Passion & Desire, Othello by William Shakespeare, Perfume by Patrick Suskind & Atonement by Ian Mcewan

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Consider the themes of passion and desire in Atonement by Ian McEwan, Othello by William Shakespeare and Perfume by Patrick Süskind.

Fascinated by different passions and how people are driven by different passions, I am able to study this through different literature texts. The three characters I am going to study are ‘Briony’ in the novel Atonement by Ian McEwan, first published in 2001, but set in 1934-1999, ‘Iago” in the play Othello by William Shakespeare, first viewed by an audience in 1604, and finally ‘Grenouille’ in the novel Perfume by Patrick Süskind, first published in 1985 and set in 18th century France. Since that all three texts are set in different times and by different writers, this will effect the opinion of both a modern audience and an audience of the time it was written.

Each character displays desires to control others around them, in ‘Othello’ and ‘Perfume’ to the extent of death for their passion. We see this desire to control in ‘Atonement’ with Briony almost as soon as we are introduced to her in the novel, “Her straight-backed dolls in their many roomed mansion appeared to be under strict instruction not to touch the walls” (P5.L6). This behaviour of Briony from a young age shows her desire to control others; everything around her is ordered and complete. The use of “straight-backed” in my opinion gives the reader a sense of fear of Briony knowing that she will always have control over not only the characters, but also you as the audience. I think that mansion could also be seen as a metaphor for her own house, thus reflecting her desire to control her family and the people who live with her. Briony’s desire to control people is a continuous and dominant theme throughout the book. In the final part, Briony admits to not having an alcoholic drink, “I drank green tea” (P355.L13). This tells the reader that even in her older age, she doesn’t want to lose control by getting drunk and missing out on vital information. On the other hand, green tea has been subjected to many scientific studies due to it proposed long-term health benefits. The irony in this is that Briony is slowly dying and therefore it will give her no benefits in prolonging her life. I think that this is a way of Briony physiologically thinking that this will make her memory last longer.

We see similar demanding behaviour in Perfume where Grenouille hassles Baldini to be able to work for him, “It was not a spoken as a request, but as a demand… hissed out in a reptile fashion” (P74.L19). The use of the onomatopoeia emphasises this demand. I think that it makes Grenouille sound angry and frustrated, which reflects the fact that animals use this as a defence mechanism. We see this animalistic behaviour in Othello with Iago where he describes his plans a complex web, “With as little as a web as this will I ensnare as great a fly Cassio” (A2.S1.L168). This I think is a metaphor for Iago’s plans; the web is being used to catch his prey, i.e. Othello. This animalistic imagery is projected from Iago onto the other characters around him. Othello begins to mimic this behaviour, “Exchange me for a goat” (A3.S3.L183) and even Emilia matches Iago’s language where she says that she will “play the swan, And die in music” (A5.S2.L245). Iago’s actions are driven by a desire to control people and his desire for entertainment and his overpowering jealousy of Othello. It is possible that Iago has his own passion for Desdemona referring to the couple as an “old black ram is tupping your white ewe!” (A1.S1.L87), where Othello is gaining what Iago himself desires. The use of “ram” is the first hint to Othello’s age and I believe that the contrast of black and white emphasises Desdemona’s innocence and thus Iago uses this to project Othello as being possessed by witchcraft.

The themes of sexual passion are displayed throughout all three characters. In Atonement, we see Briony’s sexual innuendo in her description of the fountain, “blow through...
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