THE GYPSY “TEST OF THE HANDKERCHIEF” IN OTHELLO(30)

Iago’s last words are decisive: “demand me nothing; what you know you know.” Iago returns to a final, stoic silence only the torments of the gallows will suspend, leaving Othello to ask (if he has the courage, which he does not) the meaning of his knowledge. Again, he protests against his fate, declaring unbelievably that he was “one that loved not wisely, but too well;/ Of one, not easily jealous but, being wrought,/Perplexed in the extreme; of one whose hand/Like the base Indian threw a pearl away/Richer than all his tribe.” (V.2 179) He has but one choice now, the only honour left him. Despite the mention of the words “Indian” and “tribe” (the one last echo of his past) he cannot admit to his family origins, that is, Rajasthani gypsies escaping persecution from Mughal invaders. Redemption is impossible. The consequences of the truth are more overwhelming than murderous guilt. His delusions are relentless, but his self-contempt is absolute.

When Lodovico exclaims “O bloody period,” he is not only announcing the end of the play after Othello has killed himself. It is Shakespeare’s two-word epilogue, a final hint at the enigma of Othello’s derangement caused by, first, the neglected Gypsy ritual of the virginity “test of the handkerchief’ and, second, the hallucination of the napkin stained with Bianca’s menstrual blood that, finally, caused his initial “chaos” to turn into murder and tragedy.