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Othello is the central character in William Shakespeare’s play “Othello.” He is a Moorish general in the Venetian army, known for his military prowess and leadership skills. Against people’s expectations in a predominantly white society, he has risen in social stature and become a respected military general. Here’s a brief description of Othello’s character in Shakespeare’s drama:


  • Background: Othello is a Moor, which in the context of the play refers to a North African, possibly from the region of Mauritania. His background is a leading factor that makes him an object of hatred in the Venetian society.
  • Traits: Othello is a noble and honorable man, highly respected for his military achievements. He is deeply in love with his wife, Desdemona, and initially, he is portrayed as calm, composed, and trusting. Othello is also portrayed as a reliable and loyal husband initially. However, things change with time and new traits appear as the play progresses.
  • Tragic Flaw: Othello’s tragic flaw is his vulnerability to jealousy and manipulation. This flaw is exploited by the play’s antagonist, Iago, leading to tragic consequences. Due to being an outsider in the Venetian society, which Othello himself understands well, a feeling of distrust rises in him, weakening him from the inside.

Other Important Characters:

  1. Desdemona:
  • Othello’s wife and the daughter of a Venetian nobleman, Brabantio. Desdemona is portrayed as virtuous, loving, and loyal. Her marriage to Othello becomes a central point of conflict in the play. The interracial marriage gives birth to several conflicts including conflicts in interpersonal relationships and challenges the societal norms resulting in societal disapproval. Desdemona is a beautiful and loyal wife but remain unable to prove her truth to her husband and meets an undeserved tragic death in the drama. Iago uses her as a tool to ignite the suspicion in Othello’s mind and destroys Othello’s faith in his wife.
  1. Iago:
  • The play’s primary antagonist. Iago is Othello’s ensign (a lower-ranking officer) and harbors intense jealousy and resentment towards Othello. He manipulates those around him to bring about Othello’s downfall. Iago is cunning and manipulative and so that Othello does not distrust him uses clever tactics to bring about his downfall without himself coming out in the open. Iago cannot challenge Othello openly and therefore discreetly weaves a web around him that Othello cannot escape.
  1. Cassio:
  • Othello’s loyal and honorable lieutenant. Cassio is well-liked by almost everyone, which intensifies Iago’s jealousy. He becomes entangled in Iago’s schemes, leading to his own troubles.
  1. Emilia:
  • Iago’s wife and Desdemona’s maid. Emilia plays a crucial role in the unfolding of the plot. She unwittingly becomes a pawn in Iago’s schemes, but her character undergoes development as the play progresses. Later, in the play she tries to unveil Iago’s true intentions and meets her death.
  1. Brabantio:
  • Desdemona’s father and a Venetian senator. Brabantio is initially upset by his daughter’s marriage to Othello, reflecting some of the racial and cultural tensions explored in the play. He has to agree since Othello is an influential man and Desdemona has decided to marry him of her own will.
  1. Roderigo:
  • A wealthy Venetian who is infatuated with Desdemona. Roderigo becomes a tool in Iago’s hands as he is manipulated to serve Iago’s interests.

These characters, along with others, contribute to the intricate web of relationships and conflicts that drive the tragic narrative of “Othello.” The play explores themes of jealousy, betrayal, racism, and the destructive consequences of unchecked emotions.

How does Shakespeare’s Othello deal with racism and racial tensions?

Shakespeare’s Othello is indeed a tragic drama that explores several complex themes at a profound level. Apart from the other prominent themes in the drama, it explores the racial and cultural tensions of the era. William Shakespeare delves into racial and cultural tensions primarily through the character of Othello, a Moorish general in the Venetian army. The play reflects the societal attitudes and prejudices of Shakespeare’s time, exploring themes related to race, identity, and cultural differences. Othello’s Moorish identity is at the center of the racial tensions explored in the drama.

Here are some ways in which “Othello” addresses these tensions:

Othello’s Moorish Identity:

Othello’s ethnicity as a Moor becomes a central focus of attention and prejudice. The term “Moor” was often used in Shakespeare’s time to refer to people of North African descent. Othello’s outsider status is emphasized by his race and cultural background. His moorish identity makes him a tragic target in the drama. The Moor, despite being a brave general does not have an equal status as the whites. He is despised for his ethnicity and becomes a target of Iago’s manipulation. If it was another white male of similar status in Othello’s place, it is not difficult to imagine that the situation would have been much different. Iago feels dwarfed by Othello and cannot bear to serve under a general of African descent.

