Othello

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The Handkerchief Symbol Analysis

The Handkerchief Symbol Icon
In European medieval and renaissance love poetry, the handkerchief is typically a symbol for a woman's romantic favor. For instance, there was a particular ritual in which a lady would drop her handkerchief for a knight to pick up and keep as a token of her regard. The handkerchief that Othello gives Desdemona is, similarly, a love-token and therefore a symbol of their love. But the handkerchief, which originally belonged to an Egyptian sorcerer, also comes to symbolize the illusions that Iago is "casting" through his plotting and subterfuge.
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The Handkerchief Symbol Timeline in Othello

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Handkerchief appears in Othello. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 3, scene 3
Appearance vs. Reality Theme Icon
Manhood and Honor Theme Icon
Womanhood and Sexuality Theme Icon
...to tell Othello it is time for dinner. Desdemona tries to soothe him with her handkerchief, but Othello says it is too small and drops it to the floor. They exit... (full context)
Appearance vs. Reality Theme Icon
Jealousy Theme Icon
Manhood and Honor Theme Icon
Iago enters. To his delight, Emilia shows him the handkerchief. He grabs it from her hand. She asks for it back unless he has some... (full context)
Act 3, scene 4
Appearance vs. Reality Theme Icon
Womanhood and Sexuality Theme Icon
When the clown exits, Desdemona wonders what has happened to her handkerchief. Emilia, who is also present, says she doesn't know. (full context)
Prejudice Theme Icon
Appearance vs. Reality Theme Icon
Jealousy Theme Icon
Manhood and Honor Theme Icon
Womanhood and Sexuality Theme Icon
...to bring up Cassio's suit, Othello says he has a headache and asks for the handkerchief he gave her. When, Desdemona admits she doesn't have it at hand, Othello tells her... (full context)
Act 5, scene 2
Prejudice Theme Icon
Manhood and Honor Theme Icon
Womanhood and Sexuality Theme Icon
...happened. Othello insists again that Desdemona was unfaithful and brings up the proof of the handkerchief. Now Emilia explodes in anger, and explains that she was the one who found the... (full context)