Explore the Way Poets Portray Love in La Belle Dam Sans Merci with Reference to 5 Other Poems

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Core Texts:

La Belle Dame Sans Merci. A Ballard - John Keats
Sonnet 116 - William Shakespeare
My Last Duchess-Ferrara - Robert Browning

Illumination Texts:

Sonnet 18 - William Shakespeare
Valentine - Carol Ann Duffy
Porphyria’s Lover - Robert Browning

In the above poems love is presented in 3 very different ways, twisted and false love, typically romantic forbidden love, and unchanging love.

Twisted and controlling love is a theme that can be seen in some of Robert Browning’s poetry. "My Last Duchess" is a dramatic monologue written in 1842 by Robert Browning. It is written in 28 rhyming couplets, with iambic pentameter, which dominates the poem. The conversational flow of the poem is created by making caesura and enjabment. The enjambed lines may indicate control that the speaker is exerting on the conversation and give the feeling that the speaker is rushing through parts of the poem, possibly smimming over the parts the show him in a unflattering light.

When the Duke speaks of the death of his wife, for example, the lines running over suggest that he is nervous about the subject and is nervous of whether he is revealing too much about his envolvement and the caesuras also suggest to the reader that he is hiding something or that he is pausing to carefully think about his phrasing. However, perhaps on reflection, he then boast of his envolvement in line 45 - ‘i gave commands’ possibly showing his character as fake and mysterious, untrustworthy.

We know that the Duchess died suspiciously and that the Duke is in the process of looking for a new wife, and suggesting he disposed of his old one. He is speaking to a messenger about a painting of his now deceased Duchess. The Duke, of course, is casting himself in a favorable light and is presenting his best side. He wants to make it look as if his wife was cheating on him and was unfaithful to him, showing he is not trust worthy. He is very controlling, and could not control her and her smiles or looks - line 24 - ‘too soon made glad, too easily impressed’. This smile was what the Duke likes the most about the painting of the Duchess--he feels that the painter accurately captured the smile and the 
‘spot of joy’ in the Duchess. Now that the Duke owns this painting and has placed it behind a curtain, he can at last control who is graced with her smile. 
     When the Duchess was alive, the Duke could not control her smile and love for life and he considered her unfaithful. Other aspects of the Duke that remain unclear include his true character and his true feelings for the Duchess, whether he really ever loved her or not, remain unknown. As mentioned, he is presenting his best side, but through his speech the reader sees how he is very jealous and controlling, which leads one to believe that he may have many dishonorable qualities.

With such a negative description of the Duchess, suggesting she was unfaithful and lacking in refinement, it raises questions about the Duke’s true feelings for the Duchess. This is where the idea of twisted and false love. We question whether the Duke ever loved the Duchess or whether she was just another object for him to control and toy with for his own personal enjoyment and not becasue of true love for his wife.

This twisted and somewhat controlling love can be seen in another of Browning’s poems.

In both Porphyria's Lover and My Last Duchess, Browning describes a man who responds to the affection of a woman by controlling and ultimately killing her. Each monologue offers the speakers' reasons for his actions towards the desired woman from subject to his object. For example, we have already seen in My Last Duchess, the Duke may have murdered his wife out of jealousy, but decides to keeps a portrait of her behind a curtain so none can look upon her smile without his permission. Similarly in Porphyria's Lover, the man wishes to preserve a single perfect moment between himself and Porphyria and so he...
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