Othello The play’s protagonist and hero. A Christian Moor and a general of the army of Venice, Othello is an eloquent (expressive or suggestive) and physically powerful figure, respected by all those around him. In spite of his elevated status, he is nevertheless easy prey to insecurities because of his age, his life as a soldier, and his race. He possesses a “free and open nature,” which his ensign Iago uses to twist his love for his wife, Desdemona, into a powerful and destructive jealousy.
Desdemona The daughter of the Venetian senator Brabantio. Desdemona and Othello are secretly marries before the play begins. While in many way stereotypically pure and meek, Desdemona is also determined and self-possessed. She is equally capable of defending her marriage, jesting (joking) bawdily (humorously) with Iago, and responding with dignity to Othello’s incomprehensible (complex) jealousy.
Iago Othello’s ensign (also called an “ancient” or standard-bearer) and the villain of the play. Iago is twenty-eight years old. While his ostensible reason for desiring Othello’s demise (death) is that he has been passed over for promotion to lieutenant, Iago’s motivations are never very clearly expressed and seem to originate in an obsessive, almost aesthetic (beautiful and the ugly), delight in manipulation and destruction.
Cassio Othello’s lieutenant. Cassio is a young and inexperienced soldier, whose recently acquired high rank Iago much resents. Truly devoted to Othello, Cassio is extremely ashamed after being implicated (involved/compromised) in a drunken brawl on Cyrus and losing his place as lieutenant. Iago uses Cassio’s youth, good looks, and friendship with Desdemona to play on Othello’s insecuritites (emotional state) about Desdemona’s fidelity (loyalty, faithfulness).
Emilia Iago’s wife and Desdemona’s attendant. A cynical (doubtful, suspicious), worldly woman, she is deeply attached to her mistress and distrustful (no trust) of her husband.
Roderigo A jealous suitor (lover) of Desdemona. Young, rich, and foolish, Roderigo is convinced that if he gives Iago all of his money, Iago will help him to win Desdemona’s hand. Repeatedly frustrated as Othello marries Desdemona and then takes her to Cyprus, Roderigo is ultimately desperate enough to agree to help Iago kill Cassio after Iago points out that Cassio is another potential rival for Desdemona.
Bianca A courtesan, or prostitute, in Cyprus. Bianca’s favourite customer is Cassio, who teases her with promises of marriage.
Brabantio Desdemona’s father, a somewhat blustering and self-important Venetian senator. As a friend of Othello, Brabantio feels betrayed when the general marries his daughter in secret.
Duke The principal authority in Venice, the Duke has great respect for Othello as a military servant. His primary role within the play is to reconcile (reunite) Othello and Brabantio in Act I, Scene iii, and then to send Othello to Cyprus.
Montano The governor of Cyprus before Othello’s arrival on the island. We see him first in Act II, as he recounts the status of the war and awaits the Venetian ships.
Lodovico One of Brabantio’s kinsmen, Ludovico acts as a messenger from Venice to Cyprus. He arrives in Cyprus in IV, ii with letters announcing that Cassio is to replace Othello as governor on the island.
Gratiano Brabantio’s kinsman who accompanies Ludovico to Cyprus. Amidst the chaos of the final scene, Grantiano mentions that Desdemona’s father has died.
Clown Not an actual clown, but, in a Renaissance acting company, the title of an actor whose function is to play comic characters; in the case of this play, it is the character of Othello’s servant. Although the Clown appears in only two short scenes, his appearances meaningfully reflect and distort the action and words of the main plots; his puns on the word “lie” in III, iv, for example, anticipate Othello’s confusion of two meanings of that word in IV, i.