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Essay Lying vs. Truth-Telling in Genesis, Othello, and The Lie

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Lying vs. Truth-Telling in Genesis, Othello, and The Lie


As children we are taught to always tell the truth in every situation. Catchy clichés such as "the truth will set you free" are used to reinforce honesty in our minds. However, is it possible that lying can further your success in life, more so than honesty? Literary evidence seems to support this. Even the Bible offers stories of lying and cheating without consequence. Three literary works–the book of Genesis, William Shakespeare’s Othello, and Sir Walter Ralegh’s poem The Lie–offer support that, perhaps, the truth is not always what it’s cracked up to be.

Sir Walter Ralegh discusses lying versus telling the truth in depth in his poem The Lie. In this poem, it appears that a member of the court is telling his servant (the servant being the "Soul," or perhaps the poem itself) to visit various genres of upper-class people and expose to them the uncomfortable truths of their existence. If they begin to deny these truths, the servant is commanded to "give them the lie," and publicly accuse them of being untruthful.

Ralegh is claiming that these higher members of society are living lies and should be aware of them. He says, "Say to the church, it shows / What’s good and doth no good." During Ralegh’s time, clergymen were of the most powerful men in society, and they were also considered among, if not the, most corrupt. Ralegh’s intent with these lines is to expose that the church was not practicing the goodness that they were preaching about, thus harming the congregation and society as a collective whole. However, the clergymen were not directly harmed by this hypocritical and thus untruthful way of life. Although Ralegh is claiming that he knows and is speaking the...


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... their powerful brother. Even Joseph benefited from the lies his brothers told about him, saying that he was dead when in actuality he had been sold into slavery. Had his brothers not lied, Jacob would have searched for him and he never would have become Pharaoh’s partner. So, it seems here that lying conquered truth-telling in efficiency and outcome.

Although it is considered wrong to tell lies, it seems that literature has offered us situations where telling lies isn’t necessarily bad. Of course, lying often has a tragic outcome, but not always for the person or people who told the lie or lies. Oftentimes, these unfortunate outcomes are directed at the person about whom the lie was told. Furthermore, these stories have explained that dishonesty can result in success for both the liar and the target. Maybe we have been teaching the wrong values to our children.


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