See how their relationship changes during the play by moving the bar to the marked points.
The relationship between these characters remains the same throughout the play.
Paul Robeson as Othello.
Anthony Quayle as Othello.
In this production, Othello is played by a white actor wearing make-up. This is known as blackface. Blackface was the practice of non-Black people darkening their skin in an attempt to impersonate people of African descent. The practice perpetrated a wide range of negative stereotypes. It is now understood to be racist and should not be practised.
Othello is a general in the army and a 'Moor'. He begins the play as a respected figure in Venice, but as the play goes on Iago makes him believe Desdemona is in love with someone else and he becomes more and more unpredictable. He eventually becomes so convinced by Iago's lies that he kills his wife.
Facts we learn about Othello at the start of the play:
‘Her father loved me, oft invited me, / Still questioned me the story of my life / From year to year: the battles, the sieges, fortunes / That I have passed’ (Othello, 1:3)
Othello was an experienced soldier and warrior and was respected by Brabantio before he discovered the marriage.
‘By the world, / I think my wife be honest, and think she is not; / I think that thou art just, and think thou art not: I’ll have some proof’ (Othello, 3:3)
Othello likes to have proof before he will believe something.
‘The Moor is of a free and open nature / That thinks men honest that but seem to be so’ (Iago, 1:3)
Iago thinks Othello is too trusting and will believe the best of people, even when they are lying.
‘I would rather sue to be despised than to deceive so good a commander’ (Cassio, 2:3)
Othello seems to have the respect of most of his men, including Cassio who feels he has let Othello down when he is caught fighting.
‘Is this the noble Moor whom our full Senate / Call all in all sufficient? This is the nature / Whom passion could not shake?’ (Lodovico, 4:1)
Lodovico can’t believe how much Othello has changed when he sees him in Act 4. He no longer seems like the ‘noble’ and calm General the Senate respected and has changed.
Iago lies to Othello about Desdemona.
Ian Bannen as Iago.
Emlyn Williams as Iago.
Sam Wanamaker as Iago.
Bob Peck as Iago.
Iago is a soldier in the Venetian army who is well respected and trusted by all for his honesty. Iago is Othello's ‘ancient’ and Othello trusts him implicitly. However, Iago hates Othello and uses Othello's trust against him to convince him that his wife is having an affair with Cassio. Iago manipulates everyone around him to help him convince Othello to kill his wife.
Facts we learn about Iago at the start of the play:
‘I follow him to serve my turn upon him’ (Iago, 1:1)
Iago plans to keep his feelings hidden so that he can get his revenge.
‘So will I turn her virtue into pitch / And out of her own goodness make the net / That shall enmesh them all’ (Iago, 2:3)
Iago is happy to destroy Desdemona’s reputation in order to get revenge on Othello and Cassio.
‘A man he is of honesty and trust’ (Othello, 1:3)
Everyone believes Iago to be honest and loyal, including Othello.
‘I warrant it grieves my husband as if the cause were his’ (Emilia, 3:3)
Other characters are convinced Iago is doing his best to help Cassio to get his job back, including Emilia.
‘Will you, I pray, demand that demi-devil / Why he hath thus ensnared my soul and body?’ (Othello, 5:2)
Iago is called a dog and a devil because his behaviour is seen to be ‘inhuman’, when his actions are revealed.
Suzanne Bertish as Desdemona.
Diana Wynyard as Desdemona.
Othello and Desdemona.
Desdemona speaks with Cassio.
Desdemona is a young Venetian noble woman who has secretly married Othello. She fell in love with him as she listened to stories of his adventures and chooses to go with him to Cyprus. She is friendly with Cassio and promises to help him get his job back when he loses it for fighting. Her closest friend is Emilia, Iago’s wife, who has been appointed as her maid. Desdemona becomes increasingly confused by Othello’s odd behaviour but remains loyal to him until he kills her.
