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A Fascinating Analysis of the Main Characters from Othello

Priyanka Athavale Mar 17, 2019
Othello is one of Shakespeare's greatest tragedies that is remembered and reproduced even today. This post provides a list of all the characters in this story, along with an individual analysis of the main characters.
O, beware, my lord, of jealousy;
It is the green-ey'd monster, which doth mock
The meat it feeds on. That cuckold lives in bliss,
Who, certain of his fate, loves not his wronger:
But O, what damn├Ęd minutes tells he o'er
Who dotes, yet doubts, suspects, yet strongly loves!
~ Iago, Othello (1603)
Othello, by William Shakespeare, is a story that invokes some serious thought. A masterpiece by many means, it is an apt representation of human nature, and how one person can destroy everything for another by the mere power of the mind. It very brilliantly describes feelings of jealousy, gullibility, insecurity, suspicion, lust, greed, and repentance.
There are many lessons that we can take from this story. Not to trust just anyone, for example; or rather to get your facts right before jumping to conclusions and doing something you will later regret.
The manipulation and destruction that Iago brings about by simply poisoning people's minds raises the scary prospect that there are wicked people out there who will do anything to see another suffer.
The way Othello behaves is even scarier; any reasonable person would have confronted his wife amid speculations of infidelity before he killed her. There is a lot we can learn from the play and its wonderful mix of characters. Without further ado, let's now see the main characters, and analyze their personality traits.

List of Characters in Othello

Primary Characters

Othello - The African-descent general of the Venetian army
Desdemona - Othello's wife
Brabantio - Desdemona's father and Venetian politician
Iago - The villain of the play
Emilia - Iago's wife
Roderigo - A rich man madly in love with Desdemona
Cassio - Lieutenant in the Venetian army
Secondary Characters

Bianca - A courtesan in love with Cassio
Montano - Governor of Cyprus
Gratiano - Desdemona's uncle and Brabantio's brother
Lodovico - Desdemona's cousin
The Duke Of Venice
The Senators of Venice

An Analysis of The Main Characters


Othello is probably the first black protagonist in literature, which makes him extremely popular. He has many positive traits, but also quite a few negative ones. To begin with, he is hardworking, disciplined, and courageous.
Despite going through hardships, such as slavery, in his childhood, he rises up to become one of the highest-ranking men in the Venetian army. He is greatly respected in society. He loves his wife dearly, and is a good husband.
However, on the flip side, he is also extremely insecure, and not in control of his emotions. He does not believe that Desdemona can love him unconditionally forever, and is quite sure that she will eventually leave him for somebody else. Iago makes full use of this personality trait of Othello's, filling his mind with lies about Desdemona's infidelity.
It is understandable for Othello to feel like an outsider due to the color of his skin and his culturally different background. However, he is a poor judge of character and takes everything at face value.
He trusts people easily, without bothering to look at their intentions. This causes him to believe Iago's claims that Desdemona is cheating on him, instead of actually confronting her and finding out the truth.


Desdemona is probably the only true victim in the play. She goes through a transition as the story progresses, from being feisty and independent, to holding herself responsible for the end of her marriage.
In the beginning, she shows her bold and defiant nature by going against her father and society, and marrying a black man who has come from outside. Despite her father's opinion of Othello, she faithfully stands by her husband's side. She falls in love with Othello due to his 'exciting' past.
She is an independent thinker who believes that there is nothing wrong with a woman standing up to a man. However, she cannot comprehend the fact that any woman would ever cheat on her husband. She does not know what is going through Othello's head, nor has she a clue of the lies Iago is feeding him.
When Emilia asks her who is responsible for Othello's behavior, she blames herself, saying "Nobody, I myself. Farewell. / Commend me to my kind lord. O, farewell" She dies in her bed, smothered to death by her husband. This is symbolic of her being suffocated by husband's questioning of her loyalty and faithfulness.


Brabantio is Desdemona's father, and a high-ranking Venetian official. He likes Othello's company, and keeps inviting him over. However, he is as racist as they come when his daughter decides to marry the African general.
He is convinced that Othello has performed some voodoo or spell on Desdemona or drugged her, without which she would never marry him. He sees his daughter as someone who must always respect his decisions, and is hence overcome with grief when she refuses to marry a prestigious, white Venetian suitor. That is what apparently causes his death.


Iago is the true villain of the story. He is pure evil, and hell-bent on destroying Othello's life and marriage. His motives keep changing throughout the story. Once he says it is because Othello passed him over for a promotion, and another time he says that Othello is having relations with his wife Emilia.
However, it is quite clear soon enough that there is no concrete reason for Iago's anger towards Othello, except for the fact that he simply enjoys messing with someone's life.
He is a misogynist, having a very low opinion of women. According to him, 'women rise to play and go to bed to work'. This also reflects in the disrespectful way he treats his wife, Emilia. He is also a racist, calling Othello the 'black man' or devil.
He also refers to Othello as the 'poor trash of Venice'. Iago's devilish plotting and scheming acts appear to be done for sheer entertainment. He stops to gloat every once in a while at his misdoings, marveling at his own genius. He is the catalytic character in the play, driving all the others to their own destruction.


Emilia is Iago's wife, and her situation in the play is a rather sad one. She tries very hard to get her husband's attention and love, but all she receives from him is disrespect and criticism.
By the end, she finally blames him for everything, saying, "husbands are usually to blame when their wives cheat on them. After all, men cheat on women all the time - why shouldn't women have an equal right to infidelity?"
She is Desdemona's maid, and is deeply attached to her. She makes one tiny mistake of taking Desdemona's handkerchief to try to tempt her husband; but Iago takes the cloth and tells Othello that Desdemona gave it to another man, to further spin his 'infidelity' babble.
This is one of the reasons that drives Othello to kill his wife. However, Emilia redeems that situation by exposing Iago to everyone, though it results in her own death.


Roderigo is madly in love with Desdemona, and blindly trusts Iago when he promises to be his wingman. Roderigo sends exquisite and expensive jewelry for her through Iago, little knowing that the scheming scoundrel is actually selling it at a higher price and pocketing the money.
He is gullible and keeps falling for Iago's false promises every time. He even agrees to murder Cassio, when Iago tells him that he is the reason Roderigo and Desdemona are unable to be together. He finally dies at Iago's hands, stabbed in the back in the dark.


Cassio is an army lieutenant, holding the position Iago is vying for. This is the reason why he is in Iago's bad books. Cassio loves his drink, and has trouble stopping once he starts. He is also extreme in his opinions about women. A woman, in his books, is either completely pure or a total tramp.
He is dating a courtesan by the name of Bianca, who is in love with him. He, however, mocks her, laughs at her, and hurts her. He holds Desdemona in high regard, likening her to purity. He gets too close to Iago's wife Emilia, causing Iago to frame him as Desdemona's lover, setting Othello against him.
These were the personality traits of the main characters in Othello. They do not seem like fictional beings written for a play; their realistic descriptions bring them very close to the actual world. From this play we learn that only we have control over our emotions, and letting them get out of hand can prove harmful to ourselves.