How do the poems "Havisham", "The Sisters" and "Porphyria's Lover" present the theme of madness?

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How do the poems ‘Havisham’, ‘The Sisters’ and ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ present the theme of madness?

‘Havisham’ by Carol Anne Duffy, ‘The Sisters’ by Alfred Lord Tennyson and ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ by Robert Browning, are all studies of madness. Within each poem the main theme is presented in different ways such as using dramatic monologue, free verse and satire. Through examining poetic techniques and devices closely, I will identify the ways in which madness is portrayed in these poems.

Carol Anne Duffy’s ‘Havisham’, published in the late 20th century, is based on the novel ‘Great Expectations’ by Charles Dickens. In the book, the character Havisham is percieved as a mentally strong person, who would never want to show any type of weakness. However, Duffy takes a satirical approach towards Havisham’s character. She twists Havisham and makes her reveal the weakness and anger in her ‘heart that breaks’, ‘I stabbed’.

        Havisham is shown to be mad and obsessed with her tragic past ‘not a day since then I haven’t wished him dead’ as her life seems to have stopped at the time she was jilted on her wedding day ‘the dress yellowing’. She has never stepped outside her house since, which also stopped in time like the rest of the things in her life, ‘I stabbed at a wedding cake’. Everything is in the same place as it was at twenty to nine, the time Havisham was jilted. This reveals her insanity as she who would choose to live like that for so many years?

        Havisham is a completely obsessive character, who is determined not to let go of her past and keeps going over it again and again ‘ropes on the back of my hands’. She despises herself ‘spinster’ and sees herself as a skeleton ‘slewed mirror’, all distorted.

        The poem is written as a dramatic monologue which shows that Havisham wants everyone to believe she is  a strong character, but actually has no idea what she is revealing ‘b-b-b-breaks’. This would make confirm anyone’s beliefs that she is mad, as anyone who can talk about how much they feel shattered and live like it’s the end of the world, and still think people believe she is strong have completely lost their mind. She feels completely trapped and is nervous wreck.

        Havisham shows madness in many ways, firstly by the use of tautology which creates a rambling effect ‘full length, her, myself, who did this to me’. The pace picks up at these points, which reinforces the rambling. Rambling is a good technique to use as anyone ‘normal’ would not be shown to waffle whilst talking.

        There is also the use of oxymoron’s ‘beloved sweetheart bastard’, ‘love’s hate’ which shows madness in the sense that she is confused. She can’t seem to let go of her ex-fiancé but also blames him for the state that she is in. She’s completely lost.  Havisham is also shown to talk to herself all throughout the poem ‘who did this to me?’, ‘cowing nooooo at the wall’.  This shows her madness even more as this is a stereotypical habit we believe ‘mad people’ have.

        There are a number of additional themes used apart from obsession such as revenge. The use of colour ‘green’ and ‘give me a male corpse’ shows Havisham wants her ex-fiancé to feel exactly what she does, and also over a long period of time.

        Sex is also another theme used. In the time ‘Havisham’ was set, for women, marriage did not just mean falling in love. It also meant turning into a woman by having sex. This is why Havisham almost spits out the word ‘spinster’ and often imagines what it would be like to have sex, ‘my fluent tongue in its mouth’. However, she always suddenly wakes up ‘bite awake’. Love is presented by the use of the colour ‘red’ and the word ‘love’. This shows that although she hates her ex-fiancé and never names him ‘its ear’, ‘its mouth’, she does feel passionate towards him. This is also shown by the use of the antithesis ‘loves hate’. She doesn’t want to love him and hates him for jilting her. This again reinforces the fact that Havisham is mad, as who would still love someone that jilted them?

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        Another style used by Carol Anne Duffy, apart from dramatic monologue, is by writing the poem in first person ‘I haven’t’. This is a very effective technique to use as the reader gets to witness Havisham’s madness for themselves, instead of hearing it through someone else’s point of view. It helps the reader see exactly where Havisham reveals her madness and obsession ‘I stabbed at a wedding cake’, ‘I stink and remember’.

        Duffy uses colour effectively as a metaphor for Havisham’s feelings. ‘Dark green’ is used to describe her eyes, but also to show her jealousy and her thirst for ...

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