roderigo

The Duke of Venice
Brabantio
Gratiano
Lodovico
Montano

Senators of Venice
Officers
Sailor
Messenger
Gentlemen
Herald
Clown
Musicians

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