Female Villainy Essay

1731 words - 7 pages

Female villainy is explored through Shakespeare’s tragic antagonist Lady Macbeth, a dominant and manipulative temptress who fights against the role a stringently patriarchal society has granted her. Similarly in Browning’s dramatic monologue ‘The Laboratory’, we hear the voice of a subversive and emotionally disturbed jilted lover, preparing a poison for her rival in love. In contrast, in romantic poet Keats’ ballad ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’, female villainy is developed from the perspective of a ‘knight at arms’, retelling his experiences with a femme fatale whom like LM, sexually manipulates her lover. Similarly in Browning’s dramatic monologue ‘My Last Duchess’ the reader is introduced ...view middle of the document...

Unlike LM, She conforms to societal expectations and despite the Dukes attempts to demonize her, we as the impartial observer can see she is no villain, merely a victim of her husband’s paranoia. Due to the Duke’s narrow and incapacious view of femininity, reflected by the measured iambic pentameter used by Browning, the Duchess is berated for her feminine reactions to simple pleasures ‘twas not her husband’s presence only, called that spot of joy’. Although the duchess is first perceived as inferior to her controlling husband; as the monologue progresses, revealing more about the duke, the audience learns of his obsession, suggesting that the duchess, like LM does in fact have power over her husband. Even in death, the ‘last duchess painted on the wall’ (notice the double entendre, is he referring to his late duchess, or the fact that he has had many duchess’?) haunts the duke, prompting him to continually ask himself ‘how such a glance came there’. The painting becomes another object, just like his statue of ‘Neptune taming a seahorse’, that he uses to boast of his power whilst inadvertently revealing his psychopathy and severe God complex.
LM is perceived as deceptive and immoral, she calls for the ‘thick night’ and ‘dunnest smoke of hell’ to conceal her crimes, this imagery insinuates that despite her desire to be ‘unsex[ed]’ and to stop the ‘passage to remorse’, she still wishes to retain some of her morality by covering her sins from God. Her deception is further cemented through Shakespeare’s use of literary devices; the quotation ‘honoured hostess’ is used to describe LM and displays visible yet not audible alliteration, hinting at the recurring theme in Macbeth that ‘fair is foul and foul is fair’. This notion is again expressed when LM tells Macbeth to ‘look like the innocent flower but be the serpent under it’ alluding to her symbolic role as Eve from the Garden of Eden, whom tempts Adam (allegorical to Macbeth) to eat the forbidden fruit (allegorical to the crown and the atrocities that must be committed it order to secure it). Shakespeare uses LMs emulation of the biblical eve ironically, as she is unusually detached from religion in a devoutly religious society.
Not dissimilar to LM is the speaker in Browning’s dramatic monologue ‘The Laboratory’. The speaker’s intention to deceive is exposed through her actions; the quotation ‘tying thy glass mask tightly’ contains harsh alliterative sounds to suggest the speaker’s desperation to literally and metaphorically conceal her true identity. The mask is however made of glass; it is fragile and transparent, allowing the audience to perceive her true characteristics. Browning uses the assonance of vowels in the first stanza to slow down the pace of the poem and depict a sadistic yet methodical speaker, who relishes and indulges in her evil schemes. However, as the monologue progresses the fragile mask begins to crack, sporadic punctuation, anapaestic meter and stark diction reveal an...

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