THE GYPSY “TEST OF THE HANDKERCHIEF” IN OTHELLO(11)

In their first scene together, Iago warns Othello that Brabantio has been made aware of his elopement with Desdemona and tells him of the Magnifico’s political power and influence with the law. When Iago says to Othello that the Magnifico “hath in his effect a voice potential/As double as the Duke’s,” (I.2 58) he is not simply referring to the politics of the Republic of Venice. Iago comments, more importantly, on the relationship between character and language. He emphasizes how self and words can be made to appear as a “voice doubled,” that is, capable of revealing the truth but always vulnerable to deception and deceit. Iago portrays himself, almost daring Othello to understand his intentions; he is, however, outraged that the urgency of the situation (Othello’s fear of the law) make him ignorant of the interpretation necessary to understand.

Othello’s lack of comprehension is made obvious when he believes action renders speech silent; Iago learns a lesson here. He will not forget it. Othello is swayed by words but convinced by sight. “My services,” Othello says, “shall out-tongue his complaints,” (I.2 58) followed by the extraordinary statement that he will “provulgate,” a word Kenneth Muir in his “Commentary” interprets as “publish abroad” but whose meaning is more relevant if the word is separated into a compound – pro-vulgate – making Othello say he will speak plainly, in the vulgate.