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Description of the characters of the drama “Othello”

Updated on July 21, 2014


Othello is one of the greatest tragedies of William Shakespeare. This tragedy, written around 1603, is one of his periods (1601 – 1607). This is the period of the Great Tragedies and of the somber or Bitter Comedies. Shakespeare wrote his dramas in Elizabethan age and this age was famous for domestic tragedy. Domestic tragedy refers to such kind of situation where hero or heroine is killed by husband or wife. Othello appears like a domestic tragedy because its theme is the murder of a wife by her husband.

Characters of Othello

  1. Othello.
  2. Iago.
  3. Desdemona.
  4. Emilia.
  5. Cassio.
  6. Roderigo.
  7. Brabantio.
  8. Gratiano.
  9. Lodovico.
  10. The Duke of Venice.
  11. The Senate.
  12. Montano.
  13. Bianca.
  14. The clown and others.

All of the characters are described below:-

Othello | Source

1. Othello

Othello is the hero and one of the most admired characters in all Shakespearean tragedies. He is admired for his nobility, high-mindedness, straight-forwardness, boundless confidence, love of honors, and simplicity.

Othello is a Moor of Venice:

Othello is Moorish by caste. He conquered the dwellers’ mind of Venice.

Othello is black:

Othello is undoubtedly black with the blackness of a Negro.

His Christianity:

Othello has adopted the Christian faith and holds it with unaffected sincerity.

A romantic figure:

Othello is the most romantic figure among Shakespeare's heroes. His nature too is romantic. He has not the meditative or speculative imagination of Hamlet; but in the strictest sense of the word he is more poetic than Hamlet.

As a lover:

Othello is one of the great lovers in the literature of the world, the greatest lover in Shakespeare. There can be no doubt about Othello's profound love for Desdemona. Othello has a great admiration for the qualities of Desdemona.

Proficiency in war:

He is a born soldier. The major portion of his life has been spent in wars and camps. He is well reputed for his ability and proficiency as a soldier as well as a commander.

His weaknesses:

He has some weaknesses which are in certain circumstances, dangerous. His control, though strong, is far from unbreakable. His excited temper is uncontrollable. Othello is simple and straightforward himself, and he demands simplicity and straightforwardness in others.

His jealousy:

Though he is not "a jealous man", one cannot deny that he is, for a considerable part of the play, dominated by jealousy. And part of the very power of jealousy over him is that it is to him an unfamiliar emotion.

Other qualities:

Othello seems born to do great deeds and live in legend. He has the obvious heroic qualities of courage and strength. But the thing which most sets him apart is his solitariness. He is a stranger, a man of alien race, without ties of nature or natural duties.

Published on Mar 28, 2013 Film Othello - Shakespeare

2. Iago

Iago is a matured villain in this tragedy. He is the embodiment of evil. He makes plot against Othello and breaks the relationship between Othello and Desdemona. In this tragedy, Othello, Desdemona, Cassio, Emilia and Roderigo also are hampered by Iago’s conspiracy.

His motives:

His first motive is decline of Othello, second is displacing Cassio from the post of lieyoutenant.

His hypocrisy:

Othello is black, but Iago is white. So he obeys Othello as a servant but does not obey in his mind the authority of Othello. His hypocrisy appears with Roderigo also.

Trusted by others:

It is wonder of the wonders that every character trust him. None has the least suspicion about Iago’s motives.

His intrigues/conspiracy:

  1. He makes Cassio drunk and involves in a fight.
  2. He misguided Othello about Desdemona by creating relationship between Cassio and Desdemona.
  3. He forces his wife to steal the handkerchief of Desdemona and drops in Cassio’s room.
  4. He made Cassio paralyzed by hit him in dark.

Relation with Emilia:

Iago has little or no respect for Emilia. In fact, he is frankly contemptuous of her.

Bradley says: “Evil has nowhere else been portrayed with such mastery as in the character of lago”.

Desdimona | Source

3. Desdemona

Desdemona, the beautiful heroine of the play, is the very embodiment of virtue, purity, gentleness, sympathy and kind heartedness. She is, indeed, far from perfect and is not without faults, but she wins the profound admiration and deep sympathy of the reader.

Her beauty and accomplishments:

Othello refers in (Act V, Scene II) to "that whiter skin of hers than snow, and smooth, as monumental alabaster". Thus, Desdemona may be imagined as an exceedingly beautiful, highly accomplished, extremely graceful and very bashful girl.

The quality of her love for Othello:

Her love for Othello is deep and profound. When questioned by her father about her love for Othello, she is frank and straight forward and does not mince matters. Her devotion to her husband knows no bounds. Her love does not falter at any stage.

Her simplicity and trustful nature:

Desdemona is as simple-minded and as completely trustful as Othello. She is absolutely unsuspicious about the intentions of lago whom, like her husband, she takes on his face value.

Her sympathetic nature:

Desdemona is very sympathetic and kindhearted. She recommended to Othello for Cassio to return him the post of lieyoutenant.

Her faults:

She is said to lack intellect and self-respect, she is secretive, and she meddles in her husband's military affairs.

Her treatment of her father:

Desdemona's treatment of her father can by no means be declared as commendable. She shows little consideration for her father's feelings. she breaks the heart of her father by a secret marriage.

4. Emilia

Emila is one of those ordinary people whom Shakespeare was fond of introducing with reasonable perceptiveness and much commonsense acting as a foil to one or more of the leading characters, and acting also on occasion as chorus or commentator.

