Notes on a Scandal
Power and Control in Othello, Notes on a Scandal and The Collector.
The use and abuse of power relations has been a central feature of literary narrative from the beginning of culture. The Austrian psychologist Alfred Adler posited the drive for power as being one of the primal characteristics of the human conscious and unconscious. Othello is a tragedy by William Shakespeare and was first performed in 1604 while Notes on a Scandal is a 2003 romantic novel written by Zoë Heller. The Collector is a 1963 debut novel by John Fowles. In order to exercise control, power is first appropriated. It creates a paradigm of control where a variety of complex consequences arise, whether these are beneficial or self-destructive is questionable. However, such features demand attention as their interweaving nature enables the reader or audience to grasp the fundamental themes of the texts.
Power is attained by each of the characters by using various techniques. Iago’s preferred technique is through the manipulation of Othello. He subtly suggests alternative ideas and plants seeds of doubt. This can be seen when Iago uses Cassio’s exit to suggest he is guilty, consequently leading him to avoid Othello. ‘Ha! I like not that.’ The supercilious and harsh tone of ‘Ha!’ immediately captures Othello’s attention. Othello’s confusion could be shown on stage by the gradual turn of the head while Iago points in the direction of Desdemona. Once the seed of doubt has been planted in Othello’s mind, Iago tactfully harvests it by responding to Othello’s questions with mirroring responses. Othello then becomes trapped in an interminable cycle where his doubt permeates until he dramatically exclaims at the end of the scene. ‘I’ll tear her all to pieces!’ The emotional intensity of this scene deepens the audience’s concern for Othello and Desdemona. However, Shakespeare’s use of soliloquies also creates suspense for the audience. Iago’s façade is shattered when his inner thoughts are revealed, creating a paradox. In Notes on a Scandal, Barbara similarly tries to acquire power using manipulation and suggestion. Like Iago, she tries to sow the seeds of doubt by offering ideas that appear harmless on the surface, however there is an ulterior motive that lurks beneath. ‘Well, no, I was just thinking it would probably serve you best not to tell Sue. She’s not a bad person. But she’s not…’ The ellipses forces Sheba to reach her own conclusion, however, Barbara has already contributed to Sheba’s thoughts by implying Sue is morally destitute. By slandering Sue, Barbara traps Sheba into a restricted sphere where Barbara is her only confidante. This provides a framework which enables Barbara to gain power over the situation and Sheba, as Sheba is coaxed into revealing her scandalous love affair with Connolly. Iago purposely alienates Othello from his supporters and wife. Iago’s knowledge of Othello’s affairs gives him omniscience and omnipotence, allowing him to harness the power that results in Desdemona and Othello’s death.
In The Collector, Frederick Clegg employs a comparable method to Barbara; by isolating Miranda physically he hopes to develop an ironically platonic yet romantic relationship adverse from the traditional physical qualities. However, this is a one-sided relationship because it develops under Clegg’s increasing power. ‘I thought, I can’t ever get to know her in the ordinary way, but if she’s with me, she’ll see my good points, she’ll understand. There was always the idea she would understand.’ Using the past tense to describe his feelings creates a nostalgic atmosphere; the reader might feel a certain degree of empathy. It exaggerates his failure of gaining ultimate power because he is trying to justify his actions. On the other hand, Clegg’s behaviour may counteract this sympathy as it is difficult to advocate Miranda’s death. Fowles may have intended to create suspense using a foreshadowing technique in order to direct the reader’s attention to Clegg’s desperation of gaining power. Clegg thus typifies Hutcheon’s model of Politics of Representation as his concept of love is exceeded by his craving appetite that desires domination. According to Hutcheon, what drives the relationships between the characters in The Collector is “power.” This may be gleaned from Othello and Iago’s relationship, where there is a constant struggle of power. Such a relationship may appear deeply dysfunctional and can be described as abusive. The power struggle in The Collector can be seen by the internal conflict Clegg experiences with Miranda when she feigns an illness in order to escape. ‘She was dead cunning, when I went in she was being sick, and she looked a real mess.’ The word ‘dead’ is ironic while the situation is prophetic. Clegg’s priorities become disordered and tumultuous when there is a conflict between love and power and his inability to choose love reveals a disturbing side of his psychological make-up. Shakespeare also uses foreshadowing to demonstrate Iago’s attempt at gaining power over Othello. Power appears to be the fundamental basis of Othello and Iago’s relationship, similar to Clegg’s and Miranda’s. However, Fowles and Shakespeare use foreshadowing to construct different atmospheres. Shakespeare creates suspense that may evoke tension and unease in the audience as Iago tries to gain power. ‘O beware, my Lord, of jealousy. It is the green-eyed monster, which doth mock.’ This is prophetically true as Othello becomes consumed by jealousy and murders Desdemona. However, Iago’s approach to gain power is managed by ascribing the idea of guilt to Cassio and Desdemona. Like Barbara coaxing Sheba into revealing her secrets, Iago plants these ideas in Othello’s mind so Othello becomes dependent on him. Using a metaphor and imagery creates sensory impressions for the audience. The visual effect of the ‘green-eyed monster’ enhances the tension because the notion of it becomes more realistic. Iago could wrangle his hands together in front of Othello’s face with wide eyes, demonstrating the gravity of jealousy and further contributing to Othello’s insecurities, gaining power.
