Critical Lens Essay on Othello

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Adrienne Rich once said, "Lying is done with words but also with silence". This means that lying isn't only when one tells something false, but also when one does not speak at all, the truth included. This is generally true. A text that illustrates this quote would have characters who do not reveal the truth at a time when doing so would be important. Othello by William Shakespeare satisfies this quote with characters like Emilia and Iago.

Characters lie to cover up something, but when one doesn't say anything to tell the truth, it still counts as lying. Emilia finds the handkerchief that the protagonist, Othello had given to his wife, Desdemona, but instead of giving it back; she gives it to her husband Iago. Othello has been convinced by Iago that Desdemona is cheating on him with Cassio. When Desdemona looses the handkerchief she asks Emilia, "Where should I lose that handkerchief, Emilia?" she simply replies, "I know not, madam" (III.iv.23-24). Even though she gives it to Iago, she does not say so. Othello is further convinced that Desdemona is cheating on him and yells at her. Emilia just stands in the room saying nothing. This silence costed the faith in Othello to diminish and therefore is as bad as the things that her husband does.

Although Iago was the true liar in the play, Othello's inability to confront Desdemona of his suspicions contributed to his downfall. As Iago fed more and more nonsense to Othello, the more he had believed that she was unfaithful. After Iago leaves, Othello mutters to himself, "If she be false, heaven mocks itself! I'll not believe't." But when Desdemona asks, "How now, my dear Othello?" he could not confront her, only saying, "I have a pain upon my forehead, here" (III.iii.320-326). He could have easily just asked her where the handkerchief was, or as easily faced Cassio or Desdemona to tell them what was on his mind. Instead, he keeps quiet and just assumes everything Iago says is true. By keeping to himself, Othello is...
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