Othello: Protagonist and hero. He is a highly valuable and respected general of Venice, and an eloquent and powerful figure. He is nevertheless easy prey to insecurities because of his age, his life as a soldier, and the fact that he is a racial and cultural outsider. He sometimes makes a point of presenting himself as such, whether because he recognizes his exotic appeal or merely because he is self-conscious of his difference from other Venetians. In spite of his eloquence in the first act, he protests, "Rude am I in my speech, / And little blessed with the soft phrase of peace". In the end, it is the tension between his victimization at the hands of a foreign culture and his own willingness to torment himself that makes him a tragic figure.
Nevertheless, Othello is also tactful and wise in dealing with authority. When his father-in-law accuses him of bewitching Desdemona, Othello does not argue but instead politely and courteously stands before the Duke and proves his marriage is one of love. However, he later allows the threat of Desdemona's supposed infidelity to drive him to murder her to avenge his own pride.
Shakespeare also intensely contrasts Othello from Iago by making one black and the other white, one unprincipled and the other noble and upright.
Iago: Possibly Shakespeare's most heinous figure due to the manner in which he effortlessly manipulates those around him to do his bidding by taking advantage of their trust and using his victim's own motivations. It is his talent for understanding and manipulating the desires of those around him that makes him both a powerful and compelling figure.
Another aspect of Iago that elevates his apparent malevolence is his seemingly utter lack of plausible motives. He often hints that his prime motivation is bitterness for having been passed for promotion. His racist disgust at seeing black Othello and white Desdemona together, and his supreme...