Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Convenient Handkerchief

My dad used to have handkerchiefs that were embroidered with his initials. They're part of this whole mysterious image I have of him and who he was when I was a boy and before I was born. He was a dad with handkerchiefs who played chess. He was a firefighter, and he and my mom would listen to opera in the backyard.

I used to think he had been some sort of continental gentleman, and the handkerchiefs were part of his uniform. Handed out after his graduation from a British, ivy-laden university. All gentleman must be equipped with handkerchiefs to offer to women who are in distress over small heartbreaks like an overturned slice of cake or a dead mouse.

Because of my allergies I had to carry a handkerchief around with me and actually use it for blowing my nose, which is gross. I felt bad when they were my dad's embroidered handkerchiefs, and I looked forward to my graduation day, when I'd receive my own fancy set of snot rags.

There was one time in my life when a handkerchief proved useful in a chivalrous manner. In my high school we had special literary events when we invited writers of modest success to judge short story contests and eat fancy dinners with us. My senior year, the writer was Stuart Dybek, and the winner of the short story contest was a sophomore girl named after a character in The Tempest. My short story about eating dirt unfortunately didn't even make the top three (thanks a lot, Dybek!). When this girl named after a character in The Tempest finished her story she was crying. I don't remember the details of the story, I think it was about her stealing something and then tasting pennies. It was a very moving piece of writing and I was quite jealous. But she sat down in front of me, and she was weeping, and I handed her a clean handkerchief, and she used it to wipe away her tears.

But it wasn't one of my dad's handkerchiefs. I didn't have one with me at the time... I was handkerchiefless right when I needed one the most! I was about to silently curse my ill-preparedness when all of a sudden there was a tap on my shoulder and Mr. Braverman passed me his handkerchief and I gave it to the girl named after a character in The Tempest. There were lots of other girls in that room -- sensitive, intelligent girls -- who saw my act of gentlemanliness and marveled. That's what I like to call Big Pimpin'. Thanks, Mr. Braverman.

Pretty convenient that a hanky should appear out of nowhere, just when I needed it.

So, the handkerchief in Othello is causing some problems for me. Iago is so cunningly undoing all of Othello's confidence in Desdemona's fealty already when suddenly this completely coincidental opportunity arrives with the accidental dropping of Desdemona's handkerchief that Iago's wife just happens to spot and pick up and steal to give to Iago because she says he's asked about it in the past. And of course this is the magic handkerchief which Othello gave to Desdemona on like their first date, which was a gift from Othello's mother and was made with Mummy juice and holy silk worms. Iago then plants the handkerchief on Cassio in order to fuel Othello's suspicion of their cuckolding.

I mean, I'm only to the end of Act 3, but this all seems like sloppy storytelling to me. Why didn't Shakespeare just write in a scene where Iago asks his wife to steal the handkerchief?
Maybe it's a little thing to bump on, but it's like Iago says:

Trifles light as air
Are to the jealous confirmations strong
As proofs of holy writ. (3:3)

Anyway, it's nice to know even the bard -- despite all his poetry -- has to rely on a convenient handkerchief once in a while too.


  1. Othello is my favorite play that S wrote.

    Good blog.

    That is all for now.

  2. Wait, there is more. If you detest convenience in stories, you are going to bump on more than a handkerchief in this year of Shakespeare.