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1. The Handkerchief
About this Lecture
In this module, we think about the critical reception of the handkerchief in Othello, focusing in particular on: (i) the absurdity, in Thomas Rymer’s view, that so great a tragedy could depend on something as insignificant as a handkerchief; (ii) the idea that the handkerchief (white, spotted with red strawberries) might represent something else, e.g. Othello and Desdemona’s wedding sheets (white, spotted with hymeneal blood); (iii) the value of cloth in the early modern world, especially Cypriot cloth, and the idea that the handkerchief might not be as worthless as it first appears; (iv) the symbolism of the silk handkerchief in the early modern world, and the extent to which it might represent romantic or sexual relations between two (or more) characters.
– Thomas Rymer, A Short View of Tragedy (1693)
– Lynda E. Boose, 'Othello's Handkerchief: "The Recognizance and Pledge of Love", English Literary Renaissance 5.3 (1975)
– Ian Smith, 'Othello's Black Handkerchief', Shakespeare Quarterly 64.1 (2013)
– Roger Christofides, Othello's Secret (2016)
– Brett Gamboa, Shakespeare's Double Plays: Dramatic Economy on the Early Modern Stage (2018)
In this course, Professor Lisa Hopkins (Sheffield Hallam University) explores six aspects of the critical reception of Shakespeare's Othello. In the first module, we think about the critical reception of the handkerchief, beginning with Thomas Rymer's criticism that Shakespeare could allow so much human suffering to depend on something so insignificant. After that, we think about the ways in which the play has been read in religious terms, before turning in the third module to the critical reception of race in the play. In the fourth and fifth modules, we think about the critical reception of the characters of Iago and Othello, respectively, before turning in the sixth and final module to the critical reception of women in the play.
Lisa Hopkins is Professor of English at Sheffield Hallam University. Her principal research interests are in Renaissance drama, especially Marlowe, Shakespeare and Ford. She is also interested in the influence of Darwin on fiction, adaptation, and the work of Bram Stoker. At the moment, she is completing a book on From the Romans to the Normans on the English Renaissance Stage. She is a co-editor of Shakespeare, the journal of the British Shakespeare Association, and co-editor of the Arden Early Modern Drama Guides.
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Cite this Lecture
Hopkins, L. (2020, January 06). Shakespeare: Othello - The Handkerchief [Video]. MASSOLIT. https://www.massolit.io/courses/shakespeare-othello-lisa-hopkins/the-handkerchief
Hopkins, L. "Shakespeare: Othello – The Handkerchief." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 06 Jan 2020, https://www.massolit.io/courses/shakespeare-othello-lisa-hopkins/the-handkerchief