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Consider The Presentation Of Evil Characters In

Poetry: Shakespeare?s ?Richard III?, Robert Browning Essay, Research Paper


three pieces of poetry I will be looking at, Shakespeare?s ?Richard III?,

Robert Browning?s ?My last Duchess? and W.H. Auden?s ?Victor? share the same

central relationship: the evilness and cruelty of their main characters. In

most cases, this is fuelled by the character’s jealousy, although all three

appear respectable when taken at face value. Each

piece of poetry differs in structure since they are from 3 different periods. ?Richard

III? is about a 15th century nobleman who murders his way to the

throne. We heard him speak in his soliloquy. The poetry is written in Blank

verse with ten syllable unrhymed lines. He expresses his thoughts out aloud.

Richard is totally explicit at all times and does not try and hide his evil

nature. ?My

last Duchess? deals with an evil 18th century Italian Aristocrat,

who speaks in the form of a dramatic monologue with rhyming couplets. He speaks

a servant about marrying his master?s daughter. He reveals his character in an

implicit way. ?Victor?

tells the story of a 20th Century man who turns psychopathic and

murders his wife when he finds out about her past. It is quite light-hearted

and humorous. It

is written in a form which reflects the traditional ballad in 4 line stanzas,

with every second line rhyming. It has a prominent regular rhyme and also a

very consistent rhythm. The Duke in ?My Last

Duchess? is shown as a formal, cold-hearted man who despised his late wife?s

joy in simple things. The duke speaks calmly throughout the poem, thus hiding

his true nature. He wanted the Duchess? respect though all he could see was her

pleasure from all around her. Even in then opening lines of ?My Last Duchess? we

begin to wonder what has happened to the duchess: ????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????? ?That?s my last duchess painted on the wall Looking as if she were alive??We can clearly see how the duke reveal his need to

show his power and control, and that he is indeed unnaturally possessive, since

he has the Duchess? painting behind a curtain: The painting is behind a curtain for his pleasure

only, for his eyes only, just as a wife should be. Now he has complete control.

By controlling who is able to view the painting, the

duke fulfils his need to exhibit his power: ??Since none puts by The curtain I have drawn for

you, but I?The Duke describes

how people are surprised by her seductive, passionate glance, and he gets very

jealous when people admire the painting. The

Duke goes on throughout the poem describing his wife in various attitudes. He

describes the way she poses for the portrait and the reader can sense his

jealousy over the way she is looking at the painter, FrÀ Pandolf. The Duke

gives the impression that he thinks his wife was having an affair. The Duke thought his wife should be for him and his

pleasures only. He did not like it when FrÀ

Pandolf, the artist who painted the portrait said: ?Paint ?Must never hope to reproduce the faint ?Half-flush that dies along her


though the Duke despised his wife, he chooses his words carefully. He is very

suggestive but does not let his guard down by giving any explicit information,

and again, his jealousy shines through:?She had A heart – how shall

I say? – too soon made glad, Too easily

impressed; she liked whate?er She looked on, and

her looks went everywhere?Since

he is the Duke with the "nine-hundred-years-old name", he believes

that he must be shown great respect and be the centre of attention. Therefore,

he feels threatened by all the attention the duchess apparently received

everywhere she went; such as from the artist Pandolf or the "officious

fool" who brought her cherries. It seems her presence drew others’

attention away from the duke so that he did not have control of the situation. In

this way the duchess seemed to possess a type of power which was unacceptable

to the duke:"?all and each Would draw from her alike

the approving speech? Or blush, at least."He not only feels betrayed that "she liked

whate’er / She looked on, and her looks went everywhere", but he also

cannot tolerate that she seemed to treat everyone and every gift equally: ?She thanked men, – good! But thanked Somehow – I know not

how – as if she ranked My gift of a

nine-hundred-years-old name With anybody?s

gift.? ?The Duke reveals to

the reader that he never discussed his jealousy or feelings with his wife. He

never told her about the things that he disliked about her, as he thought that

this was stooping below his level: ??and I choose Never to stoop? As one of his possessions, the duke’s wife could

never be treated as his equalThe

duke reveals himself as a very self-centred, arrogant, egotistical man, who

preferred to remain distantly dissatisfied, rather than to try to remedy the

situation and put his unease at rest. He was a distant man with a cold

formality, disliking conversations. Even though she is now dead, the Duke likes

to think that he still has control of his late wife by hiding her behind a

curtain. He does this so that her glance doesn?t attract another men. Or

the fact that she smiled whenever he "passed her; but who passed without/

Much the same smile?" We assume the Duke

orders the death of his wife, though he again hides the true meaning in his

words. In the following quote, the duke seems more evil and threatening to the

reader because suggesting what he did is more frightening than saying it. He is

very implicit: ??This grew; I gave

commands; Then all smiles

stopped together.? Indeed,

he seems to be more of a ?woman collector? in the way that he collects art, as

he sets his sights on the daughter of the Count: ?Though his fair daughter?s self, as I

