Character Directory


Duke of Venice is a character in Othello, the ruler of Venice. In 1.3 the Duke meets with his advisers to decide on a response to the Turkish assault on Cyprus. Summoning Othello, their chief general, they are faced with Brabantio’s accusation that Othello has used witchcraft to marry his daughter, Desdemona. When Desdemona confirms that theirs is a love match, Brabantio is bitter, but the Duke offers wise proverbs on emotional moderation, such as, 'To mourn a mischief that is past and gone, / Is the next way to draw more mischief on' (1.3.204-205). He represents a social wisdom that is markedly lacking in the main plot.


Brabantio is Desdemona’s father. Brabantio, a senator of Venice, learns from Iago’s of Desdemona's secret marriage to the Moorish general Othello and is outraged at the thought of his daughter on 'the sooty bosom / Of such a thing as [Othello]' (1.2.70-71). He accuses Othello of having 'enchanted her . . . with foul charms . . . with drugs or minerals' (1.2.63-74) and seeks his imprisonment as a sorcerer, but he is foiled when Desdemona testifies to her love for the general. Defeated, he departs, but his final speech carries heavy irony as he warns Othello, '. . . have a quick eye to see: / She has deceiv'd her father, [and] may do thee' (1.3.292-293). Brabantio disappears from the play at this point, though we are told in 5.2 that he has died of grief at Desdemona's marriage. He serves chiefly to establish, through his racial prejudice and enmity towards Othello, the extent to which the Moor is isolated in Venetian society.

Senators Senators are lawmakers of Venice. The Senators meet with the Duke, in 1.3, to discuss the threat presented by a Turkish attack on Cyprus. When they summon their chief general, Othello, they hear Brabantio’s complaint that Othello has stolen his daughter Desdemona. With the Duke, they find Othello innocent of any crime, appoint him commander of Venetian forces in Cyprus, and order him abroad. The Senators are spoken for by the First Senator (except for one brief passage by a Second Senator), who asks appropriate questions. The Senators and the Duke illustrate the pomp and power of the Venetian state; they also demonstrate a collective capacity for social co-operation and judgment by consensus, aspects of society that are notably absent when the main plot unfolds on Cyprus.

Gratiano is Desdemona’s uncle. Gratiano is a member of the delegation from Venice that comes to Cyprus at the close of the play and witnesses the climax of Othello’s madness. He ineffectually responds to the cries of Cassio and Emilia for assistance, in 5.1 and 5.2, respectively. In both cases he fails to prevent Iago’s wicked schemes. In this respect he is representative of the society at large, whose racial prejudice has helped make Othello vulnerable to Iago. In his most important remark, Gratiano declares that Desdemona's father, Brabantio, has died of grief at her marriage to Othello.

LODOVICO Lodovico is an emissary from Venice to Cyprus. Lodovico appears only towards the end of the play, arriving on Cyprus just as Othello’s madness approaches its climax. He serves a symbolic function, representing the life of normal society from which the main characters have been isolated since Act 2. On Cyprus, Iago’s influence can work its poison free of social or political affairs that might engage Othello's attention, and Desdemona cannot seek advice or intervention from other Venetian aristocrats.  Lodovico is unable to prevent the catastrophe of Desdemona's murder, but in the final scene after Iago's duplicity has been exposed and Othello has committed suicide, Lodovico assumes the mantle of leadership and disposes of practical matters in the wake of the tragedy.

Othello is the title character in Othello, the husband of Desdemona, whom he murders because he has been misled by the villainous Iago. A Moorish general in the service of Venice, Othello has just married the much younger Desdemona as the play opens The central dynamic of the drama is his alteration from a noble lover to a raving killer under the malevolent influence of his aide, lago, who convinces him that his wife is having a love affair with another officer, Cassio.  Unable to trust Desdemona-he lacks this basic element of love—Othello disintegrates morally. His destructiveness extends to his own suicide when his error is exposed. He suffers emotional agonies throughout this process, and we suffer with him, grieving for the destruction of his inherent nobility and the beauty that his marriage exemplifies at its outset. 

