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Robert Browning has written My Last Duchess in the style of a dramatic monologue. This continuous prose allows Browning to create the narrator (presumably the Duke of Ferrara) as a character of unpleasant nature. Conversely this gives the impression of the “last duchess” as being a kind woman because of the contrast between the characters.
A heart – how shall I say? – too soon made glad,
Too easily impressed; she liked whate’er
She looked on,
The word “heart” immediately makes the reader think of the duchess as a kind person.
However, as soon as the narrator says continues with the rest of the sentence it has a negative impact making him sound cruel because he can not just accept his wife is a kind-hearted person. The dramatic monologue adds to the contrast between them because it is when a character delivers a speech explaining his feelingsor actions. The use of this, gives the poem quite a secretive tone and this emphasises the implication that he has killed his wife.
Also Browning creates a conversational tone by the use of enjambement which emphasises the reader’s perception of the duchess as a kind woman from the nastiness of the Duke spoken in such a normal conversational manner. The enhambement also gives the impression of thoughts flowing on easily from one to another which creates the conversational tone.
However Salome from Salome by Carol Ann Duffy is presented in a very different light to the duchess from Robert Browning’s My Last Duchess.
Salome is written in a different style to My Last Duchess as firstly it is not written in the form of continous prose in a dramatic monologue, instead it is divided up into stanzas. Also they differ in structure because of the rhyme patterns. My Last Duchess incudes regular rhyme through rhyming couplets throughout the piece whilst Salome tends to include half rhymes instead throughout the piece and not just necessarily in couplets.
My Last Duchess:
That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall,
Looking as if she were alive. I call
That piece a wonder, now: Frï¿½ Pandolf’s hands
Worked busily a day, and there she stands.
Colder than pewter.
Strange. What was his name? Peter?
Simon? Andrew? John? I knew I’d feel better
for tea, dry toast, no butter,
The different structure in rhyming pattern clearly allows a reader to see a difference between the two characters of Salome and the Duchess of Ferrara. The couplets in My last duchess suggest regularity and a sense of normality in the woman’s character whilst the half rhymes in Salome suggest a wildness and lack of respectability in the character because it seems to the reader as if she is unable to speak in what would be considered proper prose used in a poem. Instead the character is using similary sounding words and as the rhymes go on it gives the implication that she does not care as much about what she has done due to the fact that the half rhymes suggest that she seems to be going off in a tangent. Also Salome makes use of end-stopping whilst My Last Duchess uses enjambement. The use of end stopping in Salome makes her thoughts sound disjointed and this gives the impression that the character of Salome is confused and has probably been asleep only to wake up and find this strange sight and she is still trying to get her thoughts straight.
The women are not only shown to be different throough the different literary devices and structures used in the poems but also the language chosen. In My Last Duchess the language is formal whilst in Salome the language is colloquial and this makes Salome seem less of a respectful character than the Duchess is. Salome remarks that she must “Cut out the booze, the fags and the sex”. The list is made up of short words but the endings of booze and fags draw out longer giving them added emphasis whilst sex has a blunt ending which gives the implication that it is a possible afterthought and that she ranks it on the same level as these other two crimes of hers. Once more Salome is shown to have more bad characteristics. Whereas the Duchess is only described using words that are positive even if the duke puts a negative spin on the characteristics in his narration. The duke says
Oh sir, she smiled, no doubt,
Whene’er I passed her; but who passed without
Much the same smile?
In contrast to Salome this excerpt from the poem tells the reader that the duchess was a nice person in that she smiled at all people, the fact that the duke has described it in a engative way only puts more emphasis on the duchess’ goodness that the cruel duke can not see. The words used are not colloquial and Browning does not use slang but he uses simple words to convey her character’s kindness rather than overly sophisticated words. There is much difference in the way the duchess is presented and the way Salome is presented.
This Victorian and modern poem can also be compared with a Shakespearean sonnet and another modern Carol Ann Duffy poem. In the poem Anne Hathaway by Carol Ann Duffy, Anne Hathaway is presented as a loving wife and adventurous woman. One way Duffy demonstrates this is through the type of structure she has chosen to use in the poem. She uses a modified sonnet and ends with a rhyming couplet which could be recognised as similar to the Shakespearean style of sonnet.
I hold him in the casket of my widow’s head
as he held me upon that next best bed.
This couplet at the end almost mimics the style used in shakespearean sonnets because they use rhyming couplets throughout and end with a dramatic rhyming couplet. So that style of sonnet is being taken into account in the poem which of course is intersting because of Anne Hathaway being Shakespeare’s wife. The use of this rhyming couplet at the end gives emphasis to the whole point of the poem that she and him were deeply in love. Just as in Sonnet 130 Shakespeare uses the final couplet to bring the real meaning and point of the poem across. When he says:
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.
Both these rhyming couplets have an effect on the way the woman is presented. In Sonnet 130 it reveals the woman to be although not perfect as close to perfect as the real world gets and that is true love for even though she is not perfect it suggests Shakespeare loves her because of the things that make her different from the perfect vision of beauty. In Anne Hathaway, the woman is presented as a loving wife who also accepted her husband and loved him despite the fact that it was not perfect because they had to sleep on the “next best bed”.
In Anne Hathaway, she is presented in quite an idealistic manner as is their relationship. Many metaphors are used giving the implication of perfection. However, in Sonnet 130 Shakespeare mocks exaggerated or hyperbolic imagery.
The bed we loved in was a spinning world
of forests, castles, torchlight, clifftops, seas
where we would dive for pearls.
My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips’ red;
Duffy has used these metaphors and words because they have both erotic and magical connotations. The list of places their bed was is implied to the reader to be the same types of places his plays were set. This therefore allows for a sense of pride to be present in the tone as she recounts their loving together due to the fact that he regards her on the same level as his plays. The words “dive for pearls” give a sensual and private effect to the sentence and suggests that they were deeply in love because the description of their lovemaking is not simple but complex and she seems to only be able to describe it in beautiful words like the ones Shakespeare uses in his plays. This is why Duffy has used these words. However though Shakespeare is mocking exaggerated imagery he is essentially using similar language for a similar effect. He too, is trying to create a sense of wonder in the relationship and is using words like “sun” or “coral” because Shakespeare is essentially saying that although his love does not have eyes or lips like this she has as close to perfection in reality as you can get because he loves her for her.
In both poems by Carol Ann Duffy the viewpoint is from a woman whilst in the other two it is a man’s perspective being shown. This has an effect on how the women are viewed. Humour is present in both Salome and Sonnet 130 whilst My Last Duchess and Anne Hathaway are far more serious. The four women: The Duchess; Salome; Anne Hathaway; and what scholars refer to as the “Dark Lady” in Shakespearean sonnets, all seem to be presented in different lights through the style, language as well as the structure.
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