Compare the ways the poets develop a story through the use of dramatic monologues: in the poems ‘The Man He Killed’ by Thomas Hardy, ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ and ‘My Last Duchess’, both by Robert Browning.
In this essay I will be analysing the poems, ‘The Man He Killed’ by Thomas Hardy and Robert Browning’s ‘My Last Duchess’ and ‘Porphyria’s Lover’. ‘My Last Duchess’ and ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ were both written in the Victorian era, and ‘The Man He Killed’ was written just after Queen Victoria died. All of the poems, I am studying, are dramatic monologues, which are used by poets to portray their powerful emotions to the reader only through a single character. Dramatic monologues usually deal with issues that are of controversial nature, which are shocking and create drama and suspense through the poets’ use of dramatic language.
‘My Last Duchess’ and ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ are both set in the 19th century; both monologues focus on the views of the patriarchal Victorian society, dominated and often corrupted by powerful men. Women were not allowed to voice their opinions or disobey the forceful male authority, which controlled them. Disobedience meant ruthlessly harsh and terrible consequences.
This abuse of power is well illustrated in ‘My Last Duchess’, in which the Duke, a man of power and command, misunderstands his wife and conflicts harsh treatment upon her.
We know that the Duke is powerful as he has the power to kill his wife without being suspected: ‘I gave commands. /Then all smiles stopped altogether’ line 45/46. This is dramatic as the Duke abuses his power to rid himself of his innocent misunderstood wife. Moreover, this is shocking to the audience as a man who people believe to be virtuous, exploits his authority, in addition, he murders a naïve woman whose only crime was being appreciative and pleased for her life.
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The Duke describes the Duchess as beautiful, kind-hearted and easily pleased by small things. The Duke believed that instead of being cheerful to everyone she meets, the Duchess should have behaved in a more regal manner; ‘spot of joy’ is a metaphor for blushing meaning that other men could easily make the Duchess blush, probably by complimenting her beauty, she thought they were just being kind however the cynical Duke considered it as flirting and disapproved of her reactions to such remarks, he says that ‘she had a heart too soon made glad’.
Throughout the poem, Browning uses caesuras which suggest that the Duke was hiding something or pausing to think, this indicates that the Duke was apprehensive when he was talking about his wife; this can also suggests that the Duke did not know his wife and therefore could not easily describe her.
In line 45, ‘I gave commands/Then all the smiles stopped together’, we learn that the Duke ordered the assassination of his wife, he casually informs the silent listener about how he murdered his wife. Furthermore, he is boasting about it, expressing no regret at her death but focusing on the artistry of the artist for catching her expression.
The is Duke callous, he is not poignant for her death; he tries to presents his pleasant side towards the audience, nevertheless though his speech the reader can see that he is very jealous and devious.
When she was alive the Duke could not control her smile and did not understand her love for him therefore he considered her to be unfaithful. The Duke likes the smile in the painting as he can control it and only he can receive it as he owns the painting and it is placed behind a curtain, hence he controls who she smiles at. This to the audience is shocking as a woman is treated like an object.
The Dukes controlling behaviour can be compared with the lover’s in ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ as he too had a peculiar approach towards his love. The unnamed lover transforms from being passive to controlling towards the end of the poem when he brutally murders Porphyria to ensure that Porphyria would only belong to him.
‘Porphyria’s Lover’ seems like a typically romantic poem; however it reveals shocking and horrific elements as in this poem a wealthy, high-class lady (seeking comfort and love) has an affair with a poor low-class man, who unjustly murders her.
The unnamed lover knew that society would not let them be together, therefore, he decides to be with his lover forever in death. Dramatic phases like: ‘Three times her little throat around, /And strangled her’, are used to create shock in the readers mind. This quote is very dramatic and powerful as this act was a murder, which the reader witnesses. This would create shock and horror within the readers mind. It would also make the reader curious as the reader would want to know why the unnamed lover murdered Porphyria when she truly did love him.
The main issues that are dealt within this poem are class differences; different classes had to keep separate, however a forbidden love was blooming midst this diverged society. This was considered as unacceptable and would have never been supported in the society at that time. They knew that society will not allow their affair to continue therefore the lover makes the decision that in order to keep Porphyria with him he would have to kill her. By killing Porphyria, the lover seeks to stop time and preserve the moment of love that they share. They cannot be together ‘vainer ties dissever’ as Porphyria cannot break free from her wealthy friends, as she was ‘too weak’, thus the lover decides that he would kill her in a deranged attempt to be together forever. Through this dramatic monologue Robert Browning brings out an issue that was evident during the time, but one that was overlooked and secreted. Browning wrote this to show that women, in the Victorian society, trod on a fine line between possessing a life and being impressionable objects denied of any rights.
Both ‘My Last Duchess’ and ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ convey the same form of love; a love based on jealousy and possession. Both speakers of the monologues are possessive of their love and murder their love in order to ensure that they remain faithful to them only and do not fraternise with any other males in the society.
‘Porphyria’s Lover’ and ‘My Last Duchess’ are both about possessive, psychotic men who murder their love. In both poems, the two speakers kill their lovers based on what their individual psychosis caused them to see; however, what the two speaker saw was different, due to this the reason and the way the two speakers kill their love is different.
Even though the speakers’ attitudes between the lovers are different in both poems, both the Duke and the unnamed lover are unable to deal with their feeling realistically or appropriately. They both neglect the women’s feelings and physical wellbeing in favour of their own selfish love.