Through 3.2 Othello is a grandly positive character-a leading figure in the Venetian establishment, a respected military man, and a loving husband. He carries himself with impressive dignity while frankly delighting in his young wife, whose love he values above -the sea's worth' (1.2.28). When the couple defend their elopement, in 1.3, we see that their love is both spiritually satisfying and imbued with a healthy sexuality However, in the second half of the play he abandons this transcendent love for a blind jealousy too strong to see reason. He loses faith not only in Desdemona but also in himself. When he rejects her love and trust, Othello also rejects his own capacity for love, in favor of a demanding but unsatisfiable seltcenteredness' collapses in 4.1, Othello can only babble as he falls at Iago's feet in a trance. He recovers his wits, but from this point he has only one goal: the deaths of Desdemona and Cassio. In his singleminded malice, Othello now shares Iago's malevolent spirit. Indeed, as the play progresses he even comes to resemble the villain in his speech, using staccato repetitions, broken sentences, and Iago's violent, sexual animal imagery. By 4.1 he cruelly insults his wife publicly, and in 4.2, the so-called 'brothel' scene, he indulges in a savage exaggeration of his jealousy when he says he believes Desdemona a harlot and Emilia her bawd. In the end, though he can still contemplate his love for his wife when he sees her asleep, he kills her with a coolness that stresses the power of his fixation. His reaction once Desdemona's innocence has been established is just as potent. He recognizes that he is no longer noble—he calls himself 'he that was Othello' (5.2.285)—and equating himself with the heathen enemies he used to conquer, he kills himself. 

lago can effect this extraordinary response only because Othello is lacking in trust. This lack is implicit in the Moor's situation from the outset, for he cannot partake of the social solidarity that encourages and reinforces trust between humans. He is an outsider in Venice because of his profession—a mercenary soldier, unacquainted with civilian society 'even from [his] boyish days' (1.3.132)—and his race. Though Othello's military skills are valued and he is not denied the protection of a hearing on Brabantio’s charge of witchcraft, he is nonetheless an alien in a prejudiced society. He is isolated from the world he has married into. lago can convince him that Desdemona might have come to detest him because he is black; he lacks the support of a solid position in Desdemona's world that might temper the fear of rejection that his jealousy feeds on. 

Though the evidence in the play is clear, some commentators have declared that Othello is not actually black—usually on the racist grounds that so noble a figure could not be a 'veritable negro', as Samuel Talor Coleridge put it. Most frequently, a Moor is held to be of an Arab-related racial type, rather than a Negro. However, Shakespeare (like his contemporaries) drew no such distinction, and Othello is clearly a black African; decisively, Roderigo calls Othello 'the thicklips' (1.1.66). (Significantly, Shakespeare's other notable Moor, Aaron of Titus Andronicus, calls his child 'thick-lipp'd' and himself 'coal-black', and he refers to his 'fleece of woolly hair' [Titus 4.2.176, 99; 2.3.34].) 

Shakespeare plainly intended Othello's race to have a great impact on his original audiences, many of whom, he knew, were as prejudiced as Brabantio.  Othello is the earliest black character in English literature with a credible personality, let alone a sympathetic one. Shakespeare deliberately emphasized this, for in Cinthio’s tale, his source, Othello's race has little importance, while in the play it is frequently mentioned, especially in Act 1 where the nature of Venetian society is stressed. The obvious racist caricature offered before Othello appears is entirely in line with the standard English stereotypes of the day, but his actual bearing is strikingly noble. This is emphasized numerous times—Othello even claims royal birth in 1-2.21-22, a point that had much greater importance in Shakespeare's day than in ours—and the playwright must have been aware of the impact of this bold departure. For one thing, Desdemona's strength is greatly magnified by her willingness to courageously defy society's biases. Further, Shakespeare's sympathetic portrait of an alien figure, combined with the compassionate presentation of his repentance and suicide at the play's close, emphasizes that the potential for tragic failure is universal. 

Othello's race helps determine his status as an alienated outsider in Venice, and this makes him susceptible to Iago's persuasions, for he is grievously naïve about Desdemona's world. Iago assures him, 'I know our country disposition well' (3.3.205), and Othello, reminded of his own ignorance, accepts at face value the preposterous claim that adultery is the moral norm among Venetian women. lago is absolutely correct when he says to Emilia, 'I told him ... no more / Than what he found himself was apt and true' (5.2.177-178). Most significantly, once distracted, Othello is no? capable of appreciating Desdemona; he knows enough of Venice to see its prejudice, but he does not recognize her steadfast courage in opposing it. Like Coriolanus and Macbeth, Othello has succeeded as a soldier and is accordingly endowed with dignity and pride but can only misunderstand the world outside the military camp. 

