Follow TV Tropes

Following

Characters / Othello

Go To

    open/close all folders 

    Iago 

Iago

The Villain Protagonist, who sets out to ruin Othello's life. Why he does this is unclear. He offers several (wildly contradictory) explanations, and every Shakespearean scholar, English teacher, and actor who's played the part has their own opinion. What is clear is that once Iago decides to destroy Othello, he proves himself to be very good at it.

  • Awful Wedded Life: His wife is pretty damned miserable being married to him, and it's pretty clear he's not too fond of her, either.
  • Big Bad: He's the one that causes all of the tragedies in the play by manipulating Othello into thinking Desdemona is cheating on him.
  • Card-Carrying Villain: One of Shakespeare's specialties was writing villains who proclaim their love for being evil without sounding lame; Iago continues the tradition.
  • Character Filibuster: Iago loves his monologues.
  • The Chessmaster: Iago is the absolute definition of one and the inspiration for many later ones.
  • Classic Villain: He represents Pride and Envy.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Iago gets some pretty nice ones though most of them are misogynist, racist or just generally misanthropic.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Iago's motives are never quite clear, but there certainly isn't anything that justifies his decision to destroy Othello's life.
  • Dragon with an Agenda: Iago to Othello
  • Driven by Envy: The motives Iago cites for his decisions change a few times, but one is that he is incensed by Cassio's promotion (it's implied he's been at Othello's side for a while) and strives first to take him down and then Othello himself.
  • Evil Genius: You got to admit, Iago is pretty genius.
  • Evil Plan: Iago's plan to drive Othello into an absolute rampage. It works brilliantly, though it would have fallen on its face if Othello didn't listen to him.
  • Exact Words: Many of Iago's lies are actually true, if you interpret them as literally as possible.
  • False Friend: To everyone. Even Emilia doesn't know the full depths of his bastardry.
  • For the Evulz: Iago's motivation for acting against Othello is never quite clear. Although he gives a few reasons in his monologues—because Othello promoted Cassio instead of him, that maybe he slept with Emilia—but he also says he lies a lot, and it's never truly clear what he was trying to accomplish. His final words before being taken offstage can be seen as a Take That! for anyone trying to decipher his final goal.
    Othello: Why he hath thus ensnared my soul and body?
    Iago: Demand me nothing. What you know, you know.
    From this time forth I never will speak word.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Refers to envy as this. Which is ironic, all things considered. He even provides the trope image and is the Trope Namer.
  • He-Man Woman Hater: Iago doesn't like... well, anyone, but he's pretty damned misogynistic, even by the standards of the time.
  • Ironic Nickname: Honest Iago? Doesn't get anymore ironic than that.
  • Jerkass: Really the only way to describe someone who decides to wreck someone's life (and knowingly get an innocent woman killed) for no apparent reason. And he's not much better to people who aren't Othello, either. Just ask Emilia.
  • Manipulative Bastard: He's the absolute definition of the term. He deceives and uses everyone around him without nearly anyone suspecting him, and everyone always believing him to be their best friend (except Roderigo although for a brief time, and his wife Emilia). He has been the inspiration for many later Manipulative Bastards.
  • Medium Awareness: In at least some productions, he appears to be directly addressing the audience.
  • Named by the Adaptation: His counterpart in the original story was only ever referred to as "The Ensign."
  • Near-Villain Victory: He gets his revenge on Othello, but his full evil plan required him never being found out and getting away with it scot-free. But he completely underestimated his wife.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: The jokes Iago throws around to disarm people were rude then, and are even Harsher in Hindsight.
  • Reverse Psychology: He uses it extensively and masterfully.
  • Sadist: Delights in making Othello suffer.
  • Satanic Archetype: Repeatedly compared to the devil.
  • The Sociopath: Iago manipulates everyone around him, looks down on everyone, emotionally abuses his wife, destroys people's lives, and commits murder without a second thought. While he offers a couple motives for his actions, none of them really explain the sheer amount of damage he does, and it's implied it's all a load of crap, anyway. He just seems to like doing this. And he never expresses a single whit of remorse for any of his horrid actions.
  • Too Funny to Be Evil: Iago's constant witty remarks cause Cassio to dismiss his sexist comments as him being a soldier not used to proper company just making the same old jokes, instead of realizing that they are a glimpse into his true nature.
  • Treacherous Advisor: Iago being referred to as "honest", "dear", etc. is played up for all the irony it's worth.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Iago completely flips his lid when Emilia exposes his duplicity and kills her in rage. When he is captured, he is completely broken at having come to the cusp of victory only to be defeated by his underestimated wife and resolves to never speak again up to his death.
  • Villain Protagonist: He has more lines than anybody else and is more prominent than Othello despite being the main villain.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: There's not one person who doesn't trust the guy. Except his wife. But who asks her opinion?

