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I am examining the characters of the Duke and Macbeth and how they can be considered disturbed characters. The play, ‘Macbeth’ and poem, ‘My Last Duchess’ both show psychological truths and insights into the characters. While the Duke shows himself to be disturbed straight away in the poem, Macbeth’s mental deterioration takes place and develops as the play proceeds. ‘Macbeth’ written by William Shakespeare and set in 1050 contains themes of status, power and death while ‘My Last Duchess’ by Robert Browning written in 1842 shows how status, wealth and the marriage market can affect a man’s life.
Macbeth at first is a well-respected and liked character. He shows himself to be ‘brave’ and is given the position of the ‘Thane of Cawdor’. However when Banquo and Macbeth meet the witches in Act 1, Scene 3, he starts to become obsessed with power, ‘The greatest is behind’. This line suggests that Macbeth believes that he will become more powerful in terms of his social status, establishing that he believes the witch’s predictions to be true.
In this scene Shakespeare uses the weather to affect the atmosphere and tone that the scene portrays to the audience.
‘Thunder’ is used to indicate the seriousness of the scene in terms of Macbeth’s future. However the thunder could also be seen as God showing his displeasure with Macbeth’s choice to listen to and believe the witches. In 1050 people believed in witches, but believed powers to see into the future or predictions, like the prophecy from the witches, came from the devil.
The belief the witches and predictions were real, led the events that take place later in the play. Macbeth’s superstition show some insight into his mind-set as it was considered unholy to believe in anything but God. People in the 11th century would see Macbeth as disturbed as he believed in a divine intervention that isn’t his God, however now society would consider Macbeth to be troubled for believing in witches. Shakespeare uses iambic pentameter to show the tension and eventual guilt that Macbeth feels in Act 2, Scene 2 during a dialogue with Lady Macbeth. The couple share lines which changes the speed and tone of their conversation. ‘Did not you speak? When? Now. As I descended?’ The playwright uses short sentences and sharing lines to show that they are having a tense argument. The dialogue also displays how Lady Macbeth can assert control over her husband. ‘You do unbend the noble, strength to think’ as she considered him to be a ‘coward.’ Lady Macbeth’s language towards Macbeth is negative as she believes her husband is too weak to fulfil the predications of the witches and make her Queen. However Macbeth’s dilemma is obvious as he is planning to kill the King and his guilt over his plan makes this a key scene in Macbeth’s mental deterioration. The monarch in the early 11th was to be respected and people believed were divine rulers picked by God. By choosing to go against God and his King, Macbeth displays his want or obsession for power. Macbeth also reveals how disturbed he is in Act 3, Scene 4 and Act 2, Scene 1. In both scenes, Macbeth sees ghosts of hallucinations of a dagger and Banquo. His soliloquy about the dagger illustrates a guilty conscience and conflicted mind. ‘I have thee not, and yet I see thee still’ expresses that Macbeth is un-nerved and feels pressured into doing what his wife wants. Act 3, Scene 4 has a dramatic irony as Macbeth and the audience know that Macbeth murdered Banquo but the Thanes do not. Banquo can be considered a physical manifestation of his guilt, worry and remorse. The ghost never speaks; Shakespeare uses Banquo to confirm the feelings of Macbeth about the murder. It shows the extent of how conflicted he is about the death of Banquo and how power has gone to his head.
Shakespeare’s use of dramatic irony reveals to the audience what others can’t see. In Act 3, Scenes 3-4, it is revealed that Banquo has been killed. However the other Thanes do not know this. The scenes also reveal a symbolic fall from grace in terms of the social aspect of Macbeth’s life. When Macbeth was a Thane, he socialised with people who were above his social status. However as King, there is no-one who has a higher status than his which then leads Macbeth to associate with people of a lower class than the people he is obligated to. When talking to the murderers it is pointed out that ‘there is blood upon thy face’ which shows that Macbeth instigated the murder of a friends. The two scenes symbolise how Macbeth has become infatuated with power and is willing to do anything to keep it. This exhibits his obsessive nature. Macbeth’s use of language in Act 5, Scene 5 infers that life is pointless. He suggests that life until we die means nothing. ‘Creeps in this petty pace from day To the last syllable of recorded time.’ During this scene he finds out Lady Macbeth died, showing the extent that he relies on his wife. Shakespeare uses the scene to tell the audience that you can’t control destiny and what happens in life.
