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The Handkerchief and Infidelity

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The handkerchief plays a significant symbolic role in the play Othello since it was the first gift Desdemona was given by Othello as a symbol of his love towards her. Considering how deeply both Desdemona and Othello cherish the handkerchief as the symbol of their love, Iago persuades his wife to steal it. Iago knows that the handkerchief if a symbol of Desdemona’s fidelity, therefore, losing it would symbolically signify Desdemona’s infidelity towards Othello. Iago successfully managed to steal the handkerchief by aid of his wife. As a result, Desdemona was accused of infidelity since it was believed that she had given away her symbol of love and chaste to Casio. Moreover, the inability of the handkerchief to heal Othello’s headache was dramatic proof that their symbol of love had lost its meaning and function. Therefore the handkerchief plays a dramatic role in proving Desdemona’s infidelity

The handkerchief given to Desdemona was a proof of her chaste as long as she possessed it. Othello believed that the handkerchief contained some sort of charm as it was woven by a two hundred year old sibyl.  The chastity of the handkerchief was based on the dye used in printing the strawberry patterns. The dye was believed to have been retrieved from mummified virgin’s hearts in Egypt.  Othello’s mother kept the handkerchief with which she cherished as symbol of her faithfulness to Othello’s father (Shakespeare, Act III Scene 4). The loss of the handkerchief as manipulated by Iago was proof to Othello that Desdemona was practicing infidelity. By stealing the handkerchief from Desdemona and placing it in Cassio’s possession, Iago was able to prove Desdemona’s infidelity. Fully convinced that Desdemona was unfaithful, Othello sought to seek evidence of her infidelity.

Iago knows that by dropping the handkerchief in Cassio’s possession, it was going to be real proof that Desdemona was having an affair with Cassio. “I will in Cassio's lodging lose this napkin/…..As proof of holy writ: this may do something/The Moor already changes with my poison,” (Shakespeare, Act 3 Scene III). Iago then informs Othello that he had seen Cassio wipe his beard with a handkerchief belonging to Desdemona.  Iago further poisons Othello’s mind by informing him that Desdemona always tried to bind him with the handkerchief. Full of rage and jealous, Othello believes Iago’s lie since the same handkerchief was their relationship’s symbol of fidelity.

The inability of the handkerchief to heal Othello’s headache in spite of its talismanic power was symbolized that their relationship was never based on trust anymore. “Your napkin is too little: He puts the handkerchief from him; and it drops,” (Shakespeare, Act III Scene 3). Although Othello was not sure of Desdemona’s infidelity, he was already poisoned by Iago’s accusations that he believed it. The Inability of the handkerchief to heal his headache partially proved to Othello that their relation was falling apart and their symbol of love had lost its intended mission.

The handkerchief as a symbol of Desdemona’s fidelity was never to be lost; therefore, by losing the handkerchief, Desdemona symbolically indicated that she no longer bound in love with Othello. When Othello saw Cassio in possession of the handkerchief, he was fully convinced that Desdemona was no longer faithful to him “That handkerchief which I so loved and gave thee / Thou gavest to Cassio” (Shakespeare Act 5 Scene II). The handkerchief therefore played a dramatic function in proving Desdemona’s infidelity. The loose of the handkerchief symbolically indicated that Desdemona was no longer chaste and thus infidel.

Conclusively, the handkerchief successfully played the dramatic role of proving Desdemona’s infidelity since as a symbol of love and chastity; she was never supposed to lose it. The loose of it symbolically illustrated that she was no longer committed to Othello’s love. Although Iago purposely stole the handkerchief to implicate Desdemona, it was dramatic irony since Othello never knew it until the end of the story.

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