In Shakespeare’s play Othello, one of the main character’s Desdemona possesses the most essential symbol and object in the play, a handkerchief. The handkerchief appears in Act III of the play and is a particularly important part in the plot of the play. It helps weave the entire story together. The handkerchief symbolizes Othello’s love and trust to Desdemona and Desdemona’s marital fidelity to Othello.
The first symbol of the handkerchief is Desdemona’s marital fidelity. In the play, Iago gives the only description of the handkerchief when he says to Othello, "Have you not sometimes seen a handkerchief / Spotted with strawberries in your wife's hand" (III.iii.434-435)? The handkerchief is white with a pattern of strawberries in the background. This may suggest bloodstains left on the sheets of a virgin on her wedding night. It gives proof that the woman was loyal and faithful until her marriage day. Throughout the play, Desdemona always carries the handkerchief with her because it “was her first remembrance from the Moor” (III.iii.291). The handkerchief was Othello’s first gift to Desdemona, so she cherishes it. She loves it so much “that she reserves it evermore about her to kiss and talk to” (III.iii.295-296). Once she looses it, she feels empty and is very upset. Desdemona says to Emilia:
….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.
Desdemona is concerned over the loss of the handkerchief but maintains that its loss will not cause Othello to grow angry. However, she is wrong, because she isn’t aware of Iago’s devious plan. When Desdemona looses her handkerchief, Emilia retrieves it. Emilia sees the handkerchief as a way of finally being able to fulfill one of her husband’s desires of her, which is to retrieve the handkerchief and relinquish it to him. Iago sees the handkerchief as a way of finally being able to get to Othello. Iago feels that the handkerchief is a symbol of Desdemona’s faith to Othello. By obtaining this symbol of her faith, he is able to deploy his plan of revenge against Othello. Othello discovers that the handkerchief is missing and becomes very angry with Desdemona. When Desdemona looses her handkerchief, Othello believes she is unfaithful. Othello sees Cassio with the handkerchief and accepts it as confirmation of Desdemona's infidelity.
The handkerchief also represents Othello’s love and trust in Desdemona. Othello has an obsession with the handkerchief because of its history. It carries a significant amount of meaning and is extremely important to him. He tells Desdemona about the history of the handkerchief and how his mother used it to keep his father faithful to her:
Did an Egyptian to my mother give.
She was a charmer, and could almost read
The thoughts of people. She told her, while...