This Tusitala conversation examines Shelley’s Ozymandias and Browning’s My Last Duchess from the ‘Character and Voice’ section of the AQA Anthology. Janet Lewison and Mark Wrigley explore the ambivalent characters of the Duke and Ozymandias, looking in particular at the use of chronology, audience and word choice. We also examine the complexities of the narratorial point of view too. Students will find this conversation helpful for their examinations and essays as it offers lots of interesting ideas for their own analyses.
Yet with Browning in My last Duchess, we are trapped, forced to listen half fearing that we too may become something else to be collected like the bronze statue of Neptune as the Duke callously carries on his walk through his ancestral home and life.
Duke reminds me of Medusa in this enthusiasm for frozen life. He is a cold collector, storing away representations of original ‘life’ preferring such inanimate objects to their originals. Wholeness is illusory with these objects. They are examples of grotesque metonymy perhaps?
I think Shelley is playing on the idea of fragmentation with his broken stones abandoned in the desert. He uses metonymy to render his subject futile. For all the ambition in the world can be reduced to the broken pieces of a stone, long abandoned to the merciless onslaught of time.
Little wonder that both poems give off an atmosphere of isolation and psychological alienation. This atmosphere emanates from the use of metonymy and synecdoche as nothing is whole. It gestures ‘back’ to wholeness, but such integration is long gone!
On a different subject Mark, yet still related to power, what do you feel about the Duke’s mannered politeness in Browning’s poem?
Well in My last Duchess, we/the courtier are in a position of being made to listen- or compelled to listen. Compelled because of social rank, and compelled from appalled fascination with the Duke’s words and his combination of authority and macabre insinuation.
The Duke’s disingenuousness verges (deliberately, I think) on the comic. He has the spurious politesse of the powerful: ‘will it please you to sit and look at her?’ is not a request or invitation, but a command. Again, near the end , in ‘Will’t please you rise?‘ he dictates by means of request. The elision between the courtier and the reader is an ingenious device by Browning which, by placing us as a subordinate, means we experience powerlessness, an absence of agency and voice that carries disturbing suggestions of the powerlessness of the Duchess. (A non-name that only has meaning with reference to his rank.)
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