Facts we learn about Desdemona at the start of the play:
'I saw Othello’s visage in his mind, / And to his honours and his valiant parts / Did I my soul and fortunes consecrate’ (Desdemona, 1:3)
Desdemona sees herself as fully committed and devoted to life with Othello.
‘Beshrew me if I would do such a thing / For the whole world!’ (Desdemona, 4:3)
Desdemona cannot imagine ever wanting to be unfaithful to her husband.
‘She has deceived her father and may thee’ (Brabantio, 1:3)
Desdemona lied to her father and married Othello without telling him.
‘My life upon her faith’ (Othello, 1:2)
Othello is completely convinced that Desdemona loves him before they leave for Cyprus.
‘She’s a most exquisite lady’ (Cassio, 2:3)
Desdemona is admired by others, including Cassio.
‘If she be not honest, chaste and true, there’s no man happy’ (Emilia, 4:2)
Desdemona is seen as being completely faithful to Othello by Emilia, who serves her in Cyprus.
Iago, Emilia and Desdemona.
Emilia prepares Desdemona for bed.
Iago and Emilia.
Emilia finds the handkerchief.
Emilia is Iago's wife. Othello appoints her to be Desdemona's maid and accompany them to Cyprus. Emilia and Desdemona become closer during the play and Emilia is loyal to her at the end of the play. Emilia steals Desdemona’s handkerchief to make Iago happy but she doesn’t know what he will do with it. She does not seem close to her husband and does not know his plans. She dies defending Desdemona’s honour and exposing the truth about her husband.
Facts we learn about Emilia at the start of the play:
‘But I do think it is their husbands’ faults / If wives do fall’ (Emilia, 4:3)
Emilia is more cynical than Desdemona and sees that men can be wrong in how they behave towards women.
‘Tis proper I obey him, but not now’ (Emilia, 5:2)
Emilia is a respectable woman who normally obeys her husband.
‘I care not for thy sword, I’ll make thee known / Though I lost twenty lives’ (Emilia, 5:2)
Emilia is very brave. When she feels physically threatened by Othello, she chooses to tell the truth even though it may endanger her life.
‘Why, what’s that to you?’ (Iago, 3:3)
Emilia is dismissed by her husband, Iago.
‘She’s a simple bawd’ (Othello, 4:2)
Emilia defends Desdemona, even when insulted by Othello.
‘It was his bidding; therefore, good Emilia / Give me my nightly wearing, and adieu. / We must not now displease him’ (Desdemona, 4:3)
Emilia is trusted by Desdemona, but Desdemona does not want her to interfere in her relationship with Othello.
Cassio and Desdemona.
Cassio is a young Florentine who serves in the army with Othello and Iago. Othello has promoted him and this makes Iago jealous because he believes he is more qualified for the promotion. Cassio is loyal to Othello and is a great admirer of Desdemona. He is very friendly towards her and Iago uses this to convince Othello they are having an affair. Cassio is in a relationship with a woman called Bianca. She loves him but he does not seem as interested in her. Cassio is wounded by Roderigo at the end of the play but survives.
Facts we learn about Cassio at the start of the play:
'I have very poor and unhappy brains for drinking’ (Cassio, 2:3)
Cassio is aware of his own weakness when it comes to drinking alcohol.
'Reputation, reputation, reputation! O, I have lost my reputation!’ (Cassio, 2:3)
A sense of honour and reputation is very important to Cassio. He wants others to think well of him.
‘That never set a squadron in the field / Nor the division of a battle knows / More than a spinster’ (Iago, 1:1)
Cassio is an inexperienced soldier, according to Iago.
‘The knave is handsome, young, and hath all those requisites in him that folly and green minds look after’ (Iago, 2:1)
Cassio is handsome and charming.
‘This same Cassio, though he speak of comfort / Touching the Turkish loss, yet he looks sadly / And pray the Moor be safe’ (Gentleman, 2:1)
Cassio worries about Othello and has a lot of respect for him.
Brabantio petitions the Duke of Venice.