This relates to his disturbed mind as he tried to control his destiny. An emphasis is put on the fact the word ‘tomorrow’ is repeated. It implies that Macbeth won’t have a ‘tomorrow.’ Shakespeare uses language to show how much Macbeth has changed throughout the play. At first he was a respected character and gradually becomes more disturbed. Thus scene suggests that he is essentially lost and resigned to his fate. The Duke however is a possessive and materialistic character. This is shown through the title ‘My Last Duchess’. ‘My’ displays how even in death his last wife belongs to him even she won’t be his ‘Last Duchess’. The title also displays a theme of the marriage market and the ownership of women. This poem is set in Victorian times when women were considered and treated as trophy and weren’t given a choice in any aspect of his life. This can be referred back to his earlier statement of ‘since none puts by the curtain I have drawn for you but I).’ Browning’s use of personal pro-nouns such as ‘I’, and ‘My’ shows how possessive the Duke is. He only drew back the curtain to show off his most prized possession, his last wife. His need to control who sees the painting and his wife demonstrates the obsessive and disturbed nature of the Duke straight away, unlike Macbeth’s who’s mental state deteriorates throughout the text. The entire poem is an example of dramatic monologue. Through this, the Duke reveals what he thought of his last wife. It is one very long conversation, show the reader insights into the Dukes personal life and feeling. ‘Who’d stoop to blame this sort of trifling?’ The Duke feels that his wife disregards his ‘gift of a nine-hundred-year old name’ and prefers insignificant gifts such as ‘the bough of cherries’ or the ‘white mule.’ Through his later statement, he tries to make excuses for killing his wife. Browning uses enjambment to give the impression of a continued speech. When read aloud, this makes it hard to read the poem without stopping and starting as well as seeming arrogant as if boasting the Dukes achievements. Browning also shows that by commenting on certain subjects; in this instance his wife, can reveal more about the person making the comments than the subject itself. The Duke is materialistic, possessive and likes to show off. ‘(Since none puts by the curtain I have drawn for you).’ He believes the envoy should be honoured to see a painting of his wife by ‘Fra
Pandolf.’ The Duke displays his need to control his wife and what they are doing through his control of the curtain that hides his wife. Furthermore, he has control over whether people see the painting and it symbolises his need for control, over his life and others. He uses artwork to control the uncontrollable such as his wife’s affections and others admiration. He reveals more than he intends to when he implies that he murdered his wife. ‘Then the smiles stopped altogether.’ It develops the idea that the term disturbed, for the Duke, means that he needs to be in control or he ‘commands’ for her to be killed or disposed of. Another interpretation of this quote could be that he locked ‘Fra Pandolf’ and his ‘Last Duchess’ up because the painter may have caused the ‘half-flush that dies along her throat’ In ‘My Last Duchess,’ Browning’s use of language indicates that while the words are polite, the meanings behind them are savage. The use of caesura cuts the poetry in half and the use of dashes dictates the Dukes tone. ‘I gave commands; Then all smiles stopped.’ While the line itself seems meaningless, his earlier statements such as ‘looking as if she were alive’ and ‘blame this sort of trifling’ gives the impression that he murdered or imprisoned his wife.
Browning purposely uses the next lines to show the Duke has given to much away, ‘Will’t thee please rise?’ This refers to his psychological state as he has revealed that he doesn’t care about killing his spouse but he is worried about revealing too much to an envoy. An emphasis is put on his quick change of topic through the use of caesura, ‘As if alive. Will’t thee…’ It cuts the poetry in half and shows he has revealed too much into his personal life. After quickly changing the subject the Duke goes back to showing of his wealth. The final lines of the poem show a powerful image, ‘Notice Neptune, though. Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity.’ The imagery represents a man taming a woman, which suggests to the reader that women are inferior to men. A different perspective could be that women are animals that need to be tamed. The poem was written in 1842 when women were considered inferior to men and the image of Neptune and his sea-horse represents this. The Duke once again returns to possessions, with all his money and power, he can’t buy love. The Duke doesn’t realise how much of himself he has given away throughout the criticism of his wife. It suggests that part of his disturbed nature comes from not have affection. The Duke and Macbeth are both similar characters as they both hold a high status and money. However while the ‘Thane of Cawdor’ and eventually ‘the King of Scotland’ holds his wife in high regard, the Duke is disrespectful towards his. A theme of both the poem and the play is how women act and how they were treated. In ‘My Last Duchess,’ the wife acts like a traditional wife in the 1800’s. She seems to be modest, ‘half flush that dies along her throat’ and easily pleased, ‘She looked on and her looks went everywhere.’ Women at the time were considered possessions and trophies by their father and later their husband. In contrast, Lady Macbeth is revealed to be the dominant partner. In Act 1, Scene 5, Lady Macbeth and Macbeth are discussing murdering King Duncan. She asserts her control over him insults him and tells him not to give anything away. ‘Your face, my thane, is a book where men May read strange matters.’ Shakespeare depicts Lady Macbeth as an equal in her relationship, while Browning presents the Duchess as an obedient wife.
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