Handkerchief: In othello The handkerchief symbolizes different things to different characters. Since the handkerchief was the first gift Desdemona received from Othello, she keeps it about her constantly as a symbol of Othello’s love. Iago manipulates the handkerchief so that Othello comes to see it as a symbol of Desdemona herself—her faith and chastity. By taking possession of it, he is able to convert it into evidence of her infidelity. The symbol of the handkerchief is at the heart of the play’s terrible irony. Given is a giftof true, honest, faithful love by Othello to Desdemona, it ultimately becomes a sign of Othello’s jealousy, mistrust, and insecurity. One cannot trace this change in the symbol’s significance without appreciating Iago’s continual manipulation of Othello. Both the handkerchief and Desdemona remain pure and unchanged, however Iago is able to change Othello’s perception of them. One of Shakespeare’s recurring themes is the power of perception–Othello is willing to commit the most horrible of crimes based notupon facts, but upon his faulty interpretation of reality.
The Song “Willow”: Willow Song is another good symbol in Othello. Though it’s just a song, it symbolizes Desdemona’s similar doom to the Barbary maid who sang Willow, Willow, and was killed shortly after. Othello, at this point in the story, is plotting Desdemona’s murder in her bed by strangulation. Since the Willow song was a song about infidelity and betrayal, it was a parallel directly to the case between Desdemona and Othello. The song’s lyrics suggest that both men and women are unfaithful to one another. To Desdemona, the song seems to represent a melancholy and resigned acceptance of her alienation from Othello’s affections, and singing it leads her to question Emilia about the nature and practice of infidelity.
Animals: Iago calls Othello a “Barbary horse,” an “old black ram,” and also tells Brabantio that his daughter and Othello are “making the beast with two backs” (I.i.117–118). In Act I, scene iii, Iago tells Roderigo, “Ere I would sayI would drown myself for the love of a guinea-hen, I would change my humanity with a baboon” (I.iii.312–313). He then remarks that drowning is for “cats and blind puppies” (I.iii.330–331). Cassio laments that, when drunk, he is “by and by a fool, and presently a beast!” (II.iii.284–285). Othello tells Iago, “Exchange me for a goat / When I shall turn the business of my soul / To such exsufflicate and blowed surmises” (III.iii.184–186). He later says that “[a] horned man’s a monster and a beast” (IV.i.59). Even Emilia, in the final scene, says that she will “play the swan, / And die