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Honest Othello

  • Date Submitted: 06/15/2011 02:43 AM
  • Flesch-Kincaid Score: 61.7 
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"Honest Othello: The Handkerchief Once More"
Critic: Michael C. Andrews
Source: Studies in English Literature 1500-1900 13, no. 2 (spring 1973): 273-84.
Criticism about: Othello

[(essay date spring 1973) In the following essay, Andrews examines the different accounts that Othello gives of the handkerchief's origins in Othello, maintaining that the first account is true and that the second account is false. The critic contends that Othello changes his story in order to downplay his superstitious beliefs, which would have been viewed negatively by the Venetians.]
The fact that Othello gives two different versions of the history of the fatal handkerchief has, predictably, not passed unnoticed.1 In his first and more elaborate account (III.iv.53ff.), Othello tells Desdemona that the handkerchief is a love-controling talisman his mother received from an Egyptian "charmer":
                    she told her, while she kept it
'Twould make her amiable, and subdue my father
Entirely to her love: but if she lost it,
Or made a present of it, my father's eye
Should hold her loathly, and his spirits should hunt
After new fancies: she dying, gave it me,
And bid me, when my fate would have me wive
To give it her; I did so, and take heed on't,
Make it a darling, like your precious eye,
To lose, or give't away, were such perdition
As nothing else could match.
Desdemona, shocked and at least momentarily incredulous,3 asks "Isn't possible?" Othello then continues:
'Tis true, there's magic in the web of it:
A sibyl, that had number'd in the world
The sun to make 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
Conserve of maiden's hearts.
At the end of the play, however, when Othello is pathetically attempting to justify Desdemona's murder, he merely refers to the proof of guilt afforded by Cassio's possession of "the...


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