Here is the behind-the-scenes view (according to me) of what goes on in Emilia's head as she takes the handkerchief and as she lies about it.
Devil (left) – wearing black or red,
Angel (right) – wearing white or light blue,
Emilia – wearing something that isn’t either of the above
Act III. Scene III.
Othello –Your napkin is too little. Let it alone. Come, I’ll go in with you.
[drops the handkerchief]
Desdemona – I am very sorry that you are not well.
[Emilia comes in, picks up the handkerchief] [The angel and devil come in from their respective sides. In the following conversation, Emilia tends to whip her head from angel to devil and back, as each character talks]
Emilia: I am glad I have found this napkin. This was her first remembrance from the Moor.
Devil: Oh, you should give it to Iago! He has been asking for it for ages and ages, you know.
Angel: Your husband is up to no good. He wanted you to steal it from Desdemona, and it means a great deal to her! She loves it so much that she always keeps it with her, kisses it, talks to it. Don’t take it from her.
Emilia: My wayward husband hath a hundred times
Woo'd me to steal it; but she so loves the token,
For he conjured her she should ever keep it,
That she reserves it evermore about her
To kiss and talk to.
Devil: He didn’t mean to steal it. He only wanted to borrow it. He has been asking so very persistently for it. Don’t you want to make him happy and be a good wife?
Angel: Desdemona is your mistress, and all she ever does is treat you with respect. That’s more than Iago does. Why don’t you give it back to her and make her incredibly happy?
Devil: Because serving Desdemona is so static. It feels like you’ve done that your entire life! You’ve been employed in Brabantio’s house for years, serving Desdemona day in and day out. You were the only one to go with her when she left her father’s house. You’re an exceptional attendant, and all you ever do is help Desdemona, follow Desdemona, listen to Desdemona. All of your energies go towards her. Don’t you deserve some reward? Don’t you deserve to give yourself some attention and help yourself, for once?
Angel [speaking only to the devil]: Why are you suddenly so interested in helping her?
Devil: When devils will the blackest sins put on,
They do suggest at first with heavenly shows,
As I do now.
Angel: Don’t listen to the Devil, Emilia! This wouldn’t give you any reward at all.
Devil: Ph, Desdemona herself is a fair devil, isn’t she? Come on. Iago would think so highly of you! It’ll be almost as if you were newlyweds again, without these years of miserable baggage weighing you down. He’ll be so thankful – it might change your entire life.
Angel: Iago is a demi-devil – a liar and manipulator just like *you* are. She knows that better than anyone! Do you really believe that he’ll be thankful? Or that he’ll help you in any way? The only person he’s interested in is himself!
Devil: And you, Emilia, could use some more of that self-interest. Come on. You have to think of yourself, at least some of the time!
Angel: This will only hurt you, though. Desdemona will be absolutely heartbroken by this betrayal, she will never trust you again, and will probably fire you.
Devil: [pacing, shoving the angel aside] Why would Desdemona need to know about this “betrayal”? Who knows where it went? She probably just misplaced it, don’t you think so, Emilia? Goodness knows you’ll have plenty of other instances to serve Desdemona. This one thing really couldn’t hurt her, and it could really help you if you bring it to Iago. Even if you doubt he’ll be grateful, you can agree that he’ll finally think you’re fulfilling your role as a good wife. You’ve always wanted that, haven’t you? Your marriage hasn’t been the way you imagined it for years, already. This might be your chance to make things right. You’ll also do something good for yourself, instead of just for everyone around you. You might finally get all the good things you deserve – respect, even power. You can dangle it in front of Iago until he agrees to follow YOUR rules. You’ll have the upper hand! You’ll be in control of yourself AND of him. But this only works if you take this chance and give him the handkerchief. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime shot. You’ll spend the rest of your life wondering what could have been if you don’t take it. Figuratively and literally! Go for it!
Emilia: [forceful] I'll have the work taken out,
And give it to Iago: what he will do with it
Heaven knows, not I;
I nothing but to please his fantasy.
Act III. Scene IV
Narrator: Desdemona and Othello have just had a vicious fight about the handkerchief. Othello wants Desdemona to produce it; Desdemona does not have it, but claims that it isn’t lost in order to mollify him. He tells her about the history of the handkerchief and warns her that losing it would be “such perdition as nothing else could match”. Desdemona and Othello degenerate into having two separate conversations – Othello persistently, almost madly, asking for the handkerchief, Desdemona steadfastly trying to argue on Cassio’s behalf. Throughout this entire conversation, Emilia sits in the background, not saying anything. This is what’s going on in her silent reverie:
Angel: Emilia! What are you doing? Can’t you see you’re hurting everyone? Desdemona just wants the handkerchief back. Othello just wants to see the handkerchief. All of their problems would be fixed if they just had the handkerchief again! Tell them what you did with it.
Devil: What would telling them accomplish?
Angel: You would ease all their misery! This massive fight that they’re having right now wouldn’t happen! You have that power.
Devil: You wouldn’t do anything. They’d just be mad at you as well as at each other. Especially Othello. He’ll just be mad no matter what! It’s not your fault that this is happening. Othello is off his rocker and being completely unreasonable. It’s just a handkerchief! He’s losing perspective. You need to help Desdemona see that – she’s going to be upset by this argument, but you should explain to her that it’s Othello’s fault. The only reason this argument exists is that Othello is overly jealous.
Angel: You’re going to listen to the Devil? That has already gotten you involved in this mess. It’s only going to get worse! You know that the right thing to do is to confess what you did.
Devil: If you tell them what you did, nothing good will come of it. The number one rule for defendants is not to implicate yourself, right? Theft is definitely grounds for firing you, and since you stole it for Iago, he will also be exposed. Both of you will be entirely undone. Your life will be unimaginably worse as a result! All your hopes for a better relationship with Iago or a better position for yourself will be completely dashed. Listen, what Othello and Desdemona don’t know can’t hurt them, right? You can get the handkerchief back from Iago later, but telling them what you did with it will solve absolutely nothing. Right now, it’s time for immediate damage control.
Emilia: Is not this man jealous?
Desdemona: I never saw this before.
Sure, there's some wonder in this handkerchief:
I am most unhappy in the loss of it.
Emilia: 'Tis not a year or two shows us a man:
They are all but stomachs, and we all but food;
To eat us hungerly, and when they are full,
They belch us.