With his suicide Othello acknowledges his fault, but his final recognition of Desdemona's goodness offers us—if not him—the consoling sense that in dying he recovers something of his former nobility. He honestly admits that he 'lov'd not wisely, but too well' and was 'perplex'd in the extreme' (5.2.345, 347). We see a vestige of pride when he refers to his former service to the state, and when he identifies his errant self with the 'malignant... Turk' (5.2.354) he once slew, we see that in dying he is as triumphant, in a way, as he was 'in Aleppo once' (5.2.353). 

Othello has returned to sanity too late, but that he returns at all provides us with some sense of reconciliation. Othello's fate shows us that a noble person may fall to the depths of savagery, but that an essential humanity remains within the troubled soul. The tradition of the medieval Morality Play was still familiar in Shakespeare's day and certainly influenced him.  Othello's striking placement between lago and Desdemona resembles the situation of the central character in a morality play: symbolic of the human soul, he was placed between an angel and a devil who each demanded his loyalty. Though the devil succeeded for a time, and the character sinned (entertaingly), the mercy of God nevertheless prevailed, and the character was reclaimed by the angel and forgiven in the end.  Similarly, Othello offers redemption at its close.  Othello is emblematic of one aspect of human life, he incarnates the inexorable guilt and ultimate in humanity’s fate, but his eventual awareness offers a redeeming catharsis.


Cassio is a Florentine officer serving under Othello. Iago is the enemy of both Othello and Cassio because Cassio has been appointed Othello's lieutenant, a post Iago had coveted for himself. Iago gets Cassio drunk and incites Roderigo to fight him; the lieutenant disgraces himself by brawling drunkenly while on guard duty and is demoted. More important, Iago convinces Othello that his wife, Desdemona, is Cassio's lover, going so far as to plant on Cassio a handkerchief that Othello has given Desdemona. The enraged general commissions Iago to kill Cassio, and Iago again employs Roderigo. However, Cassio survives the attack and testifies against Iago in the play's closing moments. 

The change in Othello's attitude towards Cassio is paralleled by Cassio's change towards Iago. Before his disgrace, Cassio is distant and refuses to be friendly with Iago, as we see at the beginning of 2.3. However, when Iago befriends him after he is discharged by Othello he accepts him entirely. He calls him 'honest Iago' (2.3.326) and says, 'I never knew / A Florentine more kind and honest' (3.1.40-41). He is grateful for what seems like excellent advice from Iago to ally himself with Desdemona. Though this is to have disastrous consequences, Cassio does not see through Iago until much too late, after the villain is exposed in the wake of Desdemona's murder Cassio's relationship with Bianca, a courtesan of Cyprus is another echo of the main plot. Though they are not married we compare them with Othello and Desdemona, partially because Iago employs the unwitting Bianca in deceiving Othello about the handkerchief, in 4.1. More pointedly, though Bianca is jealous on Cassio's account—-just as Othello is on Desdemona's—Cassio disdains her, in striking contrast to Desdemona's intense love for Othello. Cassio's tawdry affair casts light on the nature of Othello's blessed but rejected marriage.

Cassio's relationship with Bianca and his account ofit to Iago, in 4.1, reflect the worldliness of a professional soldier, accustomed to finding women wherever he is stationed. As a competent soldier, he is respected and valued by Othello before Iago's poison begins its work. We see this in his appointment as lieutenant, and in the general's easy conversational tone as Cassio assumes guard duty, in 2.3. The lieutenant is apparently a gentleman, and he has enough learning to be mocked by Iago for his 'bookish theoric' (1.1.24). In 2.1.61-87 he expresses his reverence for Desdemona in courtly formal rhetoric that reflects his respect for Othello as well, establishing clearly an aura of gentlemanly honor and stately virtue. 

On the other hand, while Cassio's soldierly dignity helps stress the vulgarity of Iago, he is often without that dignity, being drunk in 2.3 and awkwardly humiliated most of the time after that. Though his remorse at his irresponsibility is genuine and honorable—he regrets having 'deceive[dj so good a commander, with so light, so drunken, and indiscreet an officer' (2.3. 269-271)—he is nevertheless somewhat ridiculous: he foolishly drinks wine he doesn't want and then quickly falls into Iago's next trap. His speech is often ludicrously high-flown; he declares, '0 thou invisible spirit of wine, if thou hast no name to be known by, let us call thee devil!' (2.3.273-275). 

