Symbolism in Othello

The Willow Song As Desdemona is preparing for bed the night she will be murdered, she starts singing a song about willow trees. This song, supposedly sung originally by one of Desdemona’s mother’s servants who loved a crazy guy, reflects Desdemona’s own situation. Willows at the edge of water are a traditional symbol of women deserted by their lovers
Handkerchief Because Othello gave it to Desdemona as a first gift, the handkerchief functions as a token of his love, which Desdemona cherishes (3.3.1). The handkerchief symbolizes Desdemona’s fidelity. When it shows up in Cassio’s possession, Othello is convinced that Desdemona is unfaithful. The handkerchief also seems to function as a symbol of Othello’s mysterious past and his “exoticness.” He tells Desdemona that an Egyptian “charmer” gave it to his mother and that it would keep his father “faithful” and under her spell (3.4.9). That such a small object has such enormous weight in the play testifies to the sensitivity of jealous minds, and the way that small incidents can be magnified psychologically into “proofs” of love or betrayal.
Honesty By poet and literary critic William Empson’s count, there are 52 uses of “honest” and “honesty” throughout the play. “Honest” has a wide range of meaning in Othello. At times, it refers to chastity, the question of whether a woman is “honest” or whether she is promiscuous. At other times, the word refers to personal honesty, whether or not a person is telling the truth. It can also refer to whether or not a person is a good and loving friend.
Gardens By comparing our free will to gardening, Iago is reminding us that he’s the ultimate master gardener, so to speak, because he has such great control over himself and his actions. We’re also reminded that, part of what makes Iago such a brilliant manipulator of Othello is his ability to plant the seeds of doubt and jealousy in Othello’s mind.
Candle The candle that Othello blows out just before he strangles Desdemona symbolizes Desdemona’s fragile life. (Act 5.2)

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