Brabantio is Desdemona's father and a senator in Venice. He welcomed the popular general, Othello, into his home but had no idea that his daughter was falling in love with him. He accuses Othello of using witchcraft against his daughter and assumes the Senate will support him when he complains to the Duke about their marriage. When the Senate disagree with him, he says goodbye to his daughter and we learn later that his grief about losing her to Othello causes his death.
Facts we learn about Brabantio at the start of the play:
‘Mine’s not an idle cause, the duke himself, / Or any of my brothers of the state / Cannot but feel this wrong as ‘twere their own’ (Brabantio, 1:2)
Brabantio believes that his fellow Senators will take his side against Othello.
‘For your sake, jewel / I am glad at soul I have no other child / For thy escape would teach me tyranny / To hang clogs on them’ (Brabantio, 1:3)
Brabantio is so distressed by his daughter’s behaviour that he says if he had another child he would keep them imprisoned.
‘Good signior, you shall more command with years / Than with your weapons’ (Othello, 1:2)
Brabantio is older and Othello does not feel threatened by him.
'My noble father / I do perceive here a divided duty / To you I am bound for life and education’ (Desdemona, 1:3)
Brabantio is respected by the Senate and by his daughter, even though she chooses to stay loyal to her new husband.
‘Thy match was mortal to him and pure grief / Shore his old thread in twain’ (Gratiano, 5:2)
Brabantio was so upset that his daughter married Othello that Gratiano suggests he died of a broken heart.
Cassio and Bianca.
Iago and Othello overhear Cassio and Bianca.
Bianca and Cassio.
Bianca gives Cassio Desdemona's handkerchief.
Bianca is first introduced when the soldiers arrive in Cyprus. She is clearly very attached to Cassio. He spends time at her house and she wants him to spend more time with her. He gives her a handkerchief he finds in his room and she becomes jealous, thinking it must be a gift from another woman. Othello sees her with the handkerchief and believes this proves that Desdemona must have given it to Cassio. Bianca defends Cassio when he is stabbed by Roderigo and goes to look after him.
Facts we learn about Bianca during the play:
‘This is some token from a newer friend / To the felt absence now I feel a cause’ (Bianca, 3:4)
Bianca is upset when she thinks Cassio might be seeing another woman.
‘I am no strumpet / But of life as honest as you that thus / Abuse me’ (Bianca, 5:1)
Bianca does not see herself as a prostitute or ‘strumpet’.
‘How is’t with you, my most fair Bianca? / I’faith, sweet love, I was coming to your house’ (Cassio, 3:4)
Bianca is in a relationship with Cassio and he speaks affectionately to her.
‘A housewife that by selling her desires / Buys herself bread and clothes: it is a creature / that dotes on Cassio’ (Iago, 4:1)
Other characters suggest Bianca is a prostitute who has fallen in love with her client, Cassio.
‘She was here even now, she haunts me in every place. …So hangs and lolls and weeps upon me, so shakes and pulls me! Ha, ha , ha’ (Cassio, 4:1)
Bianca likes Cassio but he does not seem to feel the same, laughing about her behaviour with Iago.
Roderigo and Iago.
Iago tells Roderigo that Desdemona is in love with Cassio.
Iago and Roderigo scheme.
Iago manipulates Roderigo.
Roderigo is a gullible nobleman who is in love with Desdemona. The play opens with Roderigo and Iago talking about how much they hate Othello and telling Brabantio that his daughter has secretly married. Iago convinces Roderigo that he should follow them to Cyprus because Desdemona will soon grow bored of Othello and then she might want him. Roderigo does everything Iago tells him. This includes giving him money and jewels, provoking Cassio to fight and later trying to kill Cassio. Iago kills Roderigo to stop him revealing what he knows.
Facts we learn about Roderigo at the start of the play:
‘I have wasted myself out of my means’ (Roderigo, 4:2)
Roderigo has spent nearly all his money doing what Iago tells him.
