THE GYPSY “TEST OF THE HANDKERCHIEF” IN OTHELLO(19)

OTHELLO(19)

To Othello’s demand to “give thy worst of thoughts/The worst of words,” Iago again answers by speaking about himself instead of maligning Cassio. “Though I am bound to every act of duty,/I am not bound to that all slaves are free to:/ Utter my thoughts.” (III.3 109) With compelling honesty, Iago is actually telling Othello precisely the reasons for his thoughts and words and actions. He can no longer endure the “curse of service,” the sense of not only being a subordinate, but as someone who experiences his life as a slave, identifying with his ancestors, oppressed and scattered throughout foreign geographies.

Iago’s rage, a consequence of being reduced to a “what,” to nullity and slavery, can only show itself as destructive; and this is, perhaps, what Harold Bloom means when he writes that Iago’s “war is against ontology.” Finally, when Iago tells Othello, “Good God, the souls of all my tribe defend/From jealousy,” (III.3 110) one word in particular is intended to shock him. It is a word of effrontery; and it is not “jealousy.” For the first time he mentions their similar ethnic origins. “Tribe” is a crucial word. It will be uttered once more, one of Othello’s last words before he kills himself.