Power and Conflict - Grade 9 Essay on 'My Last Duchess' and 'Ozymandias'

How is the power of humans presented in ‘My Last Duchess’ and one other poem?

In ‘My Last Duchess’ and ‘Ozymandias’ The poets present the power of humans through the main

speaker's control and name; it is clear that they believe they are the most superior. However, by the end of

both poems, the speaker's power is undermined as the victim of their abuse of power begins to gain

control, although in ‘My Last Duchess’, the victim is another human; in ‘Ozymandias’ it is nature.

In ‘My Last Duchess’, Browning presents the power of humans as controlling as the Duke compares

himself to a God: “Notice