How is control and power shown through Iago in Othello, and how are they shown in "My Last Duchess" and "Hawk Roosting"?

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caledon eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Methods of practicing control and power can often be placed along a spectrum, ranging from overt and visible, to subtle and discreet. My Last Duchess portrays power in a manner similar to how Iago acts upon it, but Hawk Roosting is a far more direct and unapologetic representation.

An excellent description of Iago is "Machiavellian". This derives from Machiavelli's The Prince, a treatise on power and control ostensibly written for the princes of the small domains common during the period. Machiavelli famously advised subtlety, self-control, and vicious persecution, and the maxim that "it is better to be feared than loved". Iago is a Machiavellian character because he does not practice direct displays of power; instead he is manipulative. This is wise, in his position, because directly challenging Othello would not gain him what he desires. In fact it might result in Iago's death, and regardless of who won the actual fight, Iago would not retain the power that he craved, which was his entire purpose for acting in the first place.

Iago practices control and power through manipulation. His plans involve tricking others, using their vices against them, and then either staying out of the way, or injecting himself into the situation as a "helpful third party" when in fact he's just making things worse. He explains his intentions very plainly in Act 1;

I follow him to serve my turn upon him.

Which he then explains, using examples, to say that his "service" is really just a means of promoting himself and using his proximity to Othello to do it.

My Last Duchess is less about manipulation than it is about the themes of jealousy and crimes of passion that are shared with Othello. The speaker in the poem, whose wife has recently died, is at first lauded for her beauty, then condemned for her wantonness and ingratitude; it is implied with the lines,

Oh sir, she smiled, no doubt,
Whene’er I passed her; but who passed without
Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands;
Then all smiles stopped together.

The connection to Iago's style of power and control is that the speaker implies his execution (literally and figuratively) is subtle. He did not explicitly say that he had the Duchess killed, but we can easily surmise that this is what happened. We should also recognize that both characters seemed to act on what might be considered trifles; Iago on a rumor of his wife's infidelity, and the Duke on the Duchess being too friendly. This might imply that both speakers feel emotional and challenged when the power that they crave is not evidenced in their personal lives.

Hawk Roosting is not as easy to connect, because the language and concepts employed are relatively simplistic, being the thoughts of an actual hawk, as well as overtly controlling and dominant:

There is no sophistry in my body:

My manners are tearing off heads-

We can't really imagine Iago saying something like this; this is a stark exercise of power that would immediately mark a human character as bestial and insane. The hawk can afford this because he is not part of, or capable of, the complex society that humans have created. We might very well argue that, at a basic level, Iago's intentions via the exercising of power and control that he practices are intended towards a similar end, but the appearance of that practice is at least as important if not moreso. Iago doesn't want anyone to know about his intentions because if they did, it might make him a target; people wouldn't feel comfortable knowing that he was plotting something. People might even group up to kill or imprison him if enough of them feel threatened. The hawk, on the other hand, can freely tear heads off because he isn't part of a cooperative group, and the chances of other animals cooperating to kill him are virtually nonexistent.

There is no sophistry in my body:
My manners are tearing off heads - See more at:
There is no sophistry in my body:
My manners are tearing off heads - See more at: