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How are the relationships between men and women represented in “My Last Duchess”, “First Love” and “How do I love thee”?

The poems “My Last Duchess” (1842), by Robert Browning, “First Love”, (1821), by John Clare and “How do I love thee” (1850), by Elizabeth Barrett Browning are all concerned with the relationships between men and women. These poems all portray the relationships in different ways and present love and the consequences falling in love has, in different ways. In the first poem “My Last Duchess”, the Duke is in control as he is a very proud man. The Duke is very confident and this makes him arrogant. The relationship in this poem is portrayed as unequal and it is dominated by pride and not love. The Duke speaks very formally, this links with his power and pride; he also doesn’t show any emotion in his words. In the second poem “First Love”, the woman is in control and the man is broken hearted because his first love is over, and it has not been sustained. It is unrequited love because of this the relationship is ambiguous. The poem “How do I love thee” presents a positive relationship. The woman reinforces how much she loves him, and nothing can get in the way. It is written in the form of a sonnet, which is a traditional form of love poems.

“My Last Duchess” begins with the speaker showing off the portrait of the Duchess.

“That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall, looking as if she were alive. I call, that piece a wonder, now”.

The Duke is addressing his guest and it almost feels like he is speaking to the reader. This quote shows the Duke’s love for the painting of his Duchess, through these words it sounds like he is almost praising her.

In “My Last Duchess” the Duke talks in a formal tone, like he is proud or sure of himself.

“My gift of a nine-hundred-year-old name”.

This suggests the Duke is aware of his high status, and full of his own importance, which gives him an air of arrogance. According to the Duke, the Duchess did not show she was grateful for the special gift that the Duke gave to her. She ranked his gift as she did anyone else’s. The Duke’s relationship with his last wife was very negative; their relationship was more about pride than love. He describes his last wife as a flirt,

“She looked and her looks went everywhere”.

This implies the Duchess was a very happy lady and must have liked everyone because she smiled at many people, this could also indicate she was quite content and also enjoyed the attention of other men. The Duke refers to the Duchess as a mere object; this insinuates that he did not think very highly of her.

“At starting, is my object”.

The Duke makes his wife sound like one of his possessions, like an old sock, something he can control. As we approach the end of the poem the Duke reveals that the Duchess was murdered. The Duke may have personally killed her, or paid someone else to do his work.

“All smiles stopped together”.

If the Duke did kill the Duchess this may be because he was jealous of her behaviour towards other men. The Duke obviously did not like her behaviour, if he’d stoop as low to kill her. He must have had really negative feelings towards her; this is also shown when he repeatedly regarded his wife as an object.

In “First Love” the man is the more active part in the relationship. All the love is coming from him; this is known as unrequited because he is not loved back. The narrator is really gloomy and his life hurts as a result of love.

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“My life and all seemed turned to clay”.

He feels like his life is over and he is finding it very hard as love is controlling him. The man doesn’t reveal much about his relationship to the woman, just that it was very intense and perfect.

The poet’s love for her husband is very strong in “How do I love thee?” During the poem she talks about how much she loves him and nothing can get in the way. “How do I love thee” is made more convincing because it includes a lot of persuasive techniques. For ...

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