‘I have no great devotion to the deed / And yet he hath given me satisfying reasons: Tis but a man gone.’ (Roderigo, 5:1)
Roderigo does not want to kill Cassio but is convinced that the death of Cassio is not important compared to his own desires.
‘In honest plainness thou has heard me say / My daughter is not for thee’ (Brabantio, 1:1)
Roderigo has asked to marry Desdemona but Brabantio does not think he is a good enough match.
‘Thus do I ever make my fool my purse’ (Iago, 1:3)
Roderigo is gullible and Iago is able to take money from him.
'Now my sick fool, Roderigo / Whom love hath turned almost the wrong side out’ (Iago, 2:3)
Roderigo is so obsessed by his love for Desdemona that it has taken over his life.
Desdemona and Othello have a strong relationship in Act 1. He won her affection by telling her stories about his past and she defies her father to marry him.
He says: ‘She loved me for the dangers I had passed, / And I loved her that she did pity them.’ (1:3)
She says: ‘to his honours and his valiant parts / Did I my soul and fortunes consecrate’ (1:3)
Desdemona and Othello are happy together when they arrive safely in Cyprus after a difficult journey at sea. He’s glad to have her with him.
‘It gives me wonder great as my content / To see you here before me’ (2:1)
Desdemona and Othello grow further apart as Othello starts to suspect she is in love with Cassio. She doesn’t understand what’s happening and keeps talking to him about Cassio, which makes it worse. Othello wants to see proof that she has been unfaithful.
‘I’ll see before I doubt; when I doubt, prove; / And, on the proof, there is no more but this: / Away at one with love or jealousy!’ (3:3)
Desdemona and Othello’s relationship is strained by the end of Act 3. Othello believes she is in love with Cassio and when she lies about her handkerchief he thinks it’s evidence against her. Desdemona doesn’t understand why he’s acting so strangely and Othello starts to talk to Iago about her death.
‘I will withdraw / To furnish me with some swift means of death / For the fair devil’ (3:3)
Desdemona and Othello’s relationship breaks down completely. In Act 4 he hits her in front of everybody and in Act 5 kills her in their bedroom.
‘she must die, else she’ll betray more men’ (5:2)
‘Why I should fear I know not, / Since guiltiness I know not; but yet I feel fear.’ (5:2)
In Act 1, Othello believes Iago is honest and trustworthy.
At the end of Act 1, when he sets off to fight the Turks, he entrusts his new wife to Iago’s care:
‘Honest Iago / My Desdemona must I leave to thee’ (1:3).
Iago makes it very clear to the audience, however that he will use Othello’s trust against him:
‘He holds me well / The better shall my purpose work on him’ (1:3)
In Act 2, Othello trusts that Iago is loyal both to him and to Cassio and has no idea Iago caused the fight Cassio gets into with Montano.
‘I know Iago / Thy honesty and love doth mince this matter, / Making it light to Cassio.’ (2:3)
Othello places so much trust in Iago’s honesty and loyalty that he believes Iago’s suggestions that Cassio and Desdemona are having an affair rather than trust in the loyalty of his wife and his lieutenant.
