36 pages 1 hour read

William Shakespeare


Fiction | Play | Adult | Published in 1604

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Symbols & Motifs

Desdemona’s Handkerchief

Desdemona’s handkerchief becomes synonymous with her sexual fidelity to Othello. It was his first gift to her, and as a result, has sentimental value to both of them. The handkerchief, which Iago plants in Cassio’s room, becomes the most convincing piece of circumstantial evidence pointing to Desdemona’s betrayal. When Othello sees Cassio holding the handkerchief, it’s as if he is holding Desdemona herself. He assumes that Desdemona has not only cast off the love and regard he gave to her, represented in the handkerchief, but furthermore has insulted him by passing it, and her affections, on to another man. Without the handkerchief, Iago’s plot may not have incited Othello to murder Desdemona. Even after the murder, Othello does not seem to regret murdering her, saying only: “’Tis pitiful” (5.2 254-57), and citing the handkerchief as just cause for his crime. It is only when Emilia reveals that Desdemona never gave the handkerchief away that Othello realizes that Desdemona was blameless and feels remorse.


Throughout Othello, characters use animal imagery to dehumanize each other. In the first act, Iago refers to Othello as a “black ram” (1.