Shop  |  Calendar  |  Join  |  Buy Tickets  |  Hamnet  |  Site Rental  |  Press Room  
About UsWhat's OnUse the CollectionDiscover ShakespeareTeach & LearnFolger InstituteSupport Us
• Shakespeare Quarterly

   Sign up for E-news!
   Printer Friendly

Othello’s Black Handkerchief


The handkerchief in Othello has widely been assumed to be white. This essay challenges the prevailing critical orthodoxy to argue instead for a black handkerchief, based on Othello’s description of the Egyptian marriage token as “dyed in mummy,” a black bituminous substance identified in medieval and early modern medical discourse. As a result, the handkerchief’s black cloth becomes identified with Othello’s body, recalling the stage practice of representing Africans in performance by having actors wear black cloth to mimic black skin. The black handkerchief’s citation of the performance tradition that gave rise to a textile black body reminds audiences of the role the early modern English theater played in the circulation of a material notion of black subjectivity. Finally, the essay speculates about the impact of race on our reading practices that has conditioned critics collectively, and for so long, to see a “white” handkerchief in the play.

Bookmark and Share   
     Copyright & Policies   |   Sitemap   |   Contact Us   |   About This Site
201 East Capitol Street, SE
Washington, DC 20003
Get directions »

Federal Tax ID #04-2103542
PublicReading Room
10am to 5pm, Monday through Saturday8:45am to 4:45pm, Monday through Friday
12pm to 5pm, Sunday9am to noon and 1pm to 4:30pm, Saturday
Main: 202 544 4600
Box Office: 202 544 7077
Fax: 202 544 4623