With knowledge of human nature:

Emilia is a worldly woman having adequate knowledge of human beings and their natures.

Unsuspicious of her husband's intentions:

Though she has enough knowledge of the world and enough commonsense to understand that, some rogue has been at work against Desdemona. She does not have insight enough to perceive, or even to suspect, that her own husband is the culprit.

Her coarseness:

Emilia here shows any signs of having a bad heart; but she is common, sometimes vulgar, in minor matters almost unscrupulous, blunt in perception and feeling, and quite devoid of imagination.

Her loyalty to Desdemona:

There is no doubt that Emilia is loyal and devoted to Desdemona. If she had the least notion of her husband's intention, she would never have given him the handkerchief.

A critic writes: “lago's wife, Emilia, is a commonplace, worldly, rather sensual woman, sullenly submissive to her husband, immeasurably below him in intellect, and not obviously above him in character”.

5. Michael Cassio

Cassio is a gay young man held in great value by Othello; rash and reckless. The character of Cassio, like that of Emilia, is a combination of excellences and defects and is, therefore, a good example of truth to nature.

Handsome, good-natured and popular:

Cassio is a handsome, light-hearted, good natured young fellow who takes life gaily. He is evidently very attractive and popular. Othello appoints him as his lieyoutenant.

His admiration for Othello and Desdemona:

Cassio admires not only Othello but also Desdemona whom he almost worships. Speaking to Montano, he becomes almost poetic in praise of Desdemona's beauty and attainments:

“One that excels the quirks of blazoning pens,

And in the essential vesture of creation

Does bear all excellency....."

His affair with Bianca, a prostitute:

Cassio's affair with a prostitute, Bianca, confirms this impression of Cassio as a man of loose morals.

His implicit trust in Iago:

Cassio, like Othello and Roderigo, has full trust in lago. This trustfulness proves his undoing.

An amiable person who Pays heavily for his faults:

On the whole, Cassio is an amiable likeable person. He pays heavily for his faults and drunkenness by losing his post of lieutenant. He pays for his trustfulness by falling into Iago's trap and by nearly losing his life.

Cassio is, indeed, a man of singular charm; outwardly engaging “a proper man”, and with “a daily beauty in his life”.

6. Roderigo

Like Emilia, Roderigo is lago's tool; like her, he dies by lago's hand; like her, he contributes something (though far less) to the ultimate exposure. He is a peculiar character in this play.

A thorough dupe:

Roderigo is, for lago's purpose, a perfect dupe. He lends himself easily and unsuspectively to the schemes and devices of lago.

A fool:

Roderigo is a great fool man in this tragedy. he is trapped by Iago repeatedly. But he does not realize that.

Love for Desdemona:

He loves Desdemona very much and wanted to marry her. But he is refused by her father.

Blind in/on love:

Though the Senate has accepted Othello's marriage with Desdemona and he is disappointed and depressed, he follows Iago to Cyprus as advised by Iago for getting Desdemona.

Roderigo pays for his nature:

Roderigo pays heavily for his nature and fails again and again on Iago’s strategy. In this regard, he lost his money and jewels. At last, he dies at Iago’s hand.

7. Brabantio

Brabantio, the father of Desdemona, and a respected Venetian Senator, is relevant to the plot. He disagrees to his daughter’s marriage with Othello.

8. Gratiano

Gratiano is Brabantio's brother, and Desdemona's uncle. It is from him that we learn of Brabantio's death. Gratiano is an elder Venetian and appears to be a man of an unmilitary disposition.

9. Lodovico

From a piece of conversation between Desdemona and Emilia we learn that Lodovico, a kinsman of Brabantio, is a handsome man who speaks well and who has a great appeal for women because of his good looks.

It is he who brings the letters from Venetian authorities intimating to Othello's orders of his (Othello's) recall to Venice and of Cassio's appointment as governor of Cyprus.

10, 11. The Duke of Venice and the Senate

The Duke and the Senate represent the highest government authority in the state of Venice. We find them keenly alive to the danger of the invasion of Rhodes or Cyprus by the Turkish fleet and discussing the matter earnestly and with a full sense of responsibility.

12. Montano

Montano was the governor of Cyprus before he was relieved of his charge by Othello who was especially sent by the Venetian authorities to meet an emergency. Montano had at one time served under Othello and, like Cassio, entertains feelings of respect and admiration for him.

13. Bianca

Bianca is a courtesan (prostitute) who falls genuinely in love with Cassio. Cassio is fond of her, too, but his attachment to her is superficial and intended to be a temporary affair. She feels much hurt by Cassio's failure.

14. The clown

The clown in this play makes two appearances, both very brief. We first meet him when he tries to embarrass and to put out of countenance the musicians with his word-play. He tells them that there hangs a tail by-many a wind-instrument and that the general (Othello) desires them not to make any more noise with their music.

* In addition to that, there are more characters in this play. They are:-

(a) Servant to Othello

(b) Sailors.

(c) Messenger.

(d) Herald.

(e) Officers.

(f) Gentlemen.

(g) Musicians, and

(h) Attendants.


Among the tragedies of Shakespeare Othello is supreme in one quality: beauty. Much of its poetry, in imagery, perfection of phrase, and steadiness of rhythm, soaring, yet firm, enchants the sensuous imagination. This kind of beauty Othello shares with Romeo and Juliet and Antony and Cleopatra.


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