Analyse the Different Forms of Power Presented in "My Last Duchess", "A Woman to Her Lover" and "La Belle Dame Sans Merci"

Topics: Poetry, Robert Browning, Woman Pages: 6 (2192 words) Published: February 24, 2004
Amongst the three love poems examined in this essay, the theme of male or female power in relationships pervades throughout. The views of the speakers are expressed and defined through literary and poetic techniques. This gives the reader an insight into the speaker's problems and dissatisfaction of a relationship, due to an imbalance of power. However there are dissimilarities between the poems - for example where in "La Belle Dame Sans Merci" the female displays supernatural power and dominance over a knight, the Duke in "My Last Duchess" desires psychological power over his Duchess

The poem "My Last Duchess" is a dramatic monologue written by Robert Browning, coming from the Duke of Ferrara. In the poem he displays his megalomaniac tendencies towards his late wife and how he feels his title symbolises his power over her. We also learn how he doesn't want his wife for love but to be able to exhibit her and 'show her off' and enforce psychological power over.

The Duke calls her "My Last Duchess"; here the use of the possessive pronoun indicates to the reader how he feels his wife belongs to him. This implies that the Duke has an authoritative and almost overbearing character as he thinks of his wife more as an object, which he owns rather than a person. The Duke proves his power even further by saying "Notice Neptune, though, / Taming a sea horse". Here he relates himself to Neptune, the god of the seas showing how he believes himself to be god-like. Also the Duke believes himself to be above the level of common people saying he would never "stoop" down to their level. From this we can presume the Duke is afraid of losing his power, and would rather hold his head up high and suffer for it rather than "stoop". The use of this word indicates how the Duke is in a state of mind where he sees himself as superior against others.

However as we read on we learn that the Duke has limited control over his wife. He states that "She had a soon made glad", showing how he feels she is amused easily and distracted away from him - perhaps by other men. This is amplified further when he says "She like whate'er she looked on", showing he believes she undermines his control over her and is paying attention to men other than himself. We can infer from this that the Duke is disturbed about his deficit of restrain over his wife and is deeply angered at how "she thanked men" other than himself.

The Duke then goes on to say that "She ranked my gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name with anybody's gift". Here the Duke explains that his supremacy, which he received from his family name, has stretched over several centuries and his Duchess should therefore appreciate him for it, however his 'contenders' have a lot less to offer but still manage to appeal to her more. The Duke is clearly outraged as he not only feels undermined by the Duchess but also by the other men signifying that the Duke wants hierarchical power over those of lower ranks and the power to be able to make his wife love him. This would have been a typical idea that powerful 19th century men had, as they believed status determined who and what you were. Judging from this, it could be said the Duke has megalomaniac inclinations as he wishes to control everything. This is proved further when he says "if she let herself be lessoned", showing how he wishes to discipline and manipulate her to respect and admire him and mould her into the perfect doll-like wife he wants. He is perhaps even paranoid because all his statements such as "she liked whate'er she looked upon" are all unproven allegations.

This could be indicative of the Duke's insecurity, as he doesn't who he can and can't trust. This is heightened further when the Duke says, "Somehow - I know not how", the pause (in the form of hyphens) suggests apprehension and self-doubt proving he overestimates his real power. Furthermore he was never able to manage to control his wife in person but only in death in...
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