Yet Cassio 'has a daily beauty in his life' (5.1.19) that stirs Iago's envy, and his reputation and dignity are restored by the end of the play. He is given the command of Cyprus, and he shows a quiet assurance in insisting to Othello, 'Dear general, I did never give you cause' (5.2.300). At the close it is fitting that Cassio is the only person to recognize the grandeur of the suicidal general, declaring 'This did I fear, . . . For he was great of heart' (5.2.361-362).


Iago is Othello’s villainous aide. The play centers on Iago's effort to destroy Othello’s happiness. He convinces him that his wife, Desdemona, has been having a love affair with Cassio, his lieutenant. One of Shakespeare's most thoroughly villainous characters, Iago has intrigued audiences for generations through his combination of realistic malice and seemingly unjustified lust for revenge, his motiveless malignity', in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s famous words. However, Shakespeare does provide his villain with stimuli that provoke his evil. In fact, it Iago's motives seem unclear it is because he is motivated in several ways, rather than not at all. 

Shakespeare provides us with much evidence of Iago's motives in his soliloquies. He has been passed over for promotion in favor of Cassio, and in his first soliloquy he schemes to reverse this development and considers entangling Desdemona and the lieutenant as a step in this direction. Much later, Iago s wife, Emilia, unknowingly comes close to guessing the cause of Othello's jealousy when she remarks. Some busy and insinuating rogue, / ... to get some office, / [Has] devis'd this slander' (4.2.133-135). 

Military ambition is commonplace, and this is an entirely credible motive, but it does not preclude the simultaneous operation of others. A second motive is sexual jealousy, the emotion which Iago transmits to Othello Iago suspects Emilia's adultery with Othello in 1 3 385-386, and in his second soliloquy jealousy is his only stated motive. His suspicions are sometimes thought to be only a justification in his campaign against the general, but he expresses them in soliloquy when he need not lie, and he is also jealous of Cassio (2.1.302). Emilia speaks of his suspicions, in 4 2 149 and Iago seems to have some general grounds for his jealousy, as Emilia states explicitly that she would commit adultery, given the opportunity (4 3 70) It is telling that the weapon Iago fashions to destroy Othello is precisely the one that hurts himself. The power of sexuality as a goad is further revealed in Iago's obsessive references to bestial sex, and in his vivid description of Cassio in bed with him (3.3.425-432). It is obvious that Iago's suspicions stem from his morbid imagination, but from Iago's point of view they are no less effective as inducements to action. 

Both of these motives reflect an even deeper level of feeling. Iago's professional and sexual jealousies cause him to 'hate the Moor' (1.3.384), but they also stem from a greater, generalized jealous sense, an envy of those who have advantages over him that extend beyond promotions or access to his wife. He senses that the open and virtuous qualities in others may point up his own worthlessness. He cannot 'endure . . . [Othello's] constant, noble, loving nature (2.1.283-284), and he sees in Cassio 'a daily beauty in his life, / That makes me ugly' (5.1.19-20). Like Satan—and not coincidentally, as we shall see—Iago is envious of those who are spiritually greater than he. 

Iago's multiple motives make him a humanly credible character, but these are joined by an inhuman ferocity that adds a dose of terror to our perception of him. His envy and anger are so strong that they compel him to risk his life in his passionate effort to damage Othello. Though he has motives, his response outweighs the stimulus, and thus a less easily understood motive merges with the others: Iago loves evil for its own sake. He clearly delights in what he is doing. He speaks of fooling Roderigo as 'my sport' (1.3.384); his delighted irony all but bubbles over when he exults, 'And what's he then, that says I play the villain . . .' (2.3.327); and his enjoyment is obvious when he says, 'Pleasure, and action, make the hours seem short' (2.3.369). After his triumph in the temptation scene (3.3), he cannot refrain from returning to manipulate his enemy some more. When accident

brings him Desdemona's handkerchief, he comfortably contemplates the damage he may do with it, like an artist savoring a new and exciting idea—'this may do something' (3.3.329), he slyly understates. After reducing Othello to hysteria, he gloats, 'Work on, / My medicine, work' (4.1.44-45), and even in utter defeat his final refusal to talk smacks of self-satisfaction. 

