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Shakespeare: Othello

14. Act 3, Scene 3: The Handkerchief

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About this Lecture


In this module, we think about the final third of Act 3, Scene 3, in which we are introduced to Desdemona’s handkerchief. In particular, we think about: (i) ideas of blame and responsibility – who is to blame for what is about to unfold?; (ii) the importance of the handkerchief; (iii) the semantic shift from the language of comedy to the language of tragedy (“O blood, blood, blood!”, 454); (iv) the return of the coarse sexual imagery that we saw in Act 1, Scene 1 (“Behold her topped?”, 399); and (v) the extent to which the audience may be revising their opinions both of Othello and Iago.


In this twenty-one part course, Professor John McRae (University of Nottingham) explores Shakespeare’s Othello. We begin with a broad introduction to the historical, political and intellectual context of early 17th-century England, before going through the play scene-by-scene, providing close reading and detailed analysis, with commentary on character, plot, themes and motifs, language, symbolism, and more.

Note: We used the Arden edition of the play (Third Series, Revised Edition, ed. E. A. J. Honigmann). Students using a different version of the play may encounter slight differences in both the text and line numbers.


John McRae is Special Professor of Language in Literature Studies and Teaching Associate in the School of English at Nottingham University, and holds Visiting Professorships in China, Malaysia, Spain and the USA. He is co-author of The Routledge History of Literature in English with Ron Carter, and also wrote The Language of Poetry, Literature with a Small 'l' and the first critical edition of Teleny by Oscar Wilde and others.

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Cite this Lecture

APA style

McRae, J. (2019, January 27). Shakespeare: Othello - Act 3, Scene 3: The Handkerchief [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

McRae, J. "Shakespeare: Othello – Act 3, Scene 3: The Handkerchief." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 27 Jan 2019,

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