Othello is a Moor and a mercenary retained by the Venetian state. Widely travelled and experienced, he considers himself of no country until he binds himself to Desdemona.
He spends nine months at peace in Venice, there being no war requiring him, during which time he is often invited to Brabantio’s, where he sings for his supper with the tale of his life and travelers’ tales. These seduce Desdemona, Brabantio’s daughter, and he falls in love with her. They elope at a time when the rumors of new wars with the Turks make it likely that Othello’s services will soon be needed by Venice, and his commission to relieve Cyprus helps shield him from Brabantio’s wrath. Well into middle-age, he has a healthy self-regard, portraying himself as a man not ruled by passion. He sometimes seems incapable of speaking without using the grandiloquent language that characterizes him, and he possesses tremendous natural authority, enough that he can stop a fight with a single sentence. He is quick to discipline. He is, however, more vulnerable than he realizes: he is insecure over the age difference with his wife, as well as the fact of his race. His ancient (ensign) Iago’s suspicions about Cassio and Desdemona strike him close, especially coming from so trusted and honest a man. Desdemona’s importuning about Cassio only convinces him further of her guilt. Othello is a deeply trusting man, even to credulousness, and suspicions quickly convince him that he may be wrong to trust. Though not known for ever being angry, even in the middle of battle, his rage over possibly being betrayed is so strong that it renders him almost incoherent, sending him into a fit and persuading him to murder his wife. He insults and humiliates her publicly, even in front of her relatives, and goes so far as to strike her, either not knowing or not caring what harm he is doing to his image. That image is very important to him: even after killing his wife and discovering that he has been played like a fiddle and a fool by Iago, he insists on trying to define how he will be remembered before he commits suicide, though he betrays a certain lack of self-knowledge in his description of himself.