Interracial Marriage:

Othello’s marriage to Desdemona, a Venetian woman, challenges the existing societal norms. Desdemona’s father, Brabantio, initially objects to the union, expressing shock and disbelief that his daughter would marry a Moor. The play highlights the racial biases and societal expectations surrounding interracial relationships. Brabantio does not consider Othello a match for his beautiful daughter. The interracial marriage between Othello and Desdemona, brings Othello face to face with an unfamiliar aspect of life where complex personal challenges await him. Brabantio wanted to marry his daughter to someone of similar genes and felt awkward about her choice since he believed people would ridicule him for his daughter’s elopement with the moor.

Othello’s Isolation:

Despite Othello’s military successes and high rank, he remains an outsider in Venetian society. He is often referred to by derogatory terms related to his race, and his status as an “other” is underscored by characters like Iago, who uses Othello’s race as a means to manipulate and undermine him. Othello’s complexion turns him into an easy target since it is difficult for him to find a true sympathizer except his wife in that white society. However, since he starts doubting his wife, he grows even more isolated.

Iago’s Manipulation:

Iago, the play’s antagonist, exploits Othello’s vulnerability as an outsider. He plays on Othello’s insecurities about his race, convincing him that Desdemona could not truly love a Moor, and that she might be unfaithful. Iago’s manipulation capitalizes on the racial and cultural prejudices of the time. He uses these prejudices to his benefit and makes Othello feel like an object of sympathy because he had been cuckolded. Othello cannot help believing Iago since an inferiority complex has been growing inside him and despite being with Desdemona he feels like she is no more with him. Iago represents the immoral and corrupt white male identity while Othello represents the vulnerability of the people of color in a predominantly white society. Othello has selected another man to become his lieutenant while Iago held a much lower position which Iago could not bear. For him, the only revenge was the Moor’s fall.

Language and Imagery:

Throughout the play, Shakespeare uses language and imagery that associate Othello’s race with negative connotations. Othello is often described in terms of animals, such as when Iago refers to him as a “black ram” tupping Desdemona, reinforcing racial stereotypes of the time.

Prejudice and Stereotypes:

“Othello” reflects and challenges the racial prejudices and stereotypes prevalent in the Elizabethan era. The play prompts the audience to question these biases and consider the destructive consequences of unfounded prejudice. Desdemona knows that due to the prejudices and stereotypes prevalent in her society, she would face societal disapproval following her marriage to Othello but still decides to stand with him. Othello’s rise as a general of military prowess and a person of intelligence also challenges the prevalent stereotype of ‘savage outsider’.

Tragic Outcome:

The racial tensions contribute to the tragic outcome of the play. Othello’s internalized feelings of inadequacy, fueled by the societal attitudes towards his race, lead to a tragic chain of events culminating in his own downfall. He ends up killing his own wife believing Iago that she had been unfaithful to him. However, soon he learns the truth from Iago’s wife Emilia and then stabs himself to death. The tragic outcome of the drama also raises questions regarding fate and free will. The inner conflict going on inside Othello at the last moment when he learns his wife’s truth is vividly portrayed in the drama contributing to its tragic atmosphere.

In exploring these themes, Shakespeare’s “Othello” provides a commentary on the destructive impact of racial and cultural prejudices, shedding light on the complexities and challenges faced by individuals who are perceived as outsiders in a society.

Othello’s Character Analysis

In Shakespeare’s “Othello,” the portrayal of the protagonist, Othello, is multifaceted and complex, sparking debate and interpretation for centuries. He is portrayed initially as brave, intelligent and romantic. However, his life gets disrupted due to some prejudices prevalent in the society. Here are some key aspects of his characterization:

Heroism and Competence:

  • Military prowess: Othello is established as a highly respected and successful military leader, admired for his bravery, skill, and strategic intelligence. He earns the trust and loyalty of his troops and the Venetian leadership. Othello is a powerful general and it is also why he is able to take Desdemona away against her father’s will.
  • Eloquence and Charisma: He possesses remarkable oratory skills, captivating audiences with his descriptions of his life and experiences. This eloquence initially wins over Desdemona and commands respect even in hostile environments. Othello is portrayed as a brave, eloquent and charismatic leader. The charisma of his personality and his oratory impress Desdemona.

