analysis of women in robert browning and shakespeare

The poem’s ‘The Laboratory’, ‘My Last Duchess’, written by Robert Browning, and the play by the late William Shakespeare ‘Macbeth’ are all gravitating to the subject of women, but in different lights. ‘The Laboratory’ is a tragic poem of a wounded heart belonging to a woman who’s converted her feeling into rage towards her husband mistresses. She decides to get her own back by assassinating her lover’s paramour. ‘My Last Duchess’ is about a vulnerable woman’s soul who has had it taken away from her by her autocratic husband, the Duke. ‘Macbeth’ is a play of contradiction and ambition. Driven to becoming King, Macbeth will kill all and any that get in his way. He puts his faith in the words and prophesies of three witches. With these three pieces of text, I will be comparing them and contrasting them on the way woman are presented.

The female role in ‘The Laboratory’ can be interpreted as a dominant and sadistic persona as she has the courage to even think of, let alone carry out and enjoy the dastardly deed. Her strength is shown through different devices. For example, ‘Grinds away…’ or ‘pound at thy…’ has adapted the use of onomatopoeia to demonstrate her tenacity to carry out the plan, also her rage that has been harbouring inside of her giving her a burst of angered induced strength. Also, the way the structure of the text is written out resembles an instruction list, which can be linked back to the poison making, hence how people could interpret this to be very domineering as instructions are authoritarian. Although she may seem cool and collected, other quotes suggest otherwise. Robert Browning uses the quote ‘laugh, laugh at me now’ to highlight her weaker side.

This could also be understood as her paranoia surfacing her exterior because she feels like they are making fun of her for her naivety of her lover sticking to one woman. Also, it could be taken as her not being strong willed enough to keep her lover under her wing, therefore letting him slip away to another woman. Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’ Anti-hero Lady Macbeth is a very well written character to show authority in a woman. At one stage, Macbeth is debating whether to go forth the plot of killing the king to become king himself and starts to doubt whether it will work. Lady Macbeth was there to antagonise him, rile him up into following through by throwing utterance at him such as ‘Art thou afeard’ and also ‘And live a coward in thine own esteem’.

This exhibits her dominance over Macbeth even though in the time the play was based men would be more superior towards women. Also, another quote that could be used is ‘Look like th’ innocent flower but be the serpent under it.’ This quote was in reference to the bible story of ‘Adam and Eve’. It was when the serpent tempted Adam and Eve into eating this forbidden fruit which is very close to what Lady Macbeth was doing to Macbeth, taunting him and persuading him to do the deed.

The Victorian and Elizabethan era were the times the pieces were written and all were written by men. The view of the woman presented in the text possess are very subordinate picture of themselves. Men ruled and women become subjacent. In line 53 of ‘My Last Duchess’, Browning writes ‘…is my object’. The Duke didn’t even conceal the fact that he found his wife to be a possession and openly admitted it in his monologue of thoughts. He enlightened our vague idea of arrogance by boasting his title.

This shows that in his mind, she needed no identity as he often refers to her as ‘she’, ‘duchess’ and ‘her’ showing her insignificance to him. Also, it shows a possessive love over her, without ever mentioning it explicitly, in the way he speaks of his wife being ‘too easily impressed’. Therefore unsecure in addition to pathetic about himself and also slightly delusional thus pushing his superiority to the top to show her he has power over the relationship. On the other hand, female personage in ‘The Laboratory’ demonstrates how she views herself in her own perspective.

She scorns herself for being ‘minion’, a submissive unlike her lover’s mistress which is a clear indication of how the husband’s sex antics have caused her to think meekly of herself and although it may seem wrong it, it was perfectly normal to have a wife and a mistress in the era. This was placed so she couldn’t really do anything about it. What could have also been picked up on could have been the fact she blames the women that have lover has fooled round with rather than the man himself. This could be due to the times as men were known to have extra’s so women had no way of blaming them as they had been brainwashed into thinking it wasn’t the men’s fault and the only way they could get back at them it to blame the woman involved.

Lady Macbeth’s lack of femininity could be because she feels that her gender is holding her back as physical strength and courage are such masculine qualities, which she sees important to kill, relating to the back to the fact that males ruled and women had no power or say in anything. The quote ‘unsex me here’ is a strong display of pleading to the ‘spirits’ to vanquish her feminine feelings so that she would be less caring like a man and feel no guilt in her actions. Also, she possess a lack motherly qualities as she says ‘How tender, ‘tis this love the babe…..pluck’d my nipple out from his boneless gums, And dashed the brains out’. This is a clear indication of no mercy and compassion which she would relate back to men in her mind, thus her mimicking to feel less feminine. Additionally, she mentions a ‘he’ in her last quote also suggesting to the fact she doesn’t feel women to be powerful enough and feels like she would not even think about giving birth to a girl.

This also leads on to ‘The Laboratory’s leading lady and her magnified exsistance of feminine qualities and how Browning presents them using rhyming couplets. ‘Quick—is it finished? The colour’s too grim! Why not soft like phial’s, enticing and dim?’ is a convincing quote to use as although this poem is about death, the way it would be read would be very quickly and in a jaunty and light hearted way. This could be perceived as a very ladylike way as most death poems would be placed in such a mannish way. Conjointly, she uses very feminine objects such as poison and a ‘lozenge’ which is considered a weak along with sly form of killing someone, but on top of that, she got a male to make her make the concoction. Lastly, it is very effeminate the fact she is killing the women rather than killing her husband which is considered a normal womanly thing to do and she lives up to the stereotype.

The analysis of how woman are presented in each piece have concluded to the same fact of they all are treated the same as in how men treat them like second class citizens. They all differ in ways such as ‘Macbeth’ involved a woman who was very manipulative, ‘My Last Duchess’ where she had no voice what so ever and another, ‘The Laboratory’, where she used her physical being to make a stand against a man. To conclude my analysis, I feel the way women are presented in these are reflected to the time era they were all presented therefore, very one sided as they were both written by men.

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