    Othello 

Othello

A Moor, and a Venetian general who's recently gotten married. He adores his young wife, but has a bit of an insecurity problem, and a nasty jealous streak. He also trusts his friend Iago completely, which later proves to be his undoing.

  • Adaptational Heroism: In the inspirational story, Othello's counterpart "The Moor" actually has "The Ensign" (Iago) bludgeon Desdemona to death with him and then the two of them Make It Look Like an Accident. The Moor then eventually turns on The Ensign not because he realises he has been manipulated but because the latter reminds him of his crime just by being around. He also refuses to admit his crime even after he is caught out. Shakespeare's Othello, by contrast, confesses to his crime almost immediately and chooses strangulation (after toying with poison) because he couldn't bring himself to damage her in such a brutal way; he is also much more of an Unwitting Pawn overall.
  • Ambiguously Brown: It's very hard to tell whether he is supposed to be a Moor of Arab/Berber descent or a Sub-Saharan African. And he was originally played by a white actor in blackface, which doesn't help at all. To further make things harder the word "Moor" referred to dark-skinned people in general and was interchangeable with "African", "Ethiopian" and even "Indian" to designate a figure from Africa or beyond.
  • Character Title: Othello is called Othello, of course.
  • Crazy Jealous Guy: It's his Fatal Flaw.
  • Deuteragonist: Despite being the Character Title, Othello is actually the deuteragonist, with Iago being the main character.
  • Fatal Flaw: His jealousy.
  • Made a Slave: In Othello's Back Story, according to his stories.
  • Maligned Mixed Marriage: Desdemona's father does not take Othello's relationship with his daughter well, going so far as to say the only reason she would be with a black/Ambiguously Brown man is if he used love potions or drugs on her.
  • May–December Romance: Othello is supposed to be several decades older than Desdemona, and the age disparity, as much as sensitivity to racism, is why he so quickly believes she's been unfaithful.
  • Murder-Suicide: After killing Desdemona, he then realizes she wasn't actually cheating on him. He has a My God, What Have I Done? moment, then stabs himself.
  • Named by the Adaptation: Only ever referred to as "the moor" in the original story.
  • Scary Black Man: It depends on how the actor chooses to portray him, but Othello usually fits—he's a war general, after all, which is pretty intimidating.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Desdemona and Othello simply want to spend the night as a couple, but circumstance, prejudice, and Iago's plot all prevent this from happening before tragedy strikes.
  • The Storyteller: Othello won Desdemona by telling her stories of his incredible exploits, rising up from enslavement to become one of the most respected generals in Italy. Also see Unaccustomed as I Am to Public Speaking....
  • Tragic Hero: Othello is practically the textbook definition, being a virtuous, honorable man with one terrible flaw (jealously) and a terrible mistake (his trust in Iago) that leads him to do evil and cause his own destruction.
  • Unaccustomed as I Am to Public Speaking...: We see it during his speech before the Venetian judges: He explains his past as a hard-living soldier, saying he has no training in any kind of rhetoric, and then he proceeds into a beautiful, eloquent, robust speech of the adventures he recounted to Desdemona. In fact, Othello's particular brand of diction is unique in Shakespeare, and some critics refer to his speaking pattern as "The Othello Music."
  • Unwitting Pawn: Anyone who's not Iago himself is part of his scheme.
Advertisement:

    Desdemona 

Desdemona

Othello's wife, whom he's recently married. She's innocent, loyal, and kindhearted, but also significantly younger than her husband, and white. Those latter two facts cause no shortage of drama.

