THE GYPSY “TEST OF THE HANDKERCHIEF” IN OTHELLO(10)

OTHELLO(10)

Moreover, Iago both exploits the stereotype of Gypsies as thieves but also the more culturally relevant association of abduction and elopement. Iago emphasizes one common prejudice against Gypsies as criminals and, at the same time, tells Brabantio his daughter has been kidnapped, knowing that marriage with elopement and the drama of a planned abduction fulfills a Gypsy ritual of betrothal. Indeed, in his Autobiography of a Gypsy, Boswell writes: “elopement is still occasionally practiced as a marriage custom among British Gypsies.” Iago attempts to degrade the human with a reference to a menagerie, stressing, indirectly, the relation of marriage to animal husbandry. “An old black ram/Is tupping your ewe,” (1.1 54) Iago tells Brabantio, incensing the father with the graphic image of his daughter’s sexuality.

Iago’s words, always well-chosen, their consequences precise, provide more than an explicit image of “making the beast with two backs,” a reference to a sexual position that Freud himself referred to as intercourse in “the Italian way.” In addition, Iago tells Brabantio how his daughter will be “covered with a Barbary horse,” a reference whose multiple implications (sexual, geographic, ethnic) are further clues to Othello’s origins. Iago always provides meaningful hints. In this case, he tells everyone that Othello was nothing more than a Gypsy horse dealer, specifically, someone who (as a member of the Lowara tribe) used to deal in jennets, small Spanish horses. The horse, of course, was the most important animal for Gypsies, a constant companion in their wanderings and always at the head of their caravan.