With Bianca. Drawing by Ludovico Marchetti
Michael Cassio, or simply Cassio, is a fictional character in William Shakespeare's Othello. The source of the character is the 1565 tale "Un Capitano Moro" by Cinthio; Cassio is unnamed in Cinthio but referred to as "the squadron leader". In the play, Cassio is a young and handsome lieutenant under Othello's command who becomes one of Iago's several victims in a plot to ruin Othello.
Othello has its source in the 1565 tale "Un Capitano Moro" from Gli Hecatommithi by Giovanni Battista Giraldi Cinthio. While no English translation of Cinthio was available in Shakespeare's lifetime, it is probable that Shakespeare knew both the Italian original and Gabriel Chappuy's 1584 French translation. Cinthio's tale may have been based on an actual incident occurring in Venice about 1508. Cassio is based upon Cinthio's squadron leader.
Role in Othello
Cassio is a Florentine gentlemans soldier, a man of high manners and theoretical learning, and one of Othello's chief lieutenants. There is a supposed rivalry between Cassio and the play's villain, Iago. Iago claims to resent Cassio because Othello chose Cassio rather than Iago as his lieutenant, in spite of the fact that Cassio has no practical knowledge of battle. Iago uses Cassio in his scheme to destroy Othello; Iago insinuates throughout that Cassio is having an affair with Othello's wife, Desdemona. Othello's jealousy is eventually stoked by Iago into homicidal rage.
In the second act, Cassio's life is nearly ruined by Iago's cunning and his own foolishness. Iago tricks Cassio into getting drunk and then incites his friend Roderigo to start a brawl with Cassio. The Cypriot governor Montano tries to end the fight by stepping between the two men, and Cassio, now blind drunk, strikes out at him. As a result, Cassio loses his lieutenancy.
Later in the play, Iago persuades Roderigo to assassinate Cassio, and together they arrange an ambush. Roderigo attacks Cassio by surprise. Cassio retaliates and mortally wounds Roderigo, but is himself stabbed from behind by Iago. His leg is wounded, but he survives. Iago then kills the wounded Roderigo. Before committing suicide, Othello apologizes to Cassio for believing Iago's lies about him.
In productions of Othello, Cassio has been portrayed by such notable actors as Hayden Adams, Tom Hiddleston and Derek Jacobi. The latter portrayed Cassio in Laurence Olivier's version of Othello, both on stage and screen.
- Shakespeare, William. Four Tragedies: Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, Macbeth. Bantam Books, 1988.