Web of Deceit in Othello
Shakespeare’s Othello portrays a process through which pure evil has an effect on love and morality. The character of Iago twists Othello into killing his wife, and eventually himself, through manipulating Othello’s trust and loyalty. Iago uses the handkerchief as a symbol through which Othello is convinced of Desdemona’s unfaithfulness. This handkerchief plays many roles throughout Othello. Because of the importance placed upon this object, the driving force of the play becomes centered on the particular qualities of this handkerchief. In its most important aspect, the handkerchief becomes associated with a kind of web set by Iago, in order to ensnare both Othello and Desdemona.
At the beginning of Act II, Iago begins to formulate his plans to bring down Othello. As Cassio takes Desdemona’s hand and welcomes her, Iago says:
He takes her by the palm. Ay, well said, whisper! With as little a web as this will I ensnare as great a fly as Cassio. Ay, smile upon her, do! I will gyve thee in thine own courtship.-You say true; ‘tis so, indeed! - If such tricks as these strip you out of you lieutenantry, it had been better you had not kissed your three fingers so oft...(II,i L.166-72)
In this passage, Iago plans to use Cassio in his plan to destroy Othello. Rather than merely stating his desire to do this, Iago uses imagery based around a spider’s web. By doing so, ideas of creation, self utilization, and entrapment are brought into the plot concerning Othello. Iago likens himself to a spider, who spins a web from his own mind which will trap people, and cause them to serve his own needs. This passage shows the extent to which Iago foresees his own designs. Iago does not take an active role in causing pain and strife around him. He sits like a spider, awaiting his prey to fall into his lap.
This strategy works particularly well concerning the handkerchief. By pure providence, Iago comes into possession of the handkerchief Othello gave to Desdemona at the beginning of their relationship. Though he does not have any direct influence upon the actions and thoughts of Othello, Iago has shaped Othello’s patterns of behavior to conform to his evil plans. In Act III, Othello has strong doubts with respect to Desdemona’s faithfulness. He confronts her by asking Desdemona where the emotionally-valuable token is. When she does not produce it, Othello tells her of its value:
'Tis true: there's magic in the web of it:
A sibyl, that had number'd in the world
The sun to course two hundred compasses,
In her prophetic fury sew'd the work;
The worms were hallow'd that did breed the silk;
And it was dyed in mummy which the skilful
Conserved of maidens' hearts. (III, iv L.69-75)
Here Othello plays upon the same imagery as Iago to emphasize the value of the particular handkerchief. By likening the handkerchief to a web, Iago’s influence into the lives of Othello and Desdemona becomes very clear. The motion of...