Disturbed Minds: Macbeth and the Duke in Literature

Categories: My Last Duchess

Examining the disturbed characters of Duke in the play ‘My Last Duchess’ by Robert Browning and Macbeth in the play ‘Macbeth’ by William Shakespeare reveals psychological truths. Both works delve into themes of status, power, and death, as well as how status and wealth can impact a man's life. The Duke is depicted as disturbed from the beginning in the poem, while Macbeth's mental decline is shown gradually throughout the play. Initially praised for his bravery, Macbeth's descent into obsession with power is evident through Shakespeare's use of weather to create a foreboding atmosphere when he encounters the witches in Act 1, Scene 3.

The use of thunder in 'Macbeth' signifies the seriousness of the scene and foreshadows Macbeth's future. It can also be interpreted as a sign of God's disapproval of Macbeth's decision to trust the witches. In the 11th century, belief in witches was common, but the powers of prediction were generally associated with the devil. Macbeth's superstitious beliefs reveal his mindset, as it was considered sinful to place faith in anything other than God.

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Shakespeare employs iambic pentameter in Act 2, Scene 2 to convey the tension and guilt felt by Macbeth during a conversation with Lady Macbeth. Short sentences and shared lines between them indicate a tense argument, showing Lady Macbeth's ability to dominate her husband. She criticizes him as weak and incapable of fulfilling the witches' prophecy of making her Queen; however, Macbeth's dilemma is evident as he plans to kill the King, and his guilt over the plan contributes significantly to his mental deterioration.

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In the early 11th century, people highly respected their monarchs as divine rulers chosen by God. Macbeth's desire for power is evident in his defiance of God and the King. His disturbed state is shown through encounters with ghosts or hallucinations in Act 3, Scene 4 and Act 2, Scene 1 including a dagger and Banquo; his soliloquy about the dagger reveals inner conflict and guilt.The line 'I have thee not, yet I see thee still' from Act 3, Scene 4 indicates Macbeth's unease under pressure to fulfill his wife's wishes.Macbeth and the audience share knowledge of Banquo's murder, creating dramatic irony as others remain unaware. Banquo serves as a symbol of Macbeth's guilt, anxiety, and regret, validating his emotions surrounding the crime without uttering a word. Shakespeare utilizes Banquo to highlight the depth of Macbeth's internal turmoil stemming from the corruption brought on by power.

Shakespeare employs dramatic irony in Act 3, Scenes 3-4 to reveal to the audience what others are unaware of. Banquo's death is known to the audience but not to the other Thanes. These scenes also illustrate a symbolic decline in Macbeth's social circle, transitioning from associating with higher social classes as a Thane to being surrounded by those of lower status as King. This shift emphasizes Macbeth's thirst for power and his determination to maintain it at any cost. In Act 5, Scene 5, Macbeth expresses a belief that life is meaningless until death, lamenting the passage of time. The news of Lady Macbeth's death further highlights his dependence on her. Overall, Shakespeare uses these scenes to convey the idea that destiny cannot be controlled and that life unfolds beyond one's control.

This text examines the disturbed minds of both Macbeth and the Duke, showing how they each have different ways of trying to control their destinies. The repetition of the word 'tomorrow' in Macbeth implies that he may not have a future. Shakespeare uses language to depict the change in Macbeth's character throughout the play, from respected to disturbed. The Duke's possessive and materialistic nature is evident in the title 'My Last Duchess', showing how he views his last wife as his possession even in death. In Victorian times, women were treated as trophies without choice, as seen in the Duke's need to control who sees the painting of his wife. Browning's use of personal pronouns highlights the possessiveness of the Duke and his obsession with his wife, contrasting with Macbeth's gradual descent into madness. The entire poem is a dramatic monologue, revealing the Duke's true thoughts about his last wife.It's a lengthy conversation that offers insights into the Duke's personal life and emotions. The Duke feels his wife doesn't appreciate his ancient name and instead prefers trivial gifts like cherries or a mule. He tries to justify killing her later on. Browning's use of enjambment gives the impression of a continuous monologue, making it challenging to read the poem without interruption. It also suggests the Duke's arrogance in boasting about his accomplishments. Browning illustrates how commenting on certain subjects, like his wife in this case, can reveal more about the speaker than the topic itself. The Duke comes across as materialistic, possessive, and showy, as seen in his prideful display of a painting of his wife for the envoy.

The Duke's control is evident in his manipulation of the curtain hiding his wife, displaying his need for control over both her and their activities. His ability to determine who sees the painting reflects his desire for control in his life and relationships. Through art, he tries to control aspects like his wife's affection and others' admiration, inadvertently suggesting he may have been involved in her demise. The line "Then the smiles stopped altogether" could imply that he commanded her death, indicating his need for control or his disturbed state. Browning's use of language in "My Last Duchess" suggests a dark undertone beneath polite words, with caesura and dashes dictating the Duke's tone as he hints at sinister actions towards his wife.

Browning deliberately reveals the Duke's inner thoughts through specific lines in the poem, like 'Will't thee please rise?', which shows his lack of concern for his wife's death but a fear of revealing too much to an envoy. The use of caesura emphasizes the Duke's quick change of subject, 'As if alive. Will't thee…', indicating his hesitance to share personal information. The imagery of Neptune taming a sea-horse represents the Duke's belief in women's inferiority, reflecting societal norms at that time. Despite his wealth and power, the Duke cannot buy love, exposing his lack of affection and disturbed nature. Comparisons can be made between the Duke and Macbeth as characters of high status and wealth, but while Macbeth respects his wife highly, the Duke disrespects his spouse. Women's behavior and treatment are central themes in both the poem and play. In 'My Last Duchess,' the wife conforms to traditional gender roles of the 1800s, appearing modest and easy to please. Women during that period were often viewed as possessions or trophies by men. On the other hand, Lady Macbeth is depicted as dominant in her relationship with Macbeth. She takes charge and even insults him when discussing King Duncan's murder, asserting her control over him. Shakespeare portrays Lady Macbeth as an equal partner in her relationship while Browning presents the Duchess as a compliant wife.

Updated: Feb 21, 2024
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Disturbed Minds: Macbeth and the Duke in Literature. (2016, Apr 01). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/how-the-characters-of-macbeth-and-the-duke-in-my-last-duchess-can-be-considered-to-be-disturbed-characters-essay

Disturbed Minds: Macbeth and the Duke in Literature essay
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