THE GYPSY “TEST OF THE HANDKERCHIEF” IN OTHELLO(23)

The past is all-important. The relation of the pattern of the three “spotted strawberries” sewn into the handkerchief/napkin is essential to the Gypsy piece of cloth and its specific use in an important pre-marital ritual. For Othello, the handkerchief/napkin was intended, prior to their marriage, as a test of her virginity. When Othello obsessively repeats the words “the handkerchief’ as if it was an incantation, demanding Desdemona show it to him, he has reached a critical moment of dread, his derangement now increasing, powerless to stop.

All Desdemona can do while seeing what she believes is a sign of irrational jealousy is to exclaim: “there’s some wonder in this handkerchief:/I am most unhappy in the loss of it,” (III.4 127) never realizing how she alone had to put the wonder into it (or, more precisely) she had to put the handkerchief/napkin into herself during the Gypsy virginity “test of the handkerchief.” Othello hears the word “loss,” again, as more than the absence of the piece of cloth. His continual repetition of the words doubt and proof (especially “ocular proof”) correspond to an overwhelming need. He has not seen; sight has been compromised by words.