Discuss the significance of the handkerchief to the tragedy of Othello.

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The handkerchief, or "napkin" as it is often called in the play, is a central plot device in Othello. Essentially, Iago uses the handkerchief to convince Othello that Desdemona has been unfaithful to him with Michael Cassio. Iago gets the handkerchief when Emilia, his wife, picks it up after Desdemona drops it. The handkerchief was Othello's first gift to Desdemona, and so it serves as a symbol of their love and her loyalty to him. The scheming Iago determines to drive a wedge between Othello and his wife by placing the handkerchief in Michael Cassio's room, and arranging for Othello to find out. After talking with Iago, Othello asks his wife for the handkerchief, which, he says, came from Egypt, where it was woven with silk from sacred worms and embroidered with berries dyed with the blood of mummified virgins. When Desdemona admits that she does not have the handkerchief, Othello is outraged. When it is revealed that Cassio (through the schemes of Iago) has come into possession of it, Othello assumes that Desdemona gave it to him. Iago pushes the scheme even further by making Othello believe that Cassio's comments about Bianca, his mistress (to whom he gives the handkerchief) are actually about Desdemona. The fact that Desdemona consistently advocates for Cassio before her husband (at Cassio's behest) only adds to Othello's suspicions, which eventually reach a boiling point. So the handkerchief is the plot device that Shakespeare places at the center of the fatal and tragic split between Othello and Desdemona.