With his pleasure in evil Iago resembles the Vice of medieval drama. The Vice was an allegorical figure whose delight in horseplay and mischievous humor made him a popular character. Iago, however, is a realistic, rather than an abstract, embodiment of evil. Although Iago is not a comic character, he is occasionally funny. In 1.1.118, for example, he returns Brabantio’s 'Thou art a villain' with 'You are a senator', and in his many ironic remarks on his own honesty, as in 2.3.258 and 318, the humor is unrecognized by anyone but himself and the audience. He also adopts a jocular attitude for his own purposes, as in the conventional battle of wits in 2.1.109-166 and the drinking bout of 2.3. Many commentators and theatrical directors agree with the advice of Edwin Booth, who insisted that actors playing Iago should 'not sneer or glower' and suggested that 'the "light comedian" . . . not the "heavy man" ' should play the part.  

Many people have a problem with the plot of Othello: the hero is unrealistically gullible, murdering his wife on the strength of a suggestion that has no serious credibility. However, Shakespeare relied on an established dramatic convention: Iago has a double role as villain to the audience but trustworthy friend to the characters in the play. He is seen as good by everyone but the audience, which fosters a high degree of suspense. For this reason, Shakespeare made Iago's villainy evident immediately in his first exchange with Roderigo in Act 1, and his evilness is repeatedly confirmed in his soliloquies. Iago is frank about his double role, saying 'I am not what I am' (1.1.65). Even his name—that of the patron saint of England's great enemy, Spain—indicated his evil nature to a 17th-century audience. Shakespeare's audiences presumed that Iago's victims would be taken in—and most modern audiences believe this as well. 

Iago deceives Othello by also manipulating other people to achieve his ends. At Iago's instigation, Cassio urges Desdemona to intervene for him, thus unwittingly inflaming Othello's jealousy, and Roderigo attacks Cassio, who might expose Iago. Iago gets Desdemona's incriminating handkerchief from Emilia, and he exploits the affair of Bianca and Cassio to mislead Othello further. He describes his schemes aptly as spiderwebs, in 2.1.168. At the close of the play he fails, when his network of villainy begins to unravel. When Cassio fails to kill Roderigo, Iago does it himself—or thinks he does, though actually Roderigo lives to testify against him, as is revealed in 5.2.325-330. Only at this point, significantly, does Iago's cool self-confidence leave him, and he hastily mutters to himself, 'This is the night / That either makes me, or fordoes me quite' (5.1.127-128). In the end the power of Iago's envy expires, and the forces of trust and love recover, though it is a bleak victory. Othello finally recognizes the goodness of Desdemona, and Iago is condemned, but in the meantime Iago has demonstrated the power of evil. His power depends, however, on the weakness in Othello. In his motives, his judgments, and his single-minded savagery, Iago embodies his victim's psychological flaws. Iago can triumph only because Othello rejects his own potential for love and trust in favor of the self-centered desperation of jealousy and envy, the passions that dominate Iago. 

Iago is the evil influence on Othello, in opposition to Desdemona's good. This situation closely resembles that of the medieval Morality Play, still familiar in Shakespeare's day, in which a central character must choose between an angel and a devil. Iago is associated with satanic evil at several points in the play. For example, when Othello, fainting with rage at the image of Desdemona's infidelity cries out, '0 devil!' (4.1.43), Iago, on cue, exults, 'Work on, / My medicine, work' (4.1.44-45). Iago hints at the hellish nature of his undertaking early on when he openly (to Roderigo) claims as his allies 'all the tribe of hell' (1.3.358), and in his soliloquy declares, 'Hell and night / Must bring this monstrous birth to the world's light' (1.3.401-402). Later, when he says that his 'Dangerous conceits;. . . Burn like the mines of sulpher' (3.3.331-334), he reminds us of the conventional metaphor for hellfire. 

Finally, at the play's close, Iago overtly identifies himself with the devil. Othello makes the connection first, after Iago's malevolence has been exposed. He looks at the villain's feet to see if they are cloven and says, 'If that thou be'st a devil, I cannot kill thee' (5.2.288), as he attempts to stab him with his sword. Iago, wounded, gloats defiantly, 'I bleed, sir, but not kili'd' (5.2.289), fully accepting the implication. It is the last thing he says before refusing to speak any further. In this final refusal Iago brazenly displays his malice, for all along his power has been in his words, talking his evil ends into existence. In making Iago's nature so strikingly evident at the play's close, Shakespeare helps assuage our horror, for we see that the villain's uncanny malevolence is even more immense than we had thought. It is as vast as hell itself, the abode of infinite evil, and we are therefore doubly glad that his career is finished, not only in relief from the play's agonizing developments, but also in satisfaction at the suppression of a truly satanic menace.

