The Significance of the Missing Handkerchief

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The Significance of the Missing Handkerchief

In the play of Othello written by William Shakespeare, symbolism is expressed all throughout the reading but it is the importance of a solemn handkerchief in which ties the story all together. The handkerchief throughout the story plays huge roles, depending on who’s possession it is in, the mood within the story shifts.

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Iago, a bitter man, gets introduced early on in the play and appears to be upset with Othello for being passed up on as a lieutenant in the army. Also assumption were made that Othello has slept with his wife, It is thought abroad that ‘twixt my sheets / He has done my office and in return has the idea of a wife for a wife (pg 53). I believe that the importance in that quote is to give the reader a sense of feeling as to how angry Iago must have felt. In his his mind for another man to sleep with his wife is bad news, but more interesting enough he believes that it is as if somebody just came into his home and made themselves comfortable. So in order to get back at him he tries to use Desdemona’s handkerchief against them.

Being that it is a prized possession it adds that much more suspense when Desdemona loses it or gets her possession stolen from her. Like any man should react, when Othello spotted Cassio (the man who was awarded lieutenant over Iago) with the handkerchief in his possession, he was outraged. He began to question Desdemona’s loyalty. A quote that stuck out was, Good name in man and woman, dear my lord, Is the immediate jewel of their souls: Who steals my purse steals trash; ’tis something, nothing; ’twas mine, ’tis his, and has been slave to thousands; But he that filches from me my good name Robs me of that which not enriches him, And makes me poor indeed (pg 130).   In which Othello then replies to Iago with, By heaven, I’ll know thy thoughts (pg 130). Before the handkerchief went missing everything was green, not a problem in sight. After it had gone missing, everybody began to feel all sorts of ways. It pretty much describes everybody for having no values, everybody within themselves is dishonest and does things for the benefits of themselves. There is no morality to the actions that were taken and clearly no good intentions.

In the case of the good friend of Desdemona, Emilia, the handkerchief meant more about pleasing her husband than returning it to her. When Desdemona has dropped it, Emilia had an opportunity to return it back to her but knowing how much it meant to Iago she wished to do nothing more than please him and collect it for him. I am glad I have found this napkin; This was her first remembrance from the Moor.

My wayward husband hath a hundred times

Woo’d me to steal it; but she so loves the token Heaven knows, not I; I nothing but to please his fantasy (pg. 140). Like noted earlier, everyone was always thinking about what was in their best interest when they had possession of it. In a way the handkerchief itself showed that lovers would go to any extent to have it in their possession. They who possessed it, possessed love.

The handkerchief is important because of what it means to each of the characters and something so little is able to cause a huge impact on each of their futures. To the main character(s) in Desdemona it represents her love and willingness to commit and fight for Othello regardless of any situation. As for Othello it is a token of trust between one another, and serves as a family jewel. Othello’s backstory on it explains, That handkerchief

 Did an Egyptian to my mother give;

She was a charmer, and could almost read

The thoughts of people. She told her, while she kept it,

‘Twould make her amiable, and subdue my father (pg 160). It is almost as if it is magical and possessed unearthly powers. Also it is meant to be to passed down for generations to come and never be lost or gifted. So when it becomes misplaced all starts to fumble as if a curse has been casted. So being as superstitious as Othello must have been he could have been losing his mind when the news about it was broken.

As for Desdemona, everything had been plotted against her once it went missing. It was never intended for her to misplace it but in that era nothing else mattered but word of mouth. She was as innocent as a toddler with no idea what was happening her love for Othello was everything. She could not believe the accusations on which were being made against her, Believe me, I had rather have lost my purse Full of crusadoes; and but my noble Moor

Is true of mind, and made of no such baseness

As jealous creatures are, it were enough

To put him to ill thinking. (pg. 156). Here Desdemona is in her fighting stage where she understands not the situation she is in, and rather have lost any other of her possessions than something that held so much value between Othello and herself. One can only feel sorrow for Desdemona since anything done towards her was simply just out of envy, jealousy and hatred towards Othello.

All in all the handkerchief is the backbone for what unfolds throughout the whole story. As it switches hands there are different outcomes as well as reasons behind wanting to possess it. What is true about the ownership of it is, once it left the hands of the rightful couple then the symbolism behind it was not so much based on love as it was prior but now was associated with betrayal and deceit.

Works cited

  • Shakespeare, William. Othello., 2014. 
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The Significance of the Missing Handkerchief. (2019, Sep 17). Retrieved August 16, 2022 , from

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