Theme Of Femininity In My Last Duchess

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This essay will approach the poem My Last Duchess, by Robert Browning, from two perspectives: Masculinity and femininity. The essay will illustrate how the abundant details of this poem can be clear representations of many of the concepts of masculinity and femininity contained in the pertaining theories.Among the theorists that will be used or referred to are Kate Millet,Janet Saltzman Chaves, Helene Cixous and Michel Foucault. But we have to take into consideration that the definitions of masculinity and femininity are wholly subjective observations of their authors. Noticeable and traditionally accepted attributes of masculinity and femininity differ across periods of time and cultures; and they include positive attributes and negative…show more content…
The argument presented is that women have been, since the dawn of time, demoted to the level of animals, used by men for procreation and pleasure, treated or maltreated as the master (man) deems fit. For her, this is “patriarchy – a system of female oppression stretching as far back as literary (and Biblical) texts could take us.” (2) Janet Saltzman Chafez describes seven areas of traditional masculinity in Western culture: physical (strong), functional (provider), sexual (sexually aggressive), emotional (unemotional), intellectual (rational), interpersonal (leader, dominating, disciplinarian), and other personal characteristics (proud, egotistical, decisive, uninhibited)(3) . Helene Cixous is concerned with the issue of a characteristically female or feminine mode of writing- ‘ecriturefeminenene’. “This involves the idea of a woman’s language by its diversity and multiplicity, a language opposed to patriarchal language, a language where fluidity opposes the order and logic of standard writing where women are assigned to the margins.” (4)Foucault “examines the social and historical contexts of ideas, such as school, prison, police force and asylum. For him, social scientific knowledge and power are inextricably…show more content…
This form makes it possible for the reader not only to follow the story from the point of view of one of the actors but also to understand his character”(3), and like any other poem of this form, it tells a story. The poem is set in the city of Ferrara in Italy during the late Italian Renaissance, probably the sixteenth century. “Browning may have modelled his speaker after Alfonso, Duke of Ferrara (1533-1598).” (2) The story is based on the life of Alfonso 11, the Duke of Ferrara, whose wife died after three years of marriage. The Duke is speaking to an agent negotiating the marriage of another wife. During the negotiations, the Duke accompanies the servant upstairs into his private art gallery and shows him the painted picture of his now dead wife, painted directly on the walls of the gallery by a great artist at the time, called Pandolf. The painting is kept behind a curtain that only the he can draw to reveal the painting to a visitor. The Duke comments on the painting and recounts the circumstances in which it was painted, and what became of his unfortunate last wife. He is drawing the agent’s attention, in particular, to his former wife’s beautiful facial features - her glance and smile, which mirror immense happiness. The reason for this happiness, the Duke stresses, is not his presence only, but of other men. ‘…Sir, ‘twas not/
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