The Women in ‘My Last Duchess’ and ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’ represent two very different kinds of personality. Through a comparison of both poems, explain what these differences are and what effect the women have on the men around them. Although two very different poems, there are many similarities as well as differences between ‘My Last Duchess’ and ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’. In this essay I am going to compare and contrast the two poems written by Robert Browning (My last Duchess) and John Keats (La belle dame sans merci).
I am also going to examine what affect they have upon their lovers and the men around them. There are many noticeable differences between the Duchess and the Belle Dame. Firstly, they both have very different kinds of personality. The Duchess tends to be quite sweet and unprovoking. She is also very unaware of the feelings she generates between her and other men:
‘The bough of cherries some officious fool broke in the orchard for her’.
The Duke, to whom she is married to in this case seems to think she is flirtatious in this respect, however, Browning shows us that, although that may seem the case, she is so naive that she doesn’t realise she is doing that. The character of La Belle Dame is very different. She is very mysterious and powerful. This gives the impression that she may not be real and could, in fact be a fairy. As well as having this powerful side, the woman, or ‘faery’ as she is called, seems very sinister and inconsiderate.
It seems as if she is bewitching any man she finds, under the spell of her desire for a short romance, costing them their life. However, as well as having differences in character, they both have similarities with one another.
They are both young and beautiful from what we can tell, and are aware that they appeal to men. They are both flirtatious though it seems the Duchess is far too shy and unaware to realise this. They both, also, appreciate the power and simplicity of nature and not for wealth and status which rules the Dukes thoughts. This is shown in the following quote from ‘La Belle Dame and the quote above from ‘My Last Duchess’:- ‘She found me roots of relish sweet and honey wild and manna dew’. There are also many differences in what has happened to them both.
The Duchess was killed by the Duke mainly for her lack of interest in him and his wealth, possessions and status. The Belle Dame however, simply vanishes, but also seems to be killing off her ex-lovers by bewitching them with her love. The knight who falls under her spell in the poem describes his visions of these ghostly figures from his dreams after meeting this woman: ‘I saw pale kings and princes too, death pale were they all’. The Duchess was also in love with only one man- the Duke (though he thought otherwise), whilst La belle dame fell in love with many.
The Belle Dame is very aware of her beauty and uses it as a lethal weapon against any man who ventures near her. The Duchess is completely the opposite though. Being very shy, she doesn’t realise her true beauty and appeal to men other than the Duke. Both women, however, have maddening effects on their lovers. The Duchess by making the Duke so jealous of her appeal to other men, that he murders her, and the Belle Dame, by sending the Knight so insane that he simply ventures around the meads ‘alone and palely loitering’.