Comparing and Contrasting the Theme of power and control between Porphyrias Lover, La Belle Dame Sans Merci and My Last Duchess
The poems I have chosen are: My Last Duchess Ferrara by Robert Browning, Porphyria’s Lover by Robert Browning and La Belle Dame Sans Merci by John Keats. I am going to be exploring the theme of power and control in each of the poems and how the poets show it. In Porphyria’s Lover and My Last Duchess it appears that the men have the power whereas in La Belle Dame Sans Merci the woman has the power. In Porphyrias Lover the only way the man feels he has power over Porphyria is by killing her. So by feeling that this is his only alternative, she has power over him. She is merely an adoring lover who really cares for her partner ‘soil’d gloves’ she is ruining her belongings for him.
He also does not show her any affection ‘when no voice replied’ In My Last Duchess the Duke also feels the only way to control her is to kill her, to turn her into an object in which people can still admire her, but not in a way that would threaten him. ‘I gave commands’ he had the power to end a life merely by giving an order for someone to do it. In La Belle Dame Sans Merci the woman has complete power over the knight. She made him fall in love with her and then trapped him forever, so she now has eternal power over him. All of the seeming power holders in these poems turn their lovers into an object, something that will be there forever, whether it be killing Porphyria to keep the moment or having his dead wife’s portrait in his house to show off. All of these characters want to be in control and will go to the extremes to do so. In Porphyria’s Lover, the narrator is found to have much control over Porphyria.
He talks of her death ‘as a shut bud that holds a bee’ This simile shows the control the narrator has over Porphyria, as he speaks of himself as the bud of the flower attracting Porphyria (the bee). Once he had the bee’s interest, he was able to close himself around her, taking complete control over her body and ultimately, killing her. In La Belle Dame Sans Merci the lady is so powerful she manages to trap a great many strong figures of power, just like she did the knight pale kings, and princes too, pale warriors, death pale’ She has drained all them of all life just as she did to the knight ‘death pale… palely loitering’ In My Last Duchess the Duke’s appreciation of art reveals the control he has over the artists that produce his works of art. Although the duke was unable to control the duchess when she was alive, after her death he is in complete control of her. The duke says ‘since none puts by the curtain I have drawn for you, but I, ‘ revealing that now he is able to control who views the portrait.
Porphyria’s Lover is written as a dramatic monologue which means we only have one point of view on the situation. It is made out that the speaker is very unreliable and therefore we do not have details on all that has occurred. Browning also establishes a regular iambic tetrameter in the first four lines in order to create the anticipation for a regular meter throughout, making us feel tension for what will happen next. ‘I listen’d with heart fit to break’ in this line, the speaker refers to himself for the first time, and it’s to say that his heart was breaking or his moral sensibility, by doing so the regularity of the meter breaks, just like the speaker’s heart. It breaks exactly on the name ‘Porphyria’ possibly foreshadowing what is going to happen later in the poem. There is also an extra syllable in this line to emphasise the importance of this line. La Belle Dame Sans Merci is a ballad written in quatrains, and like Porphyrias lover is written in iambic tetrameter.
However in the fourth line of each quatrain there are only three stressed syllables which emphasises the last line of each stanza, but it also lends an aura of discord to the poem that, had the line been stretched to full length, may have been lost. It is only twelve stanzas long which shows the shortness of the knight’s romance. My Last Duchess is also written as one long dramatic monologue. The Duke is going on and on and we only have one point of view. He is controlling what the audience perceive the characters as. Browning uses enjambment to make the rhyming couplets flow better in order to make the speech of the Duke more realistic. The easiness of the speech and the fact that it is flowing, shows that the Duke seems to have rehearsed everything that he is now saying to the agent. So he has had to think about what to say and wants to be able to manipulate the agent into taking his side and, indeed, wants to have control over the agent’s opinion of both him and his last Duchess.
