"Dover Bitch" and "Dover Beach" Comparisons

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At first glance, Anthony Hecht's "Dover Bitch" is not only funnier than Matthew Arnold's "Dover Beach", but also describes a more "liberated" relationship; the poem is as free from what some would consider stuffy Victorian morals as it is from references to Sophocles. Hecht's urbane and flippant persona tends to win over its audience, whether they find irony in the poem that adds to their appreciation of "Dover Beach", appreciate the poem as a criticism of Victorian morals, or laugh at Arnold's apparent inability to give his girl "a good time." "Dover Bitch" also seems to give more power to the lover, who is kept behind the scenes in Arnold, by bringing "her" opinions and wishes into the foreground of the poem. However, on closer examination, it becomes evident that Hecht appropriates rather than liberates the voice of the lover and trivializes her in a way that Arnold does not. Hecht at first seems more enlightened, but the evidence leads one to believe that Arnold's views might not have been in need of criticism in the first place.

The theme of Matthew Arnold's "Dover Beach", enduring love, is rather typical of the Victorian period; so it makes sense that many consider Hecht's parody rather typical of the Modernist period. In "The Dover Bitch: Victorian Duck or Modernist Duck/Rabbit?" Gerhard Joseph suggests that the Dover poems demonstrate an "epistemological shift" (9) between the Victorian and Modernist periods; the Victorian period is rigid, and the Modernist period more flexible. Joseph notes that Matthew Arnold's "value system"(9) is based on certainty (of love), and that this implies a belief that is constant and that sees constance elsewhere. Arnold suggests constancy in a poem that it makes sense to interpret in a constant way, while Hecht suggests inconstancy in a poem that can easily be interpreted in multiple ways, and that these states are symptomatic of the epistemology of the works' respective periods. In addition, the poems are representative...
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