2. Outsider Status and Vulnerability:

  • Racial discrimination: As a Moorish general in a predominantly white society, Othello faces constant prejudice and suspicion. This marginalization fuels his insecurities and makes him susceptible to manipulation. Racial discrimination and prejudices are a central theme in the drama. Othello enjoys a powerful status for he is a military general but it does not make him immune to the racial prejudices of the time.
  • Internal conflict: His military experience has exposed him to brutality and darkness, creating an internal struggle between his noble character and his capacity for violence. The internal conflict grows as strong that it tears his apart. He reaches the point where it becomes impossible for him to pardon his wife or to trust her. On the one hand, he is a passionate husband who loves his wife, and on the other fears he will be laughed on for being cuckolded.

3. Love and Manipulation:

  • Devotion to Desdemona: His love for Desdemona is passionate and sincere, driving his actions and decisions. However, it becomes distorted by Iago’s manipulations, leading to tragic consequences. From a loyal and trusted husband, he turns into a tragic lover suspicious of being cuckolded. His devotion to his wife is challenged by and succumbs to his insecurities arising from his ethnicity and which Iago utilizes to bring about Othello’s downfall.
  • Susceptibility to jealousy: Iago exploits Othello’s insecurities and racial anxieties, fueling his jealousy and ultimately leading to his downfall. This raises questions about whether his actions are due to inherent flaws or external manipulation. While external manipulation does seem to have a major role in Othello’s tragic end, it appears Othello crumbles due to his own internal flaws too. His military prowess and intelligence fail him against Iago’s vicious plot, who destroys Othello’s faith in his wife. Othello has already challenged the social norms by taking Desdemona away against her father’s wish and now there is no turning back for him. He feels completely helpless and unable to regain his faith even in himself.

4. Tragic Hero and Flawed Figure:

  • Tragic downfall: His journey mirrors the classic tragic hero, experiencing a reversal of fortune due to a fatal flaw. The question arises whether this flaw is his own vulnerability or the societal prejudice he faces. Othello’s character might have some inherent flaws but still the role of societal prejudices and discrimination in his tragic end cannot be denied. His own actions and choices might have contributed to his destiny but then there is also some role of fate and other external factors in his downfall.
  • Compassion and Self-Destruction: Despite his actions, Othello is portrayed with moments of self-reflection and remorse. His final act of taking his own life evokes both pity and a sense of wasted potential. The emotional intensity portrayed in the drama is the hallmark of Shakespearean tragedy. The play explores intense emotions like deep love, jealousy of a husband, passion, despair and so on. If Othello was not as passionate regarding Desdemona, the two would not have met as tragic deaths.

Interpretation and Debate:

The portrayal of Othello has been heavily debated throughout history. Some see him as a victim of racism and manipulation, while others view him as ultimately responsible for his actions due to his internal flaws. Regardless of interpretation, his portrayal remains complex and thought-provoking, prompting audiences to confront issues of prejudice, manipulation, and the nature of tragic heroes. It is difficult to completely deny the role of racial discrimination and manipulation in the tragic fall of Othello. Towards the end, he evokes both pity and sympathy from the audience.

While things might have turned out differently if Othello did not have the internal flaws, overcoming the societal prejudice was not possible even for him. Shakespeare has not picked any ordinary man of African descent but a powerful general. While Shakespeare highlights the prevalent stereotypes and prejudices, he also provokes the audience to confront these issues in the light of the events of the drama. Did Othello destroy himself or was it racism and Iago’s hatred? The question remains open to debate. Othello is indeed a tragic drama, whose richness lies in its exploration of several themes and the complexities of human nature. How much are these characters driven by fate and how much by free will? Their choices and actions lead to their destinies but the tragic outcome of the drama is a combination of both internal and external factors.