While Shakespeare uses metaphors to create sensory impressions for the audience, Heller uses this device to underline Barbara’s yearning for power. ‘The loose tendrils had graduated to hanks and where it was meant to be smooth and pulled back, tiny, fuzzy sprigs had reared up, creating a sort of corona around her scalp.’ It has been suggested noting the observant nature of Barbara that the ‘fuzzy sprigs’ create an image of nature. It could be compared with plants growing in spring, contributing to Sheba’s bohemian characteristics. However, in reference to the idea of gaining power, the use of the word ‘corona’ could portray Sheba as a trophy for Barbara to gain power over. The manner in which Clegg describes Miranda in The Collector is similar to Notes on a Scandal. Miranda’s beauty is frequently compared with nature. This suggests Clegg values her outward appearance rather than her intrinsic value because he can gain control over the former better than the latter. Henry Holt remarks, ‘To be sure, power leading to security is what Barbara seeks in her relationship with Sheba.’ However, the acquisition of power followed by control could also be conveyed as ‘security’ for Barbara. Although Barbara tries to present her affiliation with Sheba as a ‘normal’ relationship, power and control are the central themes that dominate it. ‘I’ve never made any conscious bid for power; it has always come about quite naturally that I should be one to lead.’ This exposes Barbara’s instinctive nature. It suggests Sheba is not the first victim Barbara has tried to seize power over, similar to Miranda being succeeded by the flower girl that appeals to Clegg. Fowles and Heller may construct a sinister tone using this method as they orchestrate the possibility of an endless cycle, rife with victims that are affected by power and control. The tension that arises from Heller’s method is further reinforced by erratic comments made about Jennifer Dodd throughout the novel. Heller offers this suggestive comment about Barbara’s past because it creates anticipation. The reader is notified subtly that control will follow the seizure of power and act as a catalyst for calamitous consequences.
Once power is obtained, control is executed. Iago exercises control by using Desdemona’s willingness to assist Cassio, as evidence to suggest there is a clandestine love affair. ‘Divinity of hell! When devils will the blackest sins put on, they do suggest at first with heavenly shows.’ The oxymoron ‘Divinity of hell!’ suggests his faith lies with the devil and is further exaggerated using a punctuation mark, it entrenches the idea that Iago is the villainous devil of the play due to his controlling antics. Shakespeare may accentuate this statement to shock the audience and expose Iago’s true nature. Iago could grasp at his clothes savagely as he whispers ‘When devils will the blackest sins put on’. The language of Iago also functions to describe the way in which he puts on duplicitous personae to exercise control. Iago’s remark ‘I am not what I am’, demonstrates his use of fraudulence for control. His characteristic idiom varies and is dotted with colloquialisms and oaths, he adapts his style to suit different audiences and purposes. He is ironically closest to authenticity and truth when admitting the fallacies and dishonesty that dictate his character. His ability to manipulate language is a source of his control and his outward appearance is a façade because it masks his inner self. ‘But I will wear my heart upon my sleeve for daws to peck at.’. Iago appears to experience satisfaction through manipulation because it allows him a greater degree of control, and although he does not acknowledge people’s emotions, he gains gratification when he is informed of their thoughts. He believes those who express their emotions are susceptible to vulnerability, perhaps explaining why imagery has been used in the form of ‘dews’. This creates a disconcerting picture, which might make the audience wary of Iago’s actions throughout the play. Whereas Shakespeare uses soliloquies to reveal Iago’s true persona, Barbara’s internal focalisation is explained in the form of analepses. Her primary opinion of events allows the reader to pinpoint the inaccuracies in her story, underlining the extent to which she uses control. ‘This is not a story about me.’ Heller may have used this dramatic irony in order to guide the reader towards the idea that Barbara’s dishonesty and deception are tantamount to her desire for control. Her frequent contradictions become idiosyncrasies of the novel and reveal a similarly duplicitous personality to Iago. In a British modern adaptation of Othello (2001), directed by Geoffrey Sax, Iago’s two-faced nature is evident to the audience from the very beginning. The camera angle shifts and faces him directly whilst he discusses his plan. This may make the viewers and audience feel exposed because of Iago’s intense, piercing eye contact.
