When Iago is white, Othello is entirely isolated, and it is no surprise to us that Iago plots against him. When he is black, suddenly we see Iago as Othello’s trusted subordinate, someone who stands with him, ready to carry out his wishes and provide him with information. When he is passed over, his loyal service unrecognized, he turns his ingenuity toward revenge. Othello continues to trust him, because Iago is his bridge to a world he only partly understands. Msamati’s Iago, always scheming and arranging, is busy spinning his spider webs, until finally he himself is caught.
It’s a good thing we didn’t skip it. This Othello, wonderfully acted in an ensemble mode, proved again the limitless facets in Shakepeare’s enigmatic masterpiece. The revelation here was the relationship between Othello and Iago, brought forward by casting a black actor as Iago. Not just any actor, but the effervescent and charismatic Lucian Msamati, who might have stolen the show away if Hugh Quarshie had not radiated such controlled and thoughtful power.
Bianca: Mistress to Cassio, Bianca plays a limited but significant role in this play. As Cassio's neglected girlfriend, she is given Desdemona's handkerchief to copy by Cassio, only later to return it angrily back to Cassio, which a hiding Othello takes as proof that Cassio has Desdemona's handkerchief proving that Desdemona was unfaithful to him.
In Act V, Scene II, Emilia reveals her true loyalties however by refusing to be dismissed by Iago when she reveals that she gave Iago Desdemona's handkerchief, a revelation that proves Desdemona was not unfaithful. For this, Emilia is stabbed by her husband, dying whilst singing the "Willow Song", a song told to her by Desdemona..
As Desdemona's confidante, she ironically and unwittingly reveals the source of Othello's anger when she says that Othello has obviously been tricked into believing Desdemona would be unfaithful by an evil man (Iago but not named).
Desdemona: Daughter to Brabantio and wife to Othello, Desdemona is continuously distrusted by those who should love and trust her most. First in Act I, her father Brabantio refuses to believe she could love Othello without Othello using witchcraft.
Nonetheless he listens to Iago's calls not to give up when he learns of Desdemona's marriage, unaware he is being led on a fool's quest to simply finance Iago. Lured by Iago to fight Cassio twice (First in Act II, Scene III and later in Act V, Scene I), Roderigo is ultimately killed by Iago.
Roderigo: A wealthy Venetian gentleman, Roderigo pays Iago to keep him informed of Desdemona's activities since he hopes to one day marry her. Trusting of Iago, he nonetheless questions Iago repetitively on his loyalty to him in Act I, and later on what has happened to gifts given to him to pass on to Desdemona in Act V.
The Clown mocks the Cyprian Musician's instruments, wondering aloud if they are "wind instruments?" (Line 6) before Cassio pays him relay a message to Emilia to come and talk to Cassio which she does, revealing Othello and Desdemona have discussed him, Othello wanting to reinstate Cassio as his lieutenant but being prevented by Cassio's infamy on Cypress from his fight with Roderigo.
This sounds a whole lot like a 16th century wedding ceremony... which definitely suggests a (one sided) homoerotic attachment between Iago and Othello.
No matter how you choose to interpret it, think about the fact that Iago is often our focus in this play. We follow his storyline more than Othello's, and we spend more time with him than Othello. We watch him in a variety of relationships—his manipulation of Roderigo, his treatment of his wife, his pseudo-friendship with Othello. If it weren't for the fact that Iago undergoes basically zero changes, you could even argue that he's the main character.
Orson Welles seemed partial to this idea—his film version of the drama exploits the homoerotic undertones of the play, and Iago basically woos Othello away from Desdemona. If you think this idea may be worth exploring (or if you just want to know what the heck Orson Welles was thinking), be sure to check out the end of , where Othello makes Iago his new lieutenant and Iago vows to kill Cassio:
Emilia: Wife to Iago and not particularly loved by Iago, Emilia could be argued to be a major seed in Iago's downfall. Though introduced in Act II, Scene I (Lines 96-108) in less than respectful tones by Iago, Emilia is trusted as a friend by Desdemona. Nonetheless she is loyal to Iago, giving Desdemona's handkerchief to Iago instead of back to Desdemona.
What? You don't like the "motiveless malignancy" theory? Here's another explanation that some critics like: Iago secretly wants to get it on with Othello and ends up hurting Othello because he's jealous of Desdemona.