Othello

The Handkerchief Symbol Analysis

Read our modern English translation.
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.

The Handkerchief Quotes in Othello

The Othello quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Handkerchief. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Prejudice Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Simon & Schuster edition of Othello published in 2015.
Act 3, scene 3 Quotes
"Be sure of it; give me the ocular proof."
Related Characters: Othello (speaker), Iago
Related Symbols: The Handkerchief
Page Number: 3.3.412
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Unlock explanations and citation info for this and every other Othello quote.

Plus so much more...

Get LitCharts A+
Already a LitCharts A+ member? Sign in!
Act 4, scene 1 Quotes
"Her honor is an essence that's not seen;
They have it very oft that have it not."
Related Characters: Iago (speaker), Desdemona
Related Symbols: The Handkerchief
Page Number: 4.1.20-21
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Get the entire Othello LitChart as a printable PDF.
Othello.pdf.medium

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)