RODERIGO Roderigo is a Venetian gentleman who is duped by Iago. Roderigo believes Iago is serving him as a go-between in his attempted seduction of Othello’s wife, Desdemona, though Iago has simply pocketed the expensive presents intended for the young woman. Iago's exploitation of Roderigo figures prominently early in the play, helping to establish him as a villain. Though he eventually serves as a pawn in Iago's scheme against Othello—he is persuaded to attempt the murder of Cassio—Roderigo's story is subsidiary to the main plot, and he functions chiefly as a foil. His gullibility foreshadows Othello's credulous acceptance of Iago, and his crass attempt to buy Desdemona's affections contrasts with both the mature love of Othello before he is corrupted and the gentlemanly adoration of Cassio.
MONTANO Montano is the governor of Cyprus who is replaced by Othello. Montano is acknowledged by the Duke of Venice to be a competent governor, 'of most allowed sufficiency' (1.3.224), though Othello, as a tried battle leader, is to replace him. Montano agrees with this judgment and declares his approval of the appointment as soon as he hears of it, in 2.1. He is wounded by the drunken Cassio in 2.3, and his rank makes Cassio's offence even greater. In 5.2 he witnesses the furor following Othello's murder of Desdemona, and he displays soldierly alertness in chasing and capturing Iago when he flees, but when Lodovico arrives he takes charge, and it is clear that Montano is an inconsequential figure.
Clown The clown is a jester in the retinue of Othello.  The Clown jokes lewdly with the musicians, in 3.1 before dismissing them with Othello’s payment.  In 3.4 he briefly jests with Desdemona before carrying a message for her.  As comic relief, the Clown does not do much to interrupt the play’s increasing tension; he may well have been merely a conventional figure, expected by Shakespeare’s audiences and therefore supplied by the playwright.

Desdemona is the wife of Othello. She is unjustly suspected of adultery and murdered by her jealous husband, who has believed the lies of his villainous aide, Iago. She is a strong, outspoken woman, unafraid to challenge the racial bias of Venice or the opinions of her imposing husband, and she is also touching in her sorrow as Othello's love turns to hostility. Desdemona's function, however, is largely symbolic; she represents the spirit of self-sacrifice traditionally associated with the most intense and spiritual love. Indeed, in her martyr like resignation to an entirely undeserved death, many commentators see her as symbolizing pure love and acceptance of God's will. In Desdemona, Shakespeare created an emblematic figure that was familiar to his original audiences from the medieval Morality Play still a well-known theatrical form in the early 17th century. She resembles the angel that opposes the devil in such a play, struggling for control of the central character, who is a symbol of humanity. Like the angel, Desdemona evokes the forgiveness of God, and, as in the medieval play, the good she represents is acknowledged at the close and thus is seen to be the play's central theme. 

Desdemona's role is a passive one; her only significant action—marrying Othello—has been taken before the play opens. She is the chief repository of the play's values. Othello knows this when he says, 'I do love thee, and when I love thee not, / Chaos is come again' (3.3.92-93). She alone has recognized his inner worth. She says she 'saw Othello's visage in his mind' (1.3.252), and even when his virtue is obscured she retains her vision. As she puts it, '. . . his unkindness may defeat my life, / But never taint my love' (4.2.162-163), and even as she dies, she declares her love of the inner, obscured Othello, saying, 'Commend me to my kind lord' (5.2.126). 

At first, Desdemona's nobility of spirit is matched by that other new husband. When the couple justify their elopement before the Duke, in 1.3, they display a mature love that is both spiritual, in their mutual appreciation of each other's virtues, and sensual, in their excited anticipation of the physical side of married life. Desdemona's strength of character is evident in her calm resistance to her father, Brabantio, who holds that loving a black man is 'Against all rules of nature' (1.3.101). She firmly and courageously stands up to the prejudices of the only society she has ever known. Once committed to Othello she is steadfast; the central fact of the play is her unswerving loyalty. The suspicion that Iago induces in Othello is always seen to be completely unjustified. In 4.3 Emilia defends adultery, but Desdemona spurns this temptation in an episode that parallels Othello's failure to resist Iago. Desdemona recognizes that Othello's jealousy is ignoble, but she continues to give him her love to its fullest extent, saying, '. . . my love doth so approve him, / That even his stubbornness, his checks and frowns, / . . . have grace and favor in them' (4.3.19-21). Her love is literally unconditional, standing in stark contrast to the malevolence of Iago.


