Othello Questions and Answers
by William Shakespeare

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In Shakespeare's Othello, how does Othello show deception/self-deception and why do you think he does this?

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D. Reynolds eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Othello, who is black and middle-aged, has internalized some of the racist and ageist ideas of Venetian culture. For instance, after he begins to believe Desdemona is unfaithful, he compares her purity to his face. Both, he says, are "begrimed and black." In other words, he thinks his race makes him dirty. He also finds it plausible that his young wife might be attracted to a younger man like Cassio.

Social norms feed this insecurity. So does middle age and the lack of a "track record" with women like the one he has had in his successful military career. But, by far, the biggest driver of Othello's self deception is Iago. Iago senses Othello's vulnerabilities and exploits them. He does everything he can to reinforce the idea that women are inherently sexually unfaithful, and that Desdemona, in particular, is attracted to other men. Iago manipulates circumstances to make Othello believe Desdemona is having an affair with Cassio. Given Othello's insecurities, it is easy for him to deceive himself into believing Desdemona does not love him and is sleeping with another man.

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Kitty Sharp eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Othello shows moments of self-deception when he begins to doubt the faithfulness and loyalty of Desdemona.  When Iago tells Othello that Desdemona is having an affair with Michael Cassio, Othello of course does not immediately believe him.  After some prodding by Iago, Othello tells him that he must bring him proof of the affair.  But while this is happening, Othello is beginning to consider whether it might be possible that Desdemona is being unfaithful to him.  He reviews his own character traits and starts to think that he is lucky that Desdemona even considered him as a romantic interest in the first place.  He feels that he is less than other men because of his ethnic background and his upbringing.  Because he has such negative thoughts about himself, Othello decieves himself and his self-deception lays a foundation for doubt upon which Iago's schemes manifest.  Othello does this because he is insecure about himself, and he therefore lacks confidence in terms of his relationship.

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