Portrayal of Women in La Belle Dame Sans Merci, Lady of Shalott, My last Duchess, and Porphyria's Lover
Within the five poems we have studied, 'La Belle Dame Sans Merci',
'Lady of Shalott', 'My last duchess', 'Porphyria's lover' and
'Marianna'. Women are portrayed as weak characters with no voice. All
of these poems are seen through the eyes of men, who accuse them of
being self-centred and lacking in morals. However, these judgements
can be placed upon the men themselves. The social/historical position
of women during the nineteenth century can be identified within the
poems. Browning's dramatic monologues in particular show women's lack
of voice and dependency on men during the eighteen hundreds. Showing
both women as possessions of men.
The powerlessness of women is shown within Tennyson's poems; 'Mariana'
and ' The Lady of Shalott'. 'Mariana' wastes her life because of a man
and the 'The Lady of Shalott' looses her life due to Sir Lancelot.
However, in Keats' poem 'La Belle Dame Sans Merci", the balance of
power changes. The mythical female in the poem woos the knight and
takes him under her control, but still she is portrayed negatively.
She is displayed as a deceitful character who lures men into danger
'she took me to her elfin grot. And there she wept and sigh'd full
sore'. 'La Belle Sans Merci. Thee hath in thrall.' This quote
highlights the female's seduction of the Knight and his piers.
'La belle dame' is described as a beautiful character implied by her
name. However the other side of her character is shown within the rest
of the title 'Sans Merci', without Merci. 'Her hair was long and her
foot was light', 'Her eyes were wild', perhaps relating to the
empowering side of 'La belle dame'. Keats reinforces his point by
using 'wild eyes' once again in the later part of the poem. Keats
describes her, as a 'faerys child' and later says in 'language strange
she said I love thee true' - this implies her mythical quality which
mystifies and captures the knight .
The poem represents three characters the narrator, the knight and 'La
belle dame.' The story is told by the knight, but begins with opening
questions from the narrator, 'o what can ail thee knight at arms,
Alone and palely loitering? Keats portrays 'La belle dame' in a
negative light, as a character who distrusts and mistreats the knight.
Perhaps this expresses keats' feelings towards women, however he
creates separate characters with different personalities. Although 'La
belle dame' is described as a beautiful mythical creature she uses the
knight and leaves him to die. In the last three stanzas of the poem
the knight describes the sight of dead men on the ' cold hill side'
who have also been enthralled by the 'faery's child'. Her kind words