Othello’s Error, Another Reason Targets of Bullying Often Take Blame for Actions of Bullies


The term for it is Othello’s Error on the parts of teachers, principals school officials, supervisors, and managers.

It comes from Shakespeare’s play, “Othello”, in which the main character, Othello assumes that his wife, Desdemona is having an affair based on her nervous response when he questions her.

In reality, Desdemona is innocent but the aggressive and volatile nature of Othello and his intimidating questions make the poor lady nervous. Othello takes this as a sign of guilt. It is often the same in real life.

Often, when a person is questioned and shows nervousness, most accusers and witnesses misread the response and take it as a sign that the person is lying or hiding something. It’s how so many people have gotten blamed for something they didn’t do.

Just as nervousness is too often mistaken for deception, the show of confidence is mistaken for honesty and trustworthiness. As we all know, bullies are well-known for feigned confidence and false bravado.

William Shakespeare

Victims of bullying are always nervous and rightfully so. Who wouldn’t be if they were constantly abused, shamed, name-called, threatened, and physically attacked?

And people are notorious for rushing to the first possible explanation which fits what they want to see. Should it be any wonder why victims are blamed, and bullies go scot-free?

After the abuse goes on for so long, victims learn to expect more of the same and they usually get it. Because the expectation of such treatment brings more and more of the same, which makes the victim more nervous with each occurrence.

As the target grows more nervous, bystanders and authority grow more and more suspicious of him.

The fact is that nervousness has several reasons and the mistake is often in the decoding of it and not the observation!

4 thoughts on “Othello’s Error, Another Reason Targets of Bullying Often Take Blame for Actions of Bullies

  1. This is why no one helped when I was bullied. What I did and when and where I did it was nobody’s business but mine.

  2. Cherie, your discussion opens our eyes to the complexity of bullying. No longer teaching, but I can still see the impact of bullying and the actions (not always as consistent as necessary) our staff took in monitoring and removing bullying behavior.

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