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English Literature



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There are thirteen named characters in Othello, plus various other roles, such as senators and soldiers. However, you do not need to refer to many of these and, depending on your task, you might just focus on one or two characters. The starting point is to sort out who they are, how they develop and how they relate to each other.


We know that Othello is an important general. He is powerful and put in charge of Cyprus by the government. He issues orders to others and even when is preparing to take his own life Othello reminds us that he has played an important role for the state. However, he is also a 'Moor' - he is most probably from the north west of Africa. His actual ethnic origin is unclear but it is important that he is not white. It marks him out from the other characters, both as someone who is powerful but also as someone who is a stranger.

Othello is clearly in love in Desdemona, and she loves him too. Their marriage was secret, probably because Desdemona's father would not have approved of it. This is one way in which Othello is discriminated against - he is viewed as someone from another world, with different standards and who cannot be trusted. Othello perhaps takes a similar view of Desdemona - she is not from his world and soon he becomes insanely jealous of her.

This change, from a proud, calm and noble leader to a jealous, suspicious and tormented man, is a vital aspect of the play. Othello is powerful but he also has weaknesses - he trusts Iago, he trusts what he thinks he sees and he can be made jealous.

Knowing the facts about a character is only the start - we need to be able to use these effectively. One way to do this is to have details or quotes from the play to support our ideas. For instance:

The character of Othello

Othello is powerfulHe is a general and is put in charge of Cyprus
He is calm and politeHe calls the senators 'noble' and 'masters'
He is an outsiderHe is called 'The Moor'
He loves DesdemonaHe calls her 'my soul's joy'
He is manipulated by IagoHe asks for and believes 'the proof' Iago gives
Othello is jealousHe calls Desdemona 'the fair devil'
Othello changes in the playHe was happy then talks of the 'curse of marriage'
He becomes unstableHe trembles at news of an affair between Cassio and his wife, then 'falls in a trance'
He regrets killing his wifeHe asks to be 'roasted in sulphur' as punishment for killing her


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