  • Adaptation Name Change: Her counterpart in the inspirational story was named Disdemona.
  • All Women Are Lustful: Desdemona doesn't actually fit this trope, but Iago is convinced she does, and says it again and again. It was specifically a stereotype with regards to Venetian women: Venice had a real-life contemporary reputation as a city of of high-class courtesans, and prostitutes of all orders—therefore Venetian women are lustful. Desdemona is a Venetian woman → she is lustful → she will do anything to satisfy her appetite, including cheating on Othello. Simple.
  • Almost Dead Guy/Final Speech: Poor smothered—and stabbed—Desdemona manages to gasp out a few words before dying... of asphyxiation. Even by Renaissance standards, this may have stretched disbelief beyond the exigencies of the Rule of Drama. Most adaptations and modern productions end up cutting the speech and the stabbing entirely.
  • Dating What Daddy Hates: Marrying him, actually. Though it's implied Brabantio didn't actually dislike Othello until he got with his daughter. (Desdemona clearly knew Brabantio wouldn't approve, though, given that she and Othello eloped.)
  • Hidden Depths: A sheltered, naive young lady, who's often thought of as being a pushover... who also willingly and happily eloped with an older, black man who she knew her father would never consent to her marrying.
  • Horrible Judge of Character: She thinks Othello isn't the jealous sort.
    Desdemona: But my noble Moor
    Is true of mind and made of no such baseness
    As jealous creatures are, it were enough
    To put him to ill thinking.
    Emilia: Is he not jealous?
    Desdemona: Who, he? I think the sun where he was born
    Drew all such humours from him.
  • The Ingenue: So innocent, she can't even fathom a woman being unfaithful to her husband.
  • May–December Romance: Othello is supposed to be several decades older than Desdemona, and the age disparity, as much as sensitivity to racism, is why he so quickly believes she's been unfaithful.
  • Meaningful Name: "Desdemona", unsurprisingly, means "ill-fated". Othello even calls her "O ill-starr'd wench!"
  • Mistaken for Cheating: With disastrous consequences.
  • Nice Girl: She's perfectly faithful and doesn't seem to have a cruel word for anyone. And despite what Othello thinks/fears, she genuinely doesn't seem to care about the age gap, or Othello's race.
  • Silk Hiding Steel: A popular interpretation of her nowadays. Maggie Smith and Irene Jacob show her to be a Proper Lady with plenty of fire and sexuality underneath it all.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Desdemona and Othello simply want to spend the night as a couple, but circumstance, prejudice, and Iago's plot all prevent this from happening before tragedy strikes.
  • Women Prefer Strong Men: Othello's stories of his bravery and the adventures he's had are what caught her attention.

    Roderigo 

Roderigo

A rich guy who thinks he ought to be with Desdemona, no matter how clear she makes it that the sentiment is not mutual.

  • Casanova Wannabe: Desdemona just isn't into you, Roderigo.
  • Decoy Protagonist: Roderigo's first scene sets him up as the Dogged Nice Guy pursuing Desdemona... which, in a case of Wrong Genre Savvy, he continues to believe is the case for the rest of the play.
  • Idiot Ball: He's smitten with Desdemona so follows her and her newly-wed husband (a big scary general) to a war-torn country in an attempt to win her back.
  • Unwitting Pawn: Anyone who's not Iago is part of his scheme to ruin Othello.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: Roderigo thinks he's the hero of a romance, a Dogged Nice Guy in regards to Desdemona, that Othello's just a Disposable Fiancé, and that doing stupid, dramatic things like following Desdemona and her new husband to war is a Grand Romantic Gesture or something and will win out in the end because of the Rule of Romantic. Iago encourages Roderigo to think this, for his own reasons.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: After Roderigo gets into a fight with Cassio, resulting in him being injured, Iago shows up and takes Cassio down (though he ultimately lives). Roderigo thinks he's done so to save him, but Iago proves him wrong.

    Cassio 

Cassio

Othello promotes this guy instead of Iago. Which... might be the reason for Iago's plot. Maybe.

