Symbols are used to give a deeper meaning into a particular body of work. They can be either objects or gestures from the characters that have underlying messages that the author wants to express in his or her work. In Shakespeare’s Othello, the handkerchief that Othello gave to Desdemona has different meanings with different characters. It is also an important item in revealing the theme of the play.
The Handkerchief The handkerchief is possessed by different characters in the play, and therefore results into different meanings that it symbolizes. It was first with Othello, he gave it to Desdemona as a gift. The handkerchief is actually from Othello’s mother that was given by an Egyptian charmer. “That handkerchief Did an Egyptian to my mother give; She was a charmer” (III, iv, 58-60).
The handkerchief supposedly has some magical powers that can make the partner of the owner remain faithful as long as he or she is in possession of the handkerchief. ‘Twould make her amiable and subdue my father Entirely to her love, but if she lost it Or made gift of it, my father’s eye Should hold her loathed and his spirits should hunt After new fancies:” (III, iv, 63-67). Othello believed this myth about the handkerchief so for him it symbolizes the loyalty of Desdemona to him. So when Desdemona lost it, his suspicions of Desdemona’s infidelity grew. After Othello gave the handkerchief to Desdemona it became symbolic to her. It was a gift from her husband so it symbolizes her husband’s love for her.
She even stated in Act III, scene iv, lines 22-23 that she’d rather loose her purse full of crusadoes, knowing that her husband would be very upset and even become suspicious (III, iv, 25-26). For a very short time, Emilia was in possession of the handkerchief. She chanced upon it after it dropped to the floor because Othello found it to small to relieve him of the pain he was feeling on his forehead “Your napkin is too little: He puts the handkerchief from him; and it drops Let it alone.
Come, I’ll go in with you” (III, iii, 332-334). Emilia has always heard of her husband Iago talk about how badly he wanted that handkerchief “My wayward husband hath a hundred times Woo’d me to steal it” (III, iii, 339-340). so she opted to take the handkerchief and bring it to him, to satisfy her husband’s fantasy “…And give’t Iago: what he will do with it Heaven knows, not I; I nothing but to please his fantasy” (III, iii, 344-346).
Once Iago had the handkerchief in his hands it became his means to finally bring down Othello to use it as evidence, or at least to Othello’s eyes, of Desdemona’s infidelity. He plans to plant the handkerchief in Cassio’s room as proof to Cassio and Desdemona’s affair “I will in Cassio’s lodging lose this napkin, And let him find it. Trifles light as air Are to the jealous confirmations strong As proofs of holy writ:” (III, iii, 373-376). Conclusion The handkerchief in the play is the most symbolic item in the play.
It has a symbolic meaning with almost all the major characters of the play. Their motives change the personal meaning of the handkerchief. Depending on who has the handkerchief, the handkerchief can mean a lover’s fidelity, a source of a husband’s satisfaction, or the means to an evil plot. All these meanings have something to do with the theme of the play, a simple item such as a handkerchief can be the difference between the success of a relationship. Trust should be the foundation of relationships.