In both monologues the women were seen as a prize that could be gained. In ‘My Last Duchess’, the Duke tries to win over the Duchess by presenting her with lavish gifts, however that was not enough to win her love. The Duke believed that the Duchess did not see him as nothing special or important: ‘but who passes /Much without the same smile’ he deduces this as she did not have a special smile for him. He thought that his greatest gift to her was his ‘gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name’. Nevertheless, the Duchess did not believe that she should treat the Duke superior to anyone else and due to this the Duke considered that she was ungrateful to be married to a wealthy, influential man like him.
The attitudes shown in the two poems are very different, whereas hardy creates a modest, baffled character who feels very guilty, browning’s Duke is a vain, proud man who has killed his wife in a premeditated manner.
Both poem are about killing, the solider feels very guilty for his actions; evident, when he says ‘I shot him dead because… that was clear although..’ his guilt is evident as he is questioning his own actions, this strikingly contrasts the Dukes attitude who is relatively content about murdering his wife as he believes that it was the right thing to do to protect his family’s honour.
All three poems are developed around the theme of murder and killing. Hardy’s character feels liable for the death of a stranger; however, both of Browning’s characters are unconcerned about the death of their beloved.
‘…cottage…dripping cloak and shawl…soiled gloves…’ lines 9, 11, 12 this quote is dramatic as it shows that the man porphyria has an affair with is a poor low-class man as he lives in a cottage. The dramatic theme comes in as we find out that Porphyria is a rich, wealthy lady who can afford expensive garments. This would create a powerful impact on the audience as in Victorian times rich and poor never mixed. It was highly unusual for rich people to even touch a low classed person; nevertheless porphyria breaks all society’s rules and dares to have an affair with the low classed man.
Necromancer -people messing with dead bodies
The lover believes that he was right in his decision in killing Porphyria and justifies his actions as they were performed with the pure intention God has not said or done anything. Furthermore, he believes that he made the right decision as Porphyria let him kill her. She did not struggle or resist therefore he believed that he made reasonable decision. It is arguable that she agreed with his decision as she loved him and she let him do anything he wanted with her.
The poem is of hopeless love and disturbing death. Lines 21-25, the lovers cannot be together as Porphyria is already committed to someone else. She is probably married or engaged and thus she is committing adultery. This is shocking to the Victorian society as the young woman is betraying her family by fraternising with the low classed man.
The poem is deplorable to the audience of the time as the young woman takes off her clothes in front of a stranger:
• She begins to expose herself: he is morose even though she is elegant and beautiful
• Now HE has the power
• He dehumanises her by referring to her as it.
• He reassures himself again: states she wanted to die
Browning uses contrast – a kind gentle wife and a cunning suspicious husband.
The Duke has an avaricious personality. In the monologue, the Duke is shown as an insane and sick man with absolute power, utterly remorseless, a man unable to express love or pleasure; this is the description of a dangerous monster. This also shows that the Duke could not see the value of love and friendship; he only wishes to own all that is rare and unique ‘Notice Neptune…a rarity/Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me!’ This quote shows that the Duke had a taste for collecting pieces of rare art; this shows the reader that in the Duke’s view his wife was merely another item in his possession, an ornament to him which increased his status within society. When he felt that the Duchess might cause him to ‘stoop’ he decided that it was better to kill her than let her destroy his reputation with her ‘trifling’.
Does not have skill in speech- ‘which I have not’- only has skill in power and force.
The Duke is powerful as he does not need the dowry from his new Duchess, ‘dowry will be disallowed’ this shows the reader that the Duke is very wealthy and powerful.
Furthermore, in the next few lines of the monologue, we discover that to the powerful Duke the new Duchess would be just another possession, ‘his fair daughter’s self…is my object’ and ‘Notice Neptune, though, /Taming a sea-horse,’ This quote shows that the Duke believes that the Dukes daughter will become his new ornament, he also implies the fact that she will be tamed just as Neptune, the god of the sea tames a wild seahorse. This shows that the Duke considers himself to be superior to anyone else and believes that he has had power over all who enter his realm.
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Thomas Hardy wrote the poem, ‘The Man He Killed’, demonstrating the effect war has upon soldiers and how war changes friend into a foe. The Man He Killed reveals the speaker’s feelings about killing another innocent soldier during the battle. The poem is dramatic as the single speaker mentions how much they both had in common; ‘he thought he’d list off hand just as I’, this quote justifies the other man’s innocence.
The poem is dramatic because the audience is shocked by the speaker’s sense of regret about his own behaviour. The poem is highly ironic as the speaker mentions that war is ‘quaint and curious’. He is saying that war is strange because people want to join the army to satisfy their curiosity, only to find that they kill innocent people who are just like them. The drama of the monologue reveals that the soldier does not understand the seriousness or the purpose of war, ‘You shoot a fellow down’ the speaker does not know why it is right to murder innocent people.
This is further emphasised when the speaker move on to show his confusion as he does not know the reason he killed the other man; ‘I shot him because – because’, the repetition of ‘because’ and the use of the hyphen indicate a pause to show that the young soldier is still living in a state of shock.
The speaker believes that the innocent young man he killed probably joined the army for the same reason as him- to get some money so that they could live appropriately. However, the soldier did not know that the glamorous life that the army showed them would be cursed. The government made the army look exotic and exciting as the men had the opportunity to go abroad. In the readers’ viewpoint this would be shocking as in that period, people believed that the government went to save the people, not kill them. Visiting abroad, at the time, was only available to wealthy, who could afford to spend a large sum of money on luxury.
Moreover, the speaker believes that money is the bane of life as he had to kill to earn it this shows the reader that the speaker, unlike the Duke, was not driven by money or the power that originates from it; however, just the two other monologues, in this monologue someone dies due to class distinctions and misunderstandings.
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