Shakespeare's Othello's Handkerchief

Ezra Azra

© Copyright 2023 by Ezra Azra

Théodore Chassériau, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Théodore Chassériau, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

In the play, written by William Shakespeare, there is no mention of what happened to the handkerchief that was the cause of Othello's wife's murder. "Othello: That handkerchief did an Egyptian to my mother give. She was a charmer. To lose it or give it away were such perdition as nothing else could match."

William Shakespeare wrote his play on the man Othello in 1604. The story of the play originated in Egypt, at least a century earlier, in the life of an Egyptian army General named Othello.

This story is about that real mighty Egyptian Moor.

At sometime at least a century before Shakespeare wrote his play, General Othello died on the island of Cyprus on the battlefield. He was in charge of the Italian army fighting an army from the country of Turkey. The war between Italy and Turkey for possession of the island of Cyprus, had been going on, on-and-off for generations. That internecine armed conflict still continues today, in the twenty-first century, between the Nations of Greece and Turkey for possession of Cyprus.

After General Othello's death, it took weeks before the news of his death reached his family in Egypt.

General Othello had been a mighty military hero in Egypt long before he accepted an offer from the Government of Italy to fight for them against the Turks throughout the Mediterranean Sea.

He had led Egyptian armies to victories against Ethiopia and Nubia and Palestine, restoring some of the glory of the Empire Egypt had enjoyed during the times of its Pharaohs, thousands of years previously.

General Othello's mother and entire family had tried unsuccessfully to persuade him to not leave Egypt.

Uniquely in Egypt, Othello had never married. It was a source of sorrow for his mother that Othello, her only child, declined to be a father.

When news of Othello's death reached Egypt, his grieving mother was puzzled.

When Othello had informed his mother of his intention to leave Egypt, she had presented him with a handkerchief that had been in the family for generations.

The family's belief, supported by centuries of factual proof, was that the handkerchief was of indestructible self-cleaning material. It had been discovered in a tomb of an Ancient Pharoah of Egypt.

As well, the family's belief, supported by generations of fact, was that the owner of the handkerchief would die during sleep in bed at home in Egypt. Hence Othello's mother's incredulity when it was reported Othello was killed in battle on the island country of Cyprus.

Othello's mother sent an adult nephew to Cyprus to bring back the handkerchief, and facts about Othello's death, if, indeed, Othello was dead.

When the nephew arrived on the island, he found a Nation in continuous civil war between its Greek and Turkish citizens.
Because he happened to arrive when there was an uneasy lull in the armed conflict, the nephew decided to risk his life, investigating.

In a few days he was mystified in learning that nobody was certain how General Othello had died.

The nephew discovered that, as in his wars for Egypt, General Othello had never lost a battle. Most persons in authority doubted if the General had died in battle, if only because no corpse had been found. They suspected that the General could have been taken prisoner in that last battle, the only one he seemed to have lost.

Contradicting this notion was that nobody had witnessed the capture; and that the Turks had never announced the capture. Had the Turks taken General Othello prisoner, the announcement would have, surely, given them a victory would have secured them ownership of the entire island country of Cyprus.

The nephew believed the General was alive wherever he was because everybody the nephew asked about the handkerchief, knew nothing about it.

If the handkerchief was still in the General's possession, the General was still alive. The nephew, while offering a large sum of money for information on the General, did not include mention of the handkerchief.

In his investigation, he did not mention why the handkerchief was special, and so he was not surprised that everyone to whom he had mentioned the handkerchief at the beginning of his investigation, had been dismissive about what they regarded as a piece of linen irrelevant in the life and death of any soldier as important as General Othello.

The nephew decided he would have to continue his investigation in Turkey. While he was making preparations to leave the hotel on the island, he was visited by an old man, named Brabantio.

Brabantio had heard about the nephew asking about a handkerchief.

Brabantio said he was a hermit. He lived in a mountain cave, far from all military conflicts. He had encountered a man whose clothing was tattered. The man's clothing seemed to have been a uniform at one time. The man could not speak, was blind, and had serious injuries. Brabantio had taken the man into his cave, and tended to his wounds. They had lived there for many weeks, before the man was not there on a day when Brabantio returned late in the day.

Brabantio recalled that while every part of the man's clothing was mere rags, the man had a handkerchief that showed no wear-and-tear.

Brabantio had not paid attention to this fact until he had heard of the nephew's inquiry. Brabantio had not made special effort to look for the man, because Brabantio concluded the man was just another unimportant hermit. The mountain caves were home to many persons made homeless by the perpetual wars on the island.

The nephew paid Brabantio more than enough money to enable the man to go live in another safer country.

The nephew decided to return to Egypt to organize a search party, and return to Cyprus. He believed, as the entire family in Egypt believed, that as long as the handkerchief was in Othello's possession, Othello would not die, although he would never stop growing older.

If seriously crippled Othello, while in possession of the handkerchief, was never found, he would, eventually, come to be like that Prince Tithonus, of Ancient Troy.

Prince Tithonus had been granted immortality by the gods, but the careless gods forgot to include in their grant, the cessation of the ageing process. Hence, somewhere in the world nowadays, Prince Tithonus continues to exist as a microscopic blot of immortal sentient slime.

Othello's nephew's only goal was to return the handkerchief to his family in Egypt. Finding Othello, dead or alive, was a secondary non-binding goal.

The nephew was unaware of, nor would it have been of significance to him had he been aware of the fact that for as long as the handkerchief remained lost on Cyprus, the country would forever be torn by internecine war.

The nephew left Cyprus for Egypt. Never again was he heard of, or from. There is no record that the Egyptian owners of Othello's handkerchief continued their search after Othello's nephew's disappearance.

Nowadays, over five hundred years after the disappearance of General Othello and his handkerchief, two nations continue to be poised in imminent-war face-off against each other on the island country of Cyprus, for its possession.

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