Lonnie Best
Mrs. Linda Byrd
English 165
3 Oct. 1994

Control in Othello

         Throughout history, powerful empires with boundless control have had a tendency to fall victim to corruption. It is common knowledge, among political scientists and historians, that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. William Shakespeare's "Othello, the Moor of Venice" (reprinted in Laurence Perrine and Thomas R. Arp, Literature: Structure, Sound, and Sense, 6th ed. [Fort Worth: Harcourt, 1993] 1060-1147) contains several themes, but one theme in particular supports the truth of this knowledge. In "Othello, the Moor of Venice," the theme of control is one that causes corruption. Othello's control is stolen by Iago and, Iago's overbearing control of Othello's emotions causes chaos and absence of control until Lodovico arrives at the end of the story.

         At the beginning of the play, Othello is in control. First of all, Othello has military control. Being a seasoned warrior, he is appointed by the Duke of Venice to lead the Venetian forces. This position entails a great deal of control; as general, Othello has the power to organize and order the Venetian forces at will. Secondly, Othello has control in dangerous predicaments. After discovering the harmful intentions of Brabantio, Othello shows confidence of his control in Act I, Scene 2, and relies on his credentials: "Let him do his spite. My services which I have done the signiory Shall outtongue his complaints" (1.2.18-20). When Brabantio arrives with his troops and both sides draw their swords, Othello demonstrates his control again: "Keep up your bright swords, for the dew will rust them" (1.2.59). Through the whole ordeal, Othello remains an authoritative figure. Finally, Othello is mentally in control of his relationship with Desdemona. At the beginning of the play, there are no indications of mental corruption in Othello's mind regarding his ability to maintain loyalty from Desdemona. Othello speaks of their love in Act I, Scene 3: "She loved me for the dangers I had passed, And I loved her that she did pity them" (1.3.166-67). Othello believes in his wife's loyalty. All in all, Othello is in complete control at the beginning of the play, but this will change dramatically.

         Iago is often regarded as Shakepeare's most consummate villain. This is understandable; it is hard to imagine a villain capable of matching the combination of diabolical nature and supreme skill that Iago uses to systematically take control. Iago's first attempt to gain control is a retaliation against Othello's promotional decision. When Michael Cassio is chosen for the position of lieutenant, Iago becomes furious and tries to place Othello in danger; he informs Brabantio of Othello's elopement with Desdemona in a very clever way: " 'Zounds, sir, you're robbed. For shame, put on your gown, Your heart is burst, you have lost half your soul. Even now, now, very now, an old black ram is tupping your white ewe" (1.1.86-89). Iago uses sexual imagery to fuel Brabantio's anger. This extra anger, caused by Iago, has potential of harming Othello. When this evil scheme fails, Iago results to a new plan. In Act II, Scene 1, Iago convinces Roderigo that Desdemona actually loves Cassio, and persuades Roderigo to pick a fight with Cassio that night. In Act II, Scene 3, before the fight, Iago talks Cassio into drinking, and Roderigo arrives when Cassio is drunk. During the fight, Cassio accidentally wounds Montano, the governor of Cyprus, and this forces Othello to relieve Cassio of his rank. Iago's plan to make sure Cassio is out of the way, and to keep ties on Roderigo's pocketbook, is revealed in a soliloquy at the end of Act II, Scene 3: "My wife must move for Cassio to her Mistress, I'll set her on, Myself the while to draw the Moor apart And bring him jump when he may Cassio find Soliciting his wife" (2.3.341-45). After Cassio speaks with Desdemona, he is seen leaving by Othello and Iago. This is Iago's chance to arouse Othello's curiosity and plant the seed of suspicion: "Cassio, my lord! No, sure, I cannot think it, That he would steal away so guilty-like, Seeing you coming" (3.3.39-41). Iago maximizes his control of Othello's emotions after displaying proof with the sight of Bianca in possession of the handkerchief. Othello says, "Damn her, lewd minx! Oh, damn her" (3.3.477). Iago also gains military control when Othello says, "Now art thou my Lieutenant" (3.3.479). At this point, Iago is at the pinnacle of his control. Despite Iago's efforts and accomplishments, another control change is yet to come.

         Iago's control of Othello's emotions grows with every step of Iago's destructive plan, but when progressive control becomes absolute control, corruption is sure to follow. Corruption follows with a series of chaos and tragic events. First of all, Othello becomes overwhelmed by Iago's lies and he becomes unable to control his own actions. Othello strikes Desdemona after she makes a statement that is misunderstood: "To atone them, for the love I bear to Cassio" (4.1.216). Secondly, in fear that Roderigo will give him up, Iago kills Roderigo when their murder plan to kill Cassio fails. Third, in the last scene, Desdemona begs Othello not to kill her: "Kill me tomorrow, let me live tonight!" (5.2.80). Desdemona's pleading is unsuccessful; Othello strangles her to death. Later, when Emilia tells Othello, "O thou dull Moor! That handkerchief thou speak'st of I found by fortune and did give my husband" (5.2.224-25), Iago stabs and kills Emilia from behind. Next, Othello wounds Iago, stabs himself, and he dies while kissing Desdemona's dead body. Finally, Lodovico arrives and the chaos ceases.

         To summarize, one important theme in Shakespeare's "Othello, the Moor of Venice" is the theme of control; possession of control changes dramatically throughout the play. Othello's control is stolen by Iago, and Iago's overbearing control of Othello's emotions causes chaos and absence of control until Lodovico arrives at the end of the story. William Shakespeare's Othello is a direct commentary on society. The theme of control in society, apparent to Shakespeare in this play, is a prevalent view of society today.

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