THE GYPSY “TEST OF THE HANDKERCHIEF” IN OTHELLO(15)

In his first defense of the accusations against him, and not for the last time, Othello first pleads, humbly and disingenuously, how “rude am I in my speech,” (I.3 65) now pretending he is only capable to talking about his military campaigns and martial powers. “Little shall I grace my cause/In speaking for myself,” he adds, feigning he is incapable of defending himself. He too refers to Exodus, now paraphrasing Moses appealing to God in 4:10 and pleading: “I am slow of speech and tongue” and, to contradict precisely Othello’s most renowned attribute after his expertise in warfare, denying his ability by saying, like Moses, “I am not eloquent.” Instead of using his rhetorical power to defend himself (fearing his ethnic identity will become obvious because of his eloquence) he will allow Desdemona to speak on his behalf. Prior to her appearance, and with Iago not present to hear him, he does succumb to the temptation of speaking about himself.

“I do confess the vices of my blood,” (I.3 67) he says, and for the first and only time, he will partly reveal his ethnic identity as a Gypsy, a double-characteristic that includes, first, the negation of the sanguineous connection to a member as the standard of Gypsy kinship and, second, taking pleasure in reciting his autobiography to others, speaking of his “fortunes” and “chances,” none more important than the confession of his experience (again, using the language of Exodus) when he was previously “sold to slavery; of my redemption thence.” (I.3 67)