The handkerchief is a symbol of different characters in Othello. Describe a couple of them.

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robertwilliam eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The handkerchief is indeed an important symbol. First and foremost, I'd say, it symbolizes fragility: a white, light, handkerchief which comes to take on so much importance as a symbol of truth. It also - of course - keeps changing its meaning, becoming one thing after another.

It begins - the first gift Othello gave Desdemona - as a symbol of love, which Desdemona keeps with her at all times.  Under Iago's influence, the meaning of the symbol changes: and it comes to symbolise Desdemona's own faith and chastity and honesty. If she has the hankerchief, she is honest: if Cassio has it, she is false.

To develop this a little further, the colouring of the handkerchief - white background with red strawberries embroidered - might also symbolise Desdemona's virginity: the blood on the wedding sheets which the Elizabethans would have known well.

This harks back to Othello telling Desdemona that the handkerchief was a magic garment woven by a 200 year old sibyl - who gave it to his mother, who in turn used it to keep his father faithful to us.

So if it symbolizes a character, it's Desdemonda: but it's a more complex symbol than that.

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Othello

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