Unlike Notes on a Scandal, The Collector is divided into four parts, out of which three belong to Clegg while the second part is Miranda’s. Fowles may have used this form to demonstrate how different personalities interpret control. On the one hand, Clegg is technical about Miranda’s imprisonment, on the other; Miranda focuses on the delineation of her emotional dilemma as to whether Clegg deserves her sympathy. This shows that Clegg’s inability to control Miranda emotionally and mentally is replaced with his competence to control her physically. In Fowles’s opinion, the characters, Clegg, and Miranda do not possess enough control over their personalities. If this is the case, then this could be used as evidence to explain why Clegg must exercise control over Miranda. “If Fowles had presented just Clegg’s account,” notes Perry Nodelman, “he would have written the entertaining thriller”. However, Miranda’s narrative allows the reader to experience a more objective and comprehensive perspective on the events and their meaning. Unlike The Collector, A. C. Bradley contended that in Othello, power is Iago’s driving motivation. “Iago’s longing to satisfy the sense of power is, I think, the strongest of the forces that drive him on.” Although this is highly conceivable, a Freudian and erotic interpretation of the play would propose that Iago is subconsciously in love with Othello. This interpretation could also be applied to Barbara and Sheba’s relationship, as Barbara’s usage of control may be a by-product of her love for Sheba. Laurence Olivier interpreted Iago like this and kissed Othello, who was played by Ralph Richardson. A contemporary audience of Shakespeare’s time would have found this immoral. Therefore, had Shakespeare intended to present Iago like this, it would have been introduced subtly. This interpretation could epitomize Iago’s desperation for control. By sacrificing his love of Othello for power and control, Iago ironically becomes trapped by these factors despite paradoxically proclaiming, ‘We cannot all be masters, nor all masters cannot be truly followed.’
Barbara appears to sacrifice her relationship with Sheba, like Iago, for the purpose of control. ‘ ‘Oh Brian.’ I cooed, ‘don’t tell me you have entertained hopes of reciprocation? That’s so sweet, Brian…’ Bangs put his fingers in his ears like a little boy.’ In order to salvage her pride, Barbara infantilises Brain by patronising him using a sarcastic tone. The rhetorical question and ellipses exaggerate this sarcasm. The ellipsis creates a pause that embellishes Barbara’s insensitivity and the alteration from ‘Brian’ to ‘Bangs’ show Barbara is self-aware of her insensitive transformation. This could show Barbara’s need for domination overrides her need for friendship, by belittling Bangs she places Sheba’s affair in jeopardy. Clegg’s love for Miranda is superseded by his need to exercise control like Barbara. Whereas Barbara threatens the establishment of Sheba’s relationship with Connolly, Clegg expresses disregard for Miranda’s death despite previously envisioning a romantic suicide. ‘She isn’t as pretty as Miranda, of course, in fact she’s only an ordinary shop-girl.’ His final thoughts centering on the possibility of capturing another girl demonstrate his craving for control. The juxtaposition of ending his life compared to continuing his disillusioned fantasy exaggerates the polarity of his thoughts and suggests his mental faculties are in a state of fragility. This antithesis, may therefore create a tone of suspense. The Collector thus exemplifies what Szegedy-Maszak has labelled ‘non-teleological narration.’ The idea of non-teleology exaggerates anticipation because there is the possibility of a continual cycle where Clegg seeks to control.