‘This fellow’s of exceeding honesty’ (3:3)
Othello trusts Iago with his plans to kill Desdemona and also trusts Iago to kill Cassio for him. When he hears Cassio’s cries for help, Othello says:
‘O brave Iago, honest and just, / Thou hast such noble sense of thy friend’s wrong’ (5:1)
Othello is shocked that Iago betrayed his trust so badly and calls him a:
‘demi-devil’ that ‘hath thus ensnared my soul and body’ (5:2)
As the play begins, we learn that Othello has recently promoted Cassio to be his lieutenant. We also later learn that Othello trusted Cassio to carry messages between him and Desdemona before they were married and Cassio was loyal to Othello when talking to Desdemona. Desdemona says:
‘Michael Cassio / That came a-wooing with you and so many a time / When I have spoke of you dispraisingly / Hath ta’en your part’ (3:3)
Othello is so disappointed that Cassio has betrayed his trust, ending up in a drunken fight, that he fires him from the position of lieutenant:
‘never more be officer of mine’ (2:3)
Othello begins to lose trust in Cassio and instead believe that Cassio and Desdemona are having an affair when Iago tells him:
‘Look to your wife, observe her well with Cassio’ (3:3)
Othello is so convinced by Iago that Cassio is sleeping with his wife that he has no trust left and wants him dead:
‘How shall I murder him, Iago?’ (4:1)
At the end of the play, Othello realises he was wrong to mistrust Cassio. Cassio says
‘Dear general, I never gave you cause’
and Othello replies
‘I do believe it and I ask your pardon’ (5:2)
Iago and Emilia don’t appear to have a very strong relationship at the start of the play. He talks very negatively about her and their relationship.
‘She puts her tongue a little in her heart, / And chides with thinking.’ (2:1)
Iago and Emilia’s relationship seems slightly stronger in Act 3 when Emilia takes Desdemona’s handkerchief to help Iago. She doesn’t know why he wants it, but she knows it will make him happy.
‘I’ll have the work ta’en out, / And give’t Iago; what he will do with it / Heaven knows, not I - / I nothing, but to please his fantasy.’ (3:3)
‘A good wench! Give it me.’ (3:3)
Iago and Emilia’s relationship ends when he kills her to silence her and stop her telling everyone what she has done. Emilia is the first character to realise Desdemona has died for no reason and to accuse Iago.
Emilia: ‘She did give it Cassio? No, alas, I found it, / And I did give’t my husband.’Iago: 'Filth, thou liest!' (5:2)
Emilia: ‘She did give it Cassio? No, alas, I found it, / And I did give’t my husband.’
Iago: 'Filth, thou liest!' (5:2)
In the first lines of the play, Roderigo says
‘thou, Iago, who hast had my purse / As if the strings were thine’ (1:1)
which sets up for the audience that Roderigo trusts Iago. At the end of Act 1, however, Iago tells the audience he only spends time with Roderigo
‘for my sport and profit’ (1:3)
letting us know that he intends to use Roderigo for his own ends.
Roderigo begins to lose trust in Iago. He says
‘I do not find that thou deal’st justly with me’ (4:2)
but Iago talks him round and Roderigo reluctantly agrees to go along with Iago’s plans to kill Cassio. He says:
‘I have no great devotion to the deed / And yet he hath given me satisfying reasons’ (5:1)
Iago murders Roderigo in Act 5 and Roderigo finally realises how untrustworthy Iago is:
‘O damned Iago! O inhuman dog!’ (5:1)
Roderigo wanted to marry Desdemona and follows all of Iago’s plans to ruin her marriage to Othello. There is nothing in the text about how she feels towards him.
Emilia is appointed as maid to Desdemona by Othello at the end of Act 1.
When Desdemona drops her handkerchief, Emilia picks it up and gives it to Iago. When Desdemona later asks
‘Where should I lose that handkerchief, Emilia?’
‘I know not, madam’ (3:4)
Even though she knows how upset Desdemona is about the handkerchief, Emilia lies.
Desdemona has learned to trust Emilia and they have a quite open discussion about
‘these men, these men’ (4:1)
Emilia’s last words are defending Desdemona:
‘Moor, she was chaste, she loved thee, cruel Moor’ (5:2)
Cassio and Bianca are in a relationship. She seems much more interested in him than he is in her.
Cassio and Bianca’s relationship becomes a bit difficult when he gives her Desdemona’s handkerchief and asks her to copy the design. She thinks he must be seeing someone else as well as her.
Cassio and Bianca are still together when he is wounded by Roderigo in Act 5. She defends Cassio and fights back against Emilia who calls her a ‘strumpet’.
On this page students can arrange the characters on the screen, showing the connections between the characters and their relationships. They can then print this using the button on the page and label it with quotes and evidence.
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