Above all else, this Othello character analysis reveals that Shakespeare's Othello has gravitas.
A celebrated soldier and trusted leader whose race both defines him “The Moor” and defies his lofty position; it would be rare for a man of race to have such a highly respected position in Venetian society.
Othello and Race
Many of Othello's insecurities are derived from his race and from the perception that he is lowlier than his wife. “Haply for I am black, And have not those soft parts of conversation That chamberers have…” (Othello, Act 3 Scene 3, Line 267)
Iago and Roderigo describe Othello at the start of the play, without even naming him, using his racial difference to identify him, referring to him as “the Moor”, “an old black ram”. He is even referred to as “the thick lips”. It is generally the morally dubious characters who use his race as a reason to disparage him. The Duke only speaks of him in terms of his achievements and his valour; “Valiant Othello…” (Act 1 Scene 3 Line 47)
Unfortunately Othello’s insecurity gets the better of him and he is moved to kill his wife in a fit of jealousy.
One could argue that Othello is easily manipulated but as an honest man himself, he has no reason to doubt Iago. “The Moor is of a free and open nature, That thinks men honest that but seem to be so,” (Iago, Act 1 Scene 3, Line 391). Having said that, he more readily believes Iago than his own wife but again this is probably because of his own insecurities. “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.” (Act 3 Scene 3, Line 388-390)
One of Othello’s admirable qualities is that he believes that men should be transparent and honest as he is; “Certain, men should be what they seem” (Act 3 Scene 3 Line 134). This juxtaposition between Othello’s transparency and Iago’s duality identifies him as a sympathetic character despite his actions. Othello is manipulated by the truly evil and duplicitous Iago who has so few redeeming qualities.
Pride is also one of Othello’s weaknesses; for him his wife’s alleged affair confounds his belief that he is a lesser man, that he cannot live up to her expectations and her position in society; her need for a conventional white man is a critical blow to his achieved position. “For naught I did in hate, but all in honour” (Act 5 Scene 2, Line 301).
Othello is clearly very much in love with Desdemona and in killing her he denies himself his own happiness; which heightens the tragedy. Iago’s true Machiavellian victory is that he orchestrates Othello having to take responsibility for his own downfall.
Othello and Iago
Iago’s hatred of Othello is profound; he does not employ him as his lieutenant and there is a suggestion that he bedded Emilia previous to his relationship with Desdemona. The relationship between Othello and Emilia is never corroborated but Emilia has a very negative opinion of Othello, possibly based on dealings with her own husband?
Emilia says to Desdemona of Othello “I would you had never seen him” (Act 5 Scene 1, Line 17) presumably this is out of love and loyalty to her friend as opposed to a lingering affection for him.
Othello would be very attractive to someone in Emilia’s position; he is very demonstrative in his love for Desdemona but sadly this turns sour and his character becomes more recognisable to Emilia as a result.
Othello is brave and celebrated which could also account for Iago’s intense hatred of him. Jealousy defines Othello and also the characters associated with his downfall.