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Published: 23-09-2019

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Handkerchief: Symbolism, Role and Metaphor

Shakespeare weaves an intricate web ensnaring the characters in The Tragedy of Othello, The Moor of Venice. A handkerchief, a small and seemingly insignificant square of fabric, exerts magical powers more than the characters as it transfers from individual to particular person in the play. Six characters take possession of the handkerchief. 3 (Othello, Desdemona, and Emilia) die violent deaths, one particular (Cassio) is gravely wounded, another (Bianca) is imprisoned for a murder she did not commit, and Iago—who utilised the handkerchief for his personal evil machinations—faces the death penalty. When Iago says that “we function by wit and not by witchcraft,” he is not giving the handkerchief due credit for its abetment in his plots (2.3.393). The handkerchief, shrouded in mystery, is a character in its personal right that takes the stage at pivotal moments.

The handkerchief tends to make rounds through the characters. We 1st see it when Desdemona gives to bind Othello’s head to ease the ache, but Othello, beguiled by Iago’s artifice, refuses the proffered tenderness. Emilia retrieves the dropped handkerchief with the intention of copying the work for Iago, but as an alternative hands the original over to Iago even even though she knows Desdemona will “run mad/ When she shall lack it” (three.three.365-366). Iago leaves the handkerchief in Cassio’s lodgings where Cassio finds it and asks his lover to copy the operate prior to he searches for the rightful owner. Bianca, incredulous that Cassio would ask her to take out the function of what she believes to be “some minx’s token,” returns the handkerchief to Cassio, while Othello looks on from the shadows.

The handkerchief works its magic on each and every of these characters in its personal way. Emilia feigns ignorance of the handkerchief’s deposition and her husband’s contrivance. Emilia’s lack of interjection in three.4 contradicts her vigorous championing of her lady in five.2 that belies not necessarily malice toward Desdemona, but a wicked spell cast by the handkerchief that keeps Emilia from putting a quit to the misunderstanding when presented with the opportunity. Iago has an inclination of revenge toward Othello and Cassio, but it is not till the handkerchief finds its way to him that this plan begins to kind. Even even though the cloth is a “trifles light as air,” Iago realizes the energy held within and puts it in Cassio’s bedchamber with the hope that, “This could do something” (three.three.370, 372). Cassio is taken in by the handkerchief’s charm, but it leaves him unmoved. Its impact on Bianca, on the other hand, is more apparent. At first Bianca is complacent to “be circumstanced” by Cassio’s terms, but right after taking hold of the handkerchief, her eyes are opened and she appears ready to present Cassio with an ultimatum. When Bianca returns the handkerchief to Cassio, Othello observes the handoff. Seeing the handkerchief in Cassio’s hands supplies the “ocular proof” Othello demands in three.three.412. A simple square of cloth holds sufficient weight to condemn Desdemona to death.

The handkerchief’s provenance is obscure. Othello claims that “It was a handkerchief, an antique token/ My father gave my mother” in the last act (5.2.256-257), but it seems to be much more of a magical post in the guise of an ordinary object. As the handkerchief makes its way from character to character, it leaves a trail of destruction in its wake.
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