Emilia is lady-in-waiting to Desdemona and wife of Iago. Despite Emilia's loyalty to and fondness for Desdemona she is manipulated by Iago, who convinces Othello that Desdemona is having a love affair with Cassio. Unwittingly, Emilia aids Iago in this deception when she provides him with Desdemona's handkerchief, a love token from Othello that Iago plants on Cassio. In 5.2 after the jealous Othello has been driven to murder, Emilia fearlessly denounces him, and when Iago's involvement becomes apparent she exposes his schemes just as boldly. In reprisal Iago stabs her. Dying, she asks to be placed next to Desdemona and makes a final oath that her mistress was faithful to Othello. 

Except in this final scene, Emilia serves principally as a foil to her mistress. A sharp-tongued woman whose worldly cynicism makes plausible her marriage to the ambitious and unscrupulous Iago, her nature contrasts tellingly with Desdemona's loving innocence. Though Emilia does not suspect Iago's motives, their marriage is obviously unhappy. She stoically receives his insults, but when alone with Desdemona she rails against men and marriage, declaring, in 4.3, that she would commit adultery, given the chance. Despite her unhappiness, Desdemona rejects this idea firmly, in contrast with Othello's failure to repudiate Iago's sentiments.


Bianca is a courtesan of Cyprus and the lover of Cassio. Iago calls Bianca 'A housewife that by selling her desires / Buys herself bread and clothes' (4.1.94-95), where 'housewife' is intended with the common Elizabethan meaning of 'courtesan'. However, she is not a lowly prostitute; she has her own house (and is thus a literal housewife) and has the pride to be offended by the insults of Emilia in 5.1. Moreover, her obviously genuine concern for the wounded Cassio in the same scene touchingly demonstrates that she is a fundamentally decent person. This degree of dignity makes it possible for her relationship with Cassio to function as a foil for that of Othello and Desdemona. The comparison is emphasized when Iago makes Cassio a part of his campaign to arouse Othello's jealousy of his wife. More pointedly, Bianca is jealous of Cassio—she complains, in 3.4, that he has avoided her and, in 4.1, she rages at him when she suspects that he has another lover. Her emotion echoes Othello's with the pointed difference that it is justified: Bianca's love for Cassio cannot be based on trust for she knows that, in the nature of relations between soldiers and courtesans, he will eventually leave her. In this context her jealousy seems both entirely rational and entirely vain, thus pointing up Othello's grievous error in two different ways.

Sailor A sailor who brings news of the Turkish attack on Cyprus and disappears from the play. 

Messenger is the bearer of a dispatch from Montano to the Duke of Venice.  In 1.3 the Messenger delivers news of the Turkish attack on Cyprus that Othello will be sent to oppose. His brief part increases the urgency of the scene.


Gentlemen are Venetian noblemen and members of the occupation force on Cyprus. In 2.1 two Gentlemen talk with Montano about the dispersal of the Turkish fleet by storm, then a third appears with news of Othello’s arrival to take command of the island. In 2.2 one of the Gentlemen (designated as Othello's Herald in the Folio and some other editions) reads the general's formal proclamation declaring a holiday, and in 3.2 another accompanies Othello on an inspection of the fort, uttering a single line. These figures are representative of the Venetian military presence, serving to further the plot.


Musicians are strolling players hired by Cassio to serenade Othello, with whom he is out of favor. Cassio's gesture is rejected, however, when Othello's Clown pays them to leave, saying 'If you have any music that may not be heard, to 't again, but ... to hear music, the general does not greatly care' (3.1.15-17). The Clown jests lewdly on the sexual symbolism of their instruments and associates them with venereal disease, suggesting a criticism of the courtly flattery their performance represents.


Officers are soldiers of Venice. In 1.2 an Officer tells Brabantio of the council meeting called by the Duke, and in 1.3 another Officer announces the arrival of news from the Venetian fleet. They serve merely to increase the frantic activity surrounding the prospect of war.


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