The duke’s loss of control is also depicted through the rhythm of the poem. The enjambment in the poem reveals that the Duke is almost at ease with his wife’s murder, because it is so flowing and he doesn’t get upset and almost doesn’t have to stop. Except for once; this is shown by the use of caesura, however as he only stutters once it seems as if he is just doing it for show. Near the end of the poem, the duke loses control. You can imagine the horrified agent rising to go and the duke’s uneasiness as he loses control, and his desire to regain control of the situation as he says, ‘Nay we’ll go down together, sir’ There is a caesura between ‘Nay’ and ‘we’ll’ which shows the Duke does not want to lose control but then has to pause as he thinks of a reasonable explanation for him saying ‘Nay’ to the agent leaving without him. This also shows the Dukes jealousy as it is as if he doesn’t not want the agent to be admiring the Duchess any longer. The frequent use of caesura throughout the poem emphasises the Duke’s control over the entire conversation.
The Duke is manipulating the poem just like he manipulated his wife. Browning uses iambic pentameter to show the Duke’s controlling and manipulative nature. In line 1 the emphasis on ‘my’ shows he sees her as an object that belongs to him and that he is very possessive of her. The Duke also points out his statue of ‘Neptune… Taming a sea horse’ He thinks of himself as Neptune and his Duchess as the sea horse and he tried to tame her but he was unable to do which ultimately resulted in her death. All of the power holders in each poem are very possessive of their lovers. In Porphyria’s Lover he says ‘she was mine, mine’ and he killed her so that no one else could have her and because he believed it was her wish to be killed by him ‘her one darling wish would be heard’ In My Last Duchess the Duke believes that his wife is having an affair: ‘but thanked somehow-i do not know how’ He has her killed and made into a painting so that he can control her, posses her forever.
Now no one else can have her, only him. It is also ironic how even though he has killed her and has complete control of her she still excited jealousy, paranoia and possessiveness in the Duke. He has no reason to have a curtain hiding her portrait as he has control over who goes into that room, why only on her portrait? He obviously does not want anyone to see her. It is also ironic how everything that the Duke hated about his Duchess, Fra Pandolf managed to capture in his portrait of her ‘and cause enough For calling upon that spot of joy’ In La Belle Dame Sans Merci the lady traps him forever ‘I awoke and found me here, on the cold hill’s side’, therefore meaning no one else can have him and she can control him. In Porphyria’s Lover and La Belle Dame Sans Merci there is a power struggle throughout but which ultimately ends in the death or near death of the characters that had the power at the beginning of the poem.
In Porphyria’s Lover we see that Porphyria has the control at the beginning of the poem ‘She put my arm about her waist’ She is controlling his body, which then gets reversed at the end of the poem ‘I propp’d her head up as before’ The narrator seems to want to possess Porphyria so he reduces her to an object; a corpse. It is almost as if the narrator cannot bear the idea that he is not in control and feels he has to kill her in order to have complete power over her, both physically and mentally. In La Belle Dame Sans Merci The Knight seems to be in control at the beginning of the poem ‘I made a garland for her head’ He is giving her his favour, not the other way round. We then see the power being given over to the lady ‘She took me to her elfin grot’ she has now seized power and his taking him to her elfin grot and he is just following her.
The power play between the two characters ultimately ends up with her trapping him forever. ‘I awoke and found me here on the cold hills side’ The first and last stanza are incredibly similar and suggest the knights stasis. He is still ‘Alone and palely loitering’ just as he was before. However in My Last Duchess there is no power struggle, he simply orders someone to kill her and the job is done. Although he does have her killed it does not get rid of her memory and he cannot control; try though he might to get rid of her memory, it will always be there. It is almost as though she still has some sort of power over him, even in death that will always be there In La Belle Dame Sans Merci and My Last Duchess the seeming power holders may not actually have complete power over their lovers. In My Last Duchess the Duchess must have had some sort of power of the Duke.
The Duke got so wound up about the Duchess that he ended up killing her, showing that he greatly cared about her. Killing someone is a very passionate thing to do and to get to the point where you do end up killing someone there must have been some sort of connection in the first place. If the Duchess did not have some power over him then surely he would not have cared about her blushing? In La Belle Dame Sans Merci The lady has control over the Knight but it may be that nature has power over her ‘roots of relish sweet, And honey wild, and manna-dew…elfin grot’ The whole way through the poem there is the power struggle between the lady and the Knight which the lady ultimately ends up with her winning, but she seems to belong to nature and so therefore is not in complete control. Maybe that is why she trapped so many different power holders. All three of these poems manage to convey the theme of power and control very effectively. The poets may use different ways of conveying this but overall it works very well.