Othello: Character Analysis, Description & Sketch

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  • 0:01 Who Is Othello?
  • 1:22 Synopsis
  • 2:16 Character Analysis
  • 3:07 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Shamekia Thomas

Shamekia has taught English at the secondary level and has her doctoral degree in clinical psychology.

''Othello,'' a play about a Moorish soldier who allows his insecurities to destroy his life, is one of William Shakespeare's most popular tragedies. Learn more about the title character of Othello in this lesson, and then test your knowledge with a quiz.

Who is Othello?

Othello is the main character in William Shakespeare's tragedy of the same name, a well-respected Moorish general in the Venetian army. A Moor is a native of North Africa.

The Venetian government trusts Othello as a soldier and puts him in command of an important voyage to Cyprus, where the Venetians defend themselves against the Turkish army. In spite of Othello's excellent reputation, racial differences make it difficult for him to live in Venetian society and cause problems in his personal life. For example, while Othello's white wife, Desdemona, finds her new husband's adventurous life and war service attractive, her father, Brabantio, thinks of him as an evil man who tricked Desdemona into secretly marrying him. Iago, Othello's antagonist, encourages these perceptions in Act 1, Scene 1, when he tells Desdemona's distressed father:

Even now, now, very now, an old black ram
Is tupping your white ewe. Arise, arise,
Awake the snorting citizens with the bell
Or else the devil will make a grandsire of you.
Arise, I say!

Here, Iago describes Othello as an animal and a devil taking advantage of an innocent woman, as well as a dangerous and polluted individual to be feared by society. As the target of covert racism, Othello feels insecure about himself, which eventually leads to his tragic downfall.


Although Othello knows Desdemona loves him, he lets Iago, a vengeful soldier, manipulate him into believing she's been unfaithful. Iago is angry with Othello for promoting a soldier named Cassio to the position of lieutenant in his place. When Iago first informs Othello of Desdemona's alleged affair with his friend, Cassio, Othello becomes very emotional. Instead of confronting Desdemona or weighing Iago's accusations and circumstantial evidence with her love for him, Othello wrongly assumes she has been unfaithful.

Eventually, Othello strangles Desdemona in a fit of rage. After learning Iago lied, Othello, who understands he 'loved not wisely, but too well,' kills himself.

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