  • Hero with Bad Publicity: Iago makes sure that Cassio is one these for the majority of the play.
    Cassio: Reputation, reputation, reputation! Oh, I have lost my reputation! I have lost the immortal part of myself, and what remains is bestial. My reputation, Iago, my reputation!
  • Jerkass: He's kind of a dick, especially to poor Bianca.
  • Unwitting Pawn: Anyone who's not Iago is part of his scheme to ruin Othello.

    Emilia 

Emilia

Iago's wife and Desdemona's friend. Emilia is the only person (besides us) who knows what Iago's really like. But who asked her?

  • Adaptation Personality Change: Cinthio wrote her as someone submissive and afraid of Iago. Shakespeare writes her as a more outspoken and defiant character.
  • Adaptational Heroism: Her counterpart in the original story was in on Iago's murder plan all along. Here, she only finds out when it's too late.
  • Awful Wedded Life: Unsurprisingly, being Iago's wife sucks.
  • Domestic Abuse: Iago is certainly emotionally abusive; a lot of productions throw in a hint (or outright confirm) that he physically abuses her, too.
  • The Dog Bites Back: Emilia ruins her evil husband's gambit. Sadly, Iago kills her not long after.
  • Dying Moment of Awesome: She's triumphant about being killed because it exposes Iago for the villain he is.
  • Light Feminine and Dark Feminine: She's more cynical and world-weary than Desdemona, making her the Dark to the latter's Light.
  • Maid and Maiden: The maid to Desdemona's maiden.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: When she realizes Othello thought Desdemona was cheating due to the whole "handkerchief" business.
  • Reverse Psychology: Notice that Emilia doesn't ask Iago to confess directly. Instead she tells Iago to say he had nothing to do with the story that Desdemona cheated, because admitting he could be so villainous would prove Emilia wrong. Emilia's lines have another layer of cleverness. Emilia convinces Iago that he had been exposed already before it was true. At that moment, officials like Gratiano found the cheating and murder story "unbelievable". So it helped when Iago confirmed he'd told Othello Desdemona cheated.
    Emilia: Oh, are you here, Iago? You’ve done a good job, that other men can attribute their murders to you!
    Emilia: (to Iago) Tell this villain he’s wrong, if you’re man enough. He says you told him his wife cheated on him. I know you didn’t. You’re not that much of a villain. Speak, because I’m too emotional to say any more.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: She gives one to Othello after he kills Desdemona.
  • Spanner in the Works: She is the sole reason that Iago doesn't escape justice for his crimes at the end.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: Okay, so she probably should've realized that stealing her friend's handkerchief and giving it to her scumbag of a husband was a bad idea, especially since she didn't know why he wanted it. But really, how could she have guessed just how bad of an idea it was?
  • Unwitting Pawn: Anyone who's not Iago is part of his scheme to ruin Othello.
  • Whoopi Epiphany Speech: She's a maid (although as Desdemona's attendant she's not as low-ranking as you'd think) and she gives a speech that criticises the Double Standard between unfaithful wives and unfaithful husbands.

    Brabantio 

Brabantio

Desdemona's dad. He's really not happy about her choice in spouse.

  • Ascended Extra: His only role in the original story was a throwaway comment.
  • Go Mad from the Revelation: Dies after going insane upon learning that his daughter's love for Othello is genuine.
  • Named by the Adaptation: Was only ever referred to as "Desdemona's father" in the original story.
  • Overprotective Dad: Though it's mostly a matter of "family honour", especially since she's run off with *gasp* a non-Venetian (a Moor, moreover! You know, those brown people that are the allies of the Turks!). Frankly, it could only have been worse if he was Genoese or, *gasp*, Catalonian!
  • Papa Wolf: When Roderigo and Iago tell him that Desdemona and Othello are making the beast with two backs, Brabantio rushes to the Sagittary inn and has Othello brought before the Duke of Venice, when Othello and Desdemona clear up the matter and speak of being newly married with Brabantio granting them his blessing.
Top

How well does it match the trope?

Example of:

/

Media sources:

/

Report