Men are presented as monsters in Porphyria’s Lover and My Last Duchess. ‘ Discuss. A monster is defined as something which inspires horror and disgust and is shockingly hideous or frightful. The characters of both males in ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ and ‘My Last Duchess’ definitely give the impression of fitting this description, as they both commit, or at least command the committing of murders.
They are also controlling of the women in their lives and crave power over them – in both cases, the woman behaving in a way the man does not approve of is the reason for their demise. The characterisation of these men as monsters is further justified by their lack of remorse for their acts; the man in ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ argues that it was for her own good, and the man in ‘My Last Duchess’ is proudly recounting his actions to an envoy, showing he does not regret what he has done.
The only possible redeeming feature of the man in ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ is his insanity, as it could be argued that due to his mental instability he is not responsible for his own actions, and perhaps in ‘My Last Duchess’ the Duke may feel a shred of guilt for what he has done, which would not redeem him, but would make him less despicable and monstrous. It is immediately obvious that the men in both poems are violent and murderous; in ‘My Last Duchess’ the man “gave commands” so “all smiles stopped together”, implying that he ordered his wife to be killed.
The fact that commands were given for this to happen shows he considered his actions beforehand, and still decided to go ahead with the murder of his wife. The crime of his wife was to flirt with other men, a small crime for such a huge, permanent punishment. Her pleasure in flirting with other men is shown by the “spot of joy” which she called up, the the Duke’s view of this his made clear through the use of the noun “spot”, which connotes a blemish, a mark on her otherwise good character, and something disgusting which the Duke does not like.
The strict AABB rhyme structure shows that he puts thought into his actions and is an intelligent man, so it is clear that this man deliberately and cold-bloodedly ordered the death of his wife, an act which cannot be denied to be monstrous. In ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ the man actually commits the murder himself, as he “strangled her”, and the brutality and violence of the way in which Porphyria is killed makes her death seem worse. Also, the length of time strangulation takes shows that it was not a rash decision that was regretted a second later, but instead was a determined act of murder.
He trivialises this act, called it simply “a thing to do” as if it were the same as any other action and not the brutal ending of a life. This supports the view of him as a monster, as he does not show any respect for human life. Furthermore, both male characters are extremely controlling of the women, and do not allow them any freedom. The demanding character of the Duke in ‘My Last Duchess’ is shown through his use of imperatives – he commands the envoy to “sit” and “look” and “rise”, and although these commands are posed as interrogatives, when he asks “Will’t please you rise?
” it is clear that the envoy in fact has no other options and he must do as he is told. The Duke is also possessive, and treats his wives like his possessions. He calls his last wife, “my last Duchess”, because he thinks of her as belonging to him, and he also reduces her painting to just another object on display in his house, and once he has spoken about the painting of her he moves on to exhibit some of his other possessions such as “Neptune”.
This diminishes the importance of the Duchess are an actual once-living person, and reduces her to simply a piece of art to be admired The sculpture of Neptune “taming a sea-horse” could be a metaphor for the Duke and previous Duchess’s relationship, as the Duke tries to tame the Duchess and control her behaviour. He thinks she should be “lessoned”, because he wants to tell her how to behave, but when he cannot control her, his solution is to have her killed – surely an act that inspires horror and disgust, as a monster should allegedly do.
In ‘Porphyria’s Lover’, the man is also very controlling, and he wants Porphyria to “give herself to [him] forever”, the suggestion of eternity showing that he does not want to ever let her go or have any freedom at all. He is also possessive of Porphyria and there is repetition of the possessive pronoun “mine” to show this. Both characters also control the way the reader hears the events of the story, as both poems are dramatic monologues told using a 1st person narrative voice, so the only point of view of the story the reader gets to hear is theirs.
For instance, it is surely not true that Porphyria felt “no pain”, and yet this is what the narrator believes, or would like to believe, and so this is what the reader is told. It follows then, that both characters are also unreliable narrators, as they give skewed versions of events and reveal aspects of their personalties they do not know they are revealing. For example in ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ we know the narrator probably has mental health problems, and perhaps has schizophrenia, as the verb “debated” suggests two separate personalties.
This is undoubtedly not something the narrator would have chosen to share, as he is trying to portray himself as sane and justify his actions, so it must be concluded that he is an unreliable narrator. This extreme control, not only over the women in the poems, but also over the information and point of view the readers gets is very manipulative, and it could easily be argued that it is monstrous to take away someone’s freedom.
In addition, the probable lack of remorse felt by either character is monstrous, as the taking of a life is usually something that would result in enormous grief, but this does not seem to concern these characters. Both poems have an implied audience, so both men are talking to someone, and their recounting of their murders could be seen as gloating. In ‘Porphyria’s Lover’, the man says “be sure”, as though there is someone who he is reassuring, and ‘My Last Duchess’ is sometimes in 2nd person: “not the first are you”, and there are also instances of rhetorical questions such as “how shall I say?
” that indicate he is speaking to someone, and it is revealed that his audience is an envoy sent from the father of a woman he intends to make his next Duchess. The murder of his last Duchess would seem an odd piece of information to send to the father of his next Duchess, unless it could be interpreted as a warning and a threat to let them know what happens when his wives step out of line. The use of the killing of his wife as something to boast of, and to control and frighten his next wife is surely monstrous.
In ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ the narrator leaves the reader in no doubt that he feels no remorse whatsoever for his actions, as he tries and appears to succeed in justifying what he has done to himself, and manages to convince himself that she has in fact “gained” from what his has done, despite the loss of her own life. The last line of the poem also seems gloating as he exclaims “And yet God has not said a word! ”, as if he has got away with his crime because he has not been struck down by God, and has somehow triumphed.
This shows he obviously has no regrets about what he has done, and even seem to enjoy recounting his story to whoever is listening. However, one possible defence could be made for the man in ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ as he is likely to be insane, and therefore cannot be held responsible for his actions. ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ uses an ABABB rhyme structure, and the asymmetry here hints at an unbalance mental state. He is also deluded in his beliefs of Porphyria’s undying love, as he takes her “murmuring how she loved [him]” to mean that she is making a commitment of eternal loyalty and even worships him.
His fantasies of Porphyria’s love show that he is not in a sane state of mind. He also describes his heart as “fit to break” and this represents the fragility of his mind and sanity, and demonstrates his instability. If he is indeed not of stable mind and in need of treatment he cannot be completely at fault for his murder, as he is mentally disturbed and would not be fit to stand trial and so would not be allowed to take responsibility for his crimes. In ‘My Last Duchess’, despite the Duke’s show of confidence in his immoral acts and apparent lack of guilt, there are subtle hints that he may feel more guilt than he lets on.
When he claims that “her looks went everywhere”, it may not only be referring to her flirtations with other men, but also how he feels her reproachful gaze upon him, inducing guilty feelings within him. He also covers up her portrait, as “none puts by the curtain” but him, and this may be because he does not want to see her face or eyes as they make him feel guilty. The possibilities of insanity and perhaps a little remorse, means that the males are perhaps not beings of complete evil, and so cannot be called monsters.
The men in ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ and ‘My Last Duchess’ are, on the whole, presented as monsters as they both commit or order horrific acts of murder, for non-existent or trivial reasons. There could be features of both men, whether insanity or guilt, that could possibly redeem them slightly but nothing on the scale that could compensate or account for murder. They do not only take the lives of their victims, but try to take their freedom as well. They show almost no remorse for their actions, and are portrayed as complex, but ultimately utterly despicable characters that are certainly monstrous.