Compare the central characters in ‘Medusa’ and ‘My Last Duchess’
Carol Ann Duffy’s ‘Medusa’ and Robert Browning’s ‘My Last Duchess’ are two entirely different poems in many respects. Written in entirely different eras, some would say that they are as opposite as poetry could be. However, their central characters have some remarkable similarities that strike a chord with the reader and represent a common theme.
In each of the poems, both Medusa and the Duke of Ferrara represent the fickleness of power and how it fluctuates in daily life. Duffy’s manipulation of a paradox within ‘Medusa’ displays the extent to which power plays a part in the Greek myth of Medusa. The extended metaphor of Medusa with “filthy snakes” that “hissed and spat” creates an impression of aggression and physical strength. The sibilance of “hissed and spat” creates an onomatopoeic which helps the reader to conjure a vivid image as well as presenting Medusa as bitter and angry about her life. In addition, the use of dynamic verbs “spattered”, “shattered” and “spewed” show the raw strength that Medusa’s power gives her. However, the paradox is in that Medusa is so powerful that she traps herself and cannot have a real life as a young woman, finding love and happiness, further reinforcing her bitter tone. Her vulnerability is highlighted by the fact that she tells her partner to “be terrified” and that it would be “better by far” for him to leave her, evoking pathos in the reader. The final line “Look at me now.” is ironic in that as much as she craves interaction and wishes that someone could see beyond the mask and recognise her for who she is, no one can ever do that. This creates a sense of isolation, and the reader is sympathetic to her because of this. The Duke wields a different form of power in ‘My Last Duchess’; that of a political and social form. He views everyone as his possessions, particularly his wife, which is shown through the repeated use of the personal pronoun “my”, showing his obsessive and arrogant nature. He also fixates on material possessions, shown through his admiration of his wife’s painting whilst criticising her character and the fact that “her looks went everywhere”. Rather than complimenting her and celebrating her memory, he slanders her and says that she “disgusts” him and points out that not many “passed without the same smile”, suggesting promiscuity and flirtatious behaviour. Therefore, whilst both Medusa and the Duke are very powerful central characters, they express this power in very different manners.
The main issue with the power that both Medusa and the Duke have is what happens when control over it is lost. In both poems, their lapses in self-restraint have disastrous consequences. In Medusa, she seems to have predicted what will happen in the future, as she says to her partner “Be terrified.” This simple sentence uses the imperative to make Medusa seem like a strong individual, where in fact she is the opposite. This stanza continues to show her as being quite paranoid and desperate, as she says “I know you’ll go, betray me, stray”. The internal line rhyme shows her panic as she believes that he will leave her for “your girls”. The use of the possessive pronoun “your” highlights a yearning to be possessed by a man and a desire to belong and fit in, where she has always been cast out by society because of her curse. In the end, the escalation of her power is shown where “Fire spewed from the mouth of a mountain” as she is able to bring devastation to even the largest of structures. The final sentence “Look at me now.” revisits the simple sentence structure and the use of imperative to show defiance against the betrayal of her lover. Now that she has grown into her power and managed to wield it to a chaotic effect, she becomes the truly fearsome creature that the reader learns about in the classic Greek myth and fulfils the extended metaphor that Duffy has created from the start. The Duke’s control in...
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