The main symbol used to show Othello’s issues with masculinity is his story of a handkerchief. This handkerchief is bound in the patriarchal and masculine views of the time and is a symbol of fidelity in both Othello’s and his father’s marriage. The handkerchief was given to his mother by an Egyptian and as long as his mother held onto it his father would still love her: “Twould make her amiable and subdue my father/ Entirely to her love, but if she lost it/ Or made a gift of it, my father’s eye/ Should hold her loathed, and his spirits should hunt/ After new fancies.” (3.4.55-59) In this statement, it appears that the power is in the hands of the wife. She will “subdue” the father indicating that she holds power over him, but this all just to take the blame off the shoulders of the husband, in this case, Othello and his father. This narrative is used to convince Desdemona that she has not only lost a love token but has also lost power over Othello.
The handkerchief story is talked about several times, but different parts of the story are emphasized depending on who is in the audience. When Othello tells this story after Desdemona’s death, he is telling the story to a room of men and women, not just Desdemona. He changes the wording. Instead of saying that ...
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...ays “don’t think of…” a mind cannot move on from that subject. Iago is very clever in leaving room for imagination and thoughts when he brings up a topic. This allows Othello to follow Iago’s path in a way fitted to his exact insecurities.
If it were not for Othello’s insecure masculinity creating suspicion around anyone who was not a man, he may have listened to Emilia’s testimony that Desdemona was faithful. Emilia states “I durst, my lord, to wager she is honest,/ Lay down my soul at stake./ For if she be not honest, chaste, and true/There’s no man happy. The purest of their wives/Is foul as slander.” (4.2.13-20) Emilia swears on her soul that there is no one purer and if Desdemona is not pure and faithful then there is no hope for a happy husband and wife. Emilia is saying that if Desdemona is not faithful and honest that there is not a woman out there who is.
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