What Are The Key Symbols In Othello?

Updated 30 September, 2023
William Shakespeare uses symbols in Othello to highlingt the main themes of the play. Thus, the handkerchief is a symbol of love and infidelity, the green color symbolises jealousy, and the Willow Song is used as a symbol of death and grief.
Detailed answer:

Jealousy is one of the two main forces in the play that dictates the action of Othello and Iago and is transcendent to modern audiences. An example of jealousy in Shakespeare’s 16th-century piece is placed in Act 3 Scene 3. “Oh, beware, my lord, of jealousy! It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock. The meat it feeds on.” Iago refers to jealousy as the “greened eyed monster”, thus the green color is a symbol of jealousy in the play. At a point in the scene, Othello asked for Iago to provide “ocular proof” of Desdemona’s infidelity - he wants to see reality. This is where the second main symbol appears – a handkerchief.
Throughout Othello, the handkerchief serves as various symbols to the characters in the play. Desdemona had received the gift from Othello as a symbol of their love. The white silk embraces the unblemished quality of the couple and Desdemona’s sexual purity. However later on in the play it gets destroyed with blood. The blood represents a more greater sexual experience and the dangers that come along with it. Lagos manipulates the handkerchief that Othello views it as Desdemona, symbol of faith and chastity. He converts it into evidence of her infeditly. From representing it as true, faithful love, it turns into jealousy and insecurity. “Where should I lose that handkerchief Emilia?... Believe me I had rather lost my purse. Here she proves that she cannot afford to lose the respect and love that her husband has for her. Both the handkerchief and Desdemona stay the same, but Lagos remains successful in changing Othello’s perception of them.
The last major symbol, the willow song, is first introduced to the audience in Act 4 Scene 3. Desdemona’s mother had a maid who died singing the willow song, the words of the song reference accusations of unfaithfulness reminding us of the predicament that haunts Desdemona and her husband Othello. As well as forewarning the audience of the tragedy to come the willow song allows Desdemona and Emilia a way to openly express their sorrows. So the willow song acts as a symbol of grief. This acts as a cyclical structure and it shows how death comes to those who sing the song, and the song signifies tragedy.

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