avowed At starting, is my

object? This word ?object?,

while it means ?aim?, also shows that the Duke wants to add this woman to his

collection – almost like a piece of art. In the same breath,

he draws his guest?s attention to his latest acquisition – a new bronze in the

shape of Neptune, the mythical Roman god of the sea, taming a sea horse. This

is also very suggestive, as the duke reveals he wants to be powerful like

Neptune and his new wife to be the sea horse.Browning

deliberately uses 3 very harsh ?k? sounds in the last line. They bring out the

cruelty in the Duke?s character, and almost resembles large iron doors closing,

as if they were trapping the new wife in with the Duke:?Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me!?The

fact that the last word is ?me? is very significant as it re-enforces the

Duke?s egotism and self-centredness.It

is my opinion that Shakespeare wanted to reflect the medieval idea that an evil

mind must dwell in an evil body, and he reflects Richard?s evilness very

cleverly through his poetry. He uses a soliloquy because it is a great poetic

device to reveal characters, as Richard speaks his thoughts out aloud to us. He

is a man who seems devoid of feelings and he reveals himself immediately to the

audience, so we soon find out he is ruthless and totally arrogant:?And therefore, since I

cannot prove a lover To entertain these fair

well-spoken days, I am determined to prove a

villain?? ?I that am curtailed of this

fair proportion, Cheated of feature by

dissembling nature??The

entire soliloquy is based on a series of contrast such as war and peace,

softness and hardness and masculinity and femininity:?Now is the winter of our

discontent Made glorious summer by this

sun of York?? ?To fright the souls of

fearful adversaries, He capers nimbly in a lady?s

chamber?? In

the lines above Shakespeare has used harsh sounds to suggest the harshness and

pain of war. Shakespeare

uses alliteration to reinforce the meaning of these contrasting ideas, creating

and evil and ruthless effect: ??In the deep bosom of the

ocean buried. Now are our brows bound with

victorious wreaths??Shakespeare

uses the ?b? sound to bring out the harshness by creating manly, muscular

language. On

the other hand the harsh ?b? sounds are contrasted with soft feminine sounds

using the letter ?l?: ??to

the lascivious pleasing of a lute.? Shakespeare

also uses Metaphors to bring out meaning: ?Grim-visaged

war has smoothed his wrinkled front? It

is obvious that Richard enjoyed the harsh times and has contempt for peace and

love:?But I, that am not shaped

for sportive tricks Nor made to court an amorous

looking glass? ?Why I, in this weak piping

time of peace, Have no delight to pass away

the time.?From

these quotes and many more we appreciate the repetitious use of ?I?; suggesting

Richard?s self-obsession, which re-enforces his bitterness at his own

deformity:?Cheated of feature by dissembling nature, Deformed, unfinished, sent

before my time Into this

breathing world, scarce half made up-?Shakespeare

uses many metaphors to describe Richard?s deformity: ?curtailed?,

?rudely stamped?, ?unfinished?, ? cheated of feature?, and ?sent before my

time? are just some of them. Richard

reveals his barefaced evil character to the audience and uses contrasts between

his evil and King Edward?s noble character:?Plots have I laid, inductions

dangerous?? ?And if King Edward be as

true and just As I am subtle, false and


last part of Richard?s Soliloquy reinforces his evil character, when he says as

Clarence approaches him: ?Dive thoughts,

down to my soul ? here Clarence comes!?This

line suggests that Richard?s soul is already in hell, by his use of ?down to my

soul? if we go by the typical belief that hell is below and heaven is above. Richard

III is an excellent example of how Shakespeare uses alliteration, metaphors,

and contrasts in Richard?s soliloquy to successfully bring out Richard?s evil

character and his traits of selfishness and lust for power.?Victor?

is a very modern poem, written as a parody of a traditional ballad. The main

character Victor, is a young man who, like the Duke of Ferrara murders his wife

after becoming insanely jealous in this darkly comic poem, however Victor is

different in a very important way. Instead of painting a truly evil character

like Shakespeare and Browning do, Auden provides a background which tries to

explain the psychology behind Victors actions, this background being his

childhood. We do not see Victor as an outright evil character, but more as a

victim of society and of his father?s religious indoctrination, and we almost

feel sorry for him. As the poem opens, the narrator tells the story of Victor and we can

immediately see he is brought up in a strict religious way and that his father

had a strong influence on him when he becomes older:?His father took a bible from his pocket and read ?Blessed

are the pure in heart.? ? ??climbed

up into bed, took his bible and read Of

what happened to Jezebel? We

can see throughout the start of the poem that Victor was over-protected and

sheltered from life. This is apparent when he grows up and what people say

about him:??Victor?s

a decent fellow but He?s

too mousey to go far.?Because

of his bringing up, Victor is innocent of the world and very inexperienced with

women. One day he meets a woman called Anna, a very experienced and glamorous

blonde girl:?Victor

met her upon the stairs And

fell in love with her.?However

when Victor finds out about her sexual past after marrying her, he cannot

handle it and has a breakdown, becoming a psychopath. In the end, everywhere he

turns he can hear his father?s authoritative voice commanding him to kill his


came to the allotments and the rubbish heap; And

his tears came tumbling down????O

Father, what shall I do?? And

the river answered; ?Kill?.?I

have really enjoyed all the pieces of poetry, but I specially enjoyed the evil

character in ?My Last Duchess? because of?

its ambiguity; it just makes you want to read it again and again. The

Duke is a very threatening character and he sounds much more so by suggesting

what he does than actually saying it.