Comparing Social Norms in My Last Duchess by Robert Browning and Ulysses by Alfred Tennyson

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When one travels, it is easy to observe differences in social norms from country to country. One may also observe differences within a country, for example, the social norms of a small town or village versus those of a large metropolis. Differences in social norms can also be observed in literature. This essay will focus on two dramatic monologues, which were written by poets who lived in England during the same period. Robert Browning published My last Duchess in 1842, the same year that Alfred Tennyson published Ulysses. Both poets lived in England during the Victorian era. However, by examining characters from their poetry, namely Alfonso in My Last Duchess and Odysseus in Ulysses, we can see that they express opposite norms concerning controlling power, change, form and death.

“E'en then would be some stooping; and I choose Never to stoop. Oh sir, she smiled, no doubt, whene'er I passed her; but who passed without Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands; Then all smiles stopped together” (Line 42-46) (Browning 714). This implies that Alfonso can't sand his wife's behavior, which leads him to kill her. He doesn't want to stoop for her, which means he doesn't want to give in to her to gain her attention in that way. Instead of being nice to her, he chooses to affect his power over her, a power he is afraid to lose. Yet even after he kills her, he keeps her picture, and covers it with the curtain. This is his way of putting her in her place, a prison of sorts, in which he chooses when and to whom she will ever smile again. Then he says to the servant of the Count of Tyrol “the curtain I have drawn for you” and he shows the picture to him. From Alfonso’s words, we can tell that he is satisfied with this action becau...

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... In My Last Duchess, Browning shows that thing has a form, which he literally has and everyone can see it, had a value and it will not change forever. Even Browning expresses that death still can bring back something he wants. In contrast, Tennyson mentions powers itself doesn’t attract or move him. A death won’t give anything to him. Therefore, to achieve what he wants means more to him. Browning doesn’t find any interest in the thing, which has a form and will not change forever. Change itself actually has value. From this, even though Browning and Tennyson lived in the same era, their norms are world apart.

Works Cited

Browning, Robert. "My Last Duchess." Literature Across Cultures. Ed. SheilaGillespie, et al 4th Ed. New York: Longman, 2005.

Tennyson, Alfred. "Ulysses". Victorian Literature, 1830-1900.Boston: McPeek, 2002. pp. 399-400. Print.

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