Desdemona and the Handkerchief in Othello

At first glance, Shakespeare’s Desdemona may seem like woman remarkable for her beauty and not much else. In fact, Desdemona is a foil and a catalyst who wields power over men who desire her. The male characters in Othello want to control Desdemona because possession of a woman like Desdemona gives them status and a sense of power; she drives them to commit acts of rage, pride, and jealousy. This is best illustrated by Desdemona’s relationships with Othello, Brabantio, and Iago. It is also symbolized by Desdemona’s handkerchief, which comes to represent both desire and conflict.

Desdemona’s father, Brabantio, treats her as an object through which he defines himself. He is a Venetian senator and favors Othello, the Moorish general of the Venetian forces. But when his daughter, Desdemona, decides to marry Othello, he is outraged. Iago, Othello’s ensign, says “an old black ram / Is tupping your white ewe” (1.1.85-86)”. Out of rage, Brabantio tries to stop the marriage from happening, blames Desdemona’s decision on Othello’s alleged use of witchcraft, and even goes to plea to the duke to stop the marriage, but realizes there is nothing he can do. He tells the duke Desdemona is dead to him and that she “Blushed at herself; and she-...

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