The scale of calamitous consequences resulting from control creates an unsettling atmosphere. In Othello, Iago’s frequent application of control using manipulation irrevocably leads to Othello’s mental deterioration. The combination of Cassio’s castigation of Bianca and Iago’s frequent suggestions fuels Othello’s insecurities, allowing Iago’s blasé comment of Desdemona to act as a catalyst, triggering a fit. ‘With her, on her, what you will?’ Shakespeare employs parenthesis to emphasise Othello’s increasing suspicion of Cassio and Desdemona. ‘Lie with her? Lie on her? We say lie on her when they belie her. Lie with her! Zounds, that’s fulsome! Handkerchief – confessions – handkerchief!’ Whereas short and long sentence structure in The Collector exacerbates the psychological and cultural disparities between Miranda and Clegg, Shakespeare manipulates the syntax of Othello’s dialogue to reveal the vicissitudes in Othello’s character as a consequence of Iago’s control. Clegg’s sentences are prolix and discursive while Miranda’s are definite and exact. ‘The silence. I’ve got a little more used to it now. But it is terrible. Never the least sound.’ The short sentences and usage of italics demonstrates the fear that resides in Miranda, garnering sympathy from the reader because the character’s fear is a consequence of Clegg’s control. Othello’s despair could be shown on stage by an actor disjointedly staggering across the stage away from Iago, clutching at his head. This could symbolise the consequential emotional agony he is experiencing, which is a repercussion of power and control. The suspense might, therefore, be injected into the audience as a result of the dramatic irony inculcated in the scene. In comparison to Othello, Heller uses repetition and short sentences in Barbara’s diatribe to convey her otherwise mitigated anger, which is a consequence of Sheba temporarily escaping from her control. ‘Damn her. Damn her. Lady Muck. Skinny bloody cow…Oh Barbara don’t put yourself down like that!’ The combination of fragmented sentences and profanity allow Barbara’s fury to seethe through the pages and surprise the reader as the expletive language juxtaposed to Barbara’s Latinate linguistic flair acts as a stark contrast. Furthermore, usage of the third person could evoke discomfort for the reader. The consequences of Sheba’s autonomous decision after discovering her diary have an intense and excessive impact on Barbara’s mental faculties. This could show that relying on a disproportionate amount of control can lead to a mental relapse. In contrast to Heller, Shakespeare uses the third person to convey the psychological consequences of being a victim of control. ‘Othello’s occupation’s gone.’ One of the outcomes of Iago’s manipulation is Othello’s emotional and mental distress. ‘Occupation’ could be a double entente that could either describe Othello’s position as lieutenant or his mental state. However, the vagueness of this statement could also contribute evidence to Othello’s uncertainty and disequilibrium. W.H. Auden in ‘The Dyer’s Hand’ labels Iago as ‘The Joker in the Pack’ and suggests he is a comic figure. ‘What Shakespeare gives us in Iago is a portrait of a practical joker of a peculiarly appalling kind…’ It is conceivable to suggest Iago embodies comical elements of a malevolent kind. Iago could be the joker at the beginning of Othello but as the play progresses; the gravity of exercising control could subconsciously displace his comic role as he becomes consumed with the euphoria that arises when manipulating other characters.
An additional consequence of exercising control is guilt. Characters such as Clegg and Barbara show signs of assuaging blame. Heller and Fowles may have done this to show the reader that despite their villainous predispositions, there is an element of humanity that remains in the characters. This may intrigue the reader emotionally as it shows neither Clegg nor Sheba are confined to stereotypes, thus displaying depth and complexity. ‘Naturally, I hesitated to look at them. I take no pleasure in violating Sheba’s privacy. But as Sheba’s unofficial guardian, I have certain obligations that I cannot shirk.’ By referring to herself as Sheba’s ‘unofficial guardian’, Barbara appears to be justifying her actions. This might suggest Barbara is aware of the moral implications of violating Sheba’s privacy, yet by bestowing herself with the voluntary role as Sheba’s caretaker, she simulates she is exempt from the ethical consequences. Furthermore, the sentence-modifier ‘naturally’, expresses a high degree of subjectivity. This syntactic expression underpins Barbara’s desire to control all aspects of Sheba’s life and like Clegg; she tries to displace the guilt by offering invented exculpations.
To conclude, these writers have explored a key element of human nature. The range of literary devices Heller and Fowles incorporate in their texts creates an evocative atmosphere, leading the reader to question what the consequences of power dominating love are. Characters such as Iago, Barbara and Clegg display elements of Machiavelli’s theory ‘It is better to be feared than loved, if you cannot be both.’ However, the consequences that arise from choosing power alert the reader to the implications of choosing such an option. As seen in Othello, Shakespeare uses language to describe the mechanisms of power. He reaches beyond the restricted sphere Elizabethan and Jacobean dramatists limit themselves to. The language in Othello is not simply the medium by which the drama is conveyed, it is also a vehicle of action. By describing the struggle for power, Shakespeare, Heller and Fowles facilitate an opportunity for the reader and audience. Such intricate mechanisms allow the receiver to deliberate their own discriminating choices between the conflict of power and love in their own lives and wider communities. As Eric Fromm observed, ‘any society which excludes the development of love must in the long-run perish of its own contradiction with the basic necessities of human nature.