THE GYPSY “TEST OF THE HANDKERCHIEF” IN OTHELLO(16)

OTHELLO(16)

Iago needs Othello’s admission that he was a former slave; it is the only way to prove their equality. Not surprisingly, he confesses to his slavish past without Iago present. When Othello continues and tells everyone how Desdemona had a “greedy ear” for his discourse, he does admit to his “blood,” his gypsy origins. One of the fundamental conflicts between Iago and Othello, hinted at but never admitted, always present if not always revealed directly, is their mutual Gypsy heritage and, in particular, their relation and allegiance to a specific “tribe.” When David Young writes, “we might begin by asking why narrative was chosen as the significant expression of Othello’s heroism,” one of the answers (and certainly one of the conflicts between Othello and Iago) is their respective oratorical abilities.

The combination of splendid oratory and rhetoric is, furthermore, another feature of a specific Gypsy tribe. The Gypsy Lowara tribe, for example, is renowned for “une magie oratoire audacieuse” and a “subtil art de la гЬёОпдие.” Iago despises Othello not only for his own slavery; Iago considers himself more than his equal in eloquence. Furthermore, Iago knows that Othello is a mimic if not a plagiarist, someone whose fantastic tales of Cannibals and Anthropophagi was an emulation of the most famous Venetian traveler, Marco Polo, in order to gain approval, to be accepted. Othello uses his biographical journeys, his “travels’history:/Wherein of antres vast and deserts idle” (I.3 67) as a narrative mimicry of Marco Polo rather than admit to the wanderings of his Gypsy tribe.