Symbols are objects, characters, figures, and colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.
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. But the handkerchief’s importance to Iago and
Desdemona derives from its importance to Othello himself. He tells
Desdemona that it was woven by a
As she prepares for bed in Act V, Desdemona sings a song about a woman who is betrayed by her lover. She was taught the song by her mother’s maid, Barbary, who suffered a misfortune similar to that of the woman in the song; she even died singing “Willow.” 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.