Porphyria's Lover and My Last Duchess

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'Men are presented as monsters in Porphyria's Lover and My Last Duchess.' Discuss.

A monster is defined as something which inspires horror and disgust and is shockingly hideous or frightful. The characters of both males in 'Porphyria's Lover' and 'My Last Duchess' definitely give the impression of fitting this description, as they both commit, or at least command the committing of murders. They are also controlling of the women in their lives and crave power over them – in both cases, the woman behaving in a way the man does not approve of is the reason for their demise. The characterisation of these men as monsters is further justified by their lack of remorse for their acts; the man in 'Porphyria's Lover' argues that it was for her own good, and the man in 'My Last Duchess' is proudly recounting his actions to an envoy, showing he does not regret what he has done. The only possible redeeming feature of the man in 'Porphyria's Lover' is his insanity, as it could be argued that due to his mental instability he is not responsible for his own actions, and perhaps in 'My Last Duchess' the Duke may feel a shred of guilt for what he has done, which would not redeem him, but would make him less despicable and monstrous.

It is immediately obvious that the men in both poems are violent and murderous; in 'My Last Duchess' the man “gave commands” so “all smiles stopped together”, implying that he ordered his wife to be killed. The fact that commands were given for this to happen shows he considered his actions beforehand, and still decided to go ahead with the murder of his wife. The crime of his wife was to flirt with other men, a small crime for such a huge, permanent punishment. Her pleasure in flirting with other men is shown by the “spot of joy” which she called up, the the Duke's view of this his made clear through the use of the noun “spot”, which connotes a blemish, a mark on her otherwise good character, and something disgusting which the Duke does not like. The strict AABB rhyme structure shows that he puts thought into his actions and is an intelligent man, so it is clear that this man deliberately and cold-bloodedly ordered the death of his wife, an act which cannot be denied to be monstrous. In 'Porphyria's Lover' the man actually commits the murder himself, as he “strangled her”, and the brutality and violence of the way in which Porphyria is killed makes her death seem worse. Also, the length of time strangulation takes shows that it was not a rash decision that was regretted a second later, but instead was a determined act of murder. He trivialises this act, called it simply “a thing to do” as if it were the same as any other action and not the brutal ending of a life. This supports the view of him as a monster, as he does not show any respect for human life.

Furthermore, both male characters are extremely controlling of the women, and do not allow them any freedom. The demanding character of the Duke in 'My Last Duchess' is shown through his use of imperatives – he commands the envoy to “sit” and “look” and “rise”, and although these commands are posed as interrogatives, when he asks “Will't please you rise?” it is clear that the envoy in fact has no other options and he must do as he is told. The Duke is also possessive, and treats his wives like his possessions. He calls his last wife, “my last Duchess”, because he thinks of her as belonging to him, and he also reduces her painting to just another object on display in his house, and once he has spoken about the painting of her he moves on to exhibit some of his other possessions such as “Neptune”. This diminishes the importance of the Duchess are an actual once-living person, and reduces her to simply a piece of art to be admired The sculpture of Neptune “taming a sea-horse” could be a metaphor for the Duke and previous Duchess's relationship, as the Duke tries to tame the Duchess and control her behaviour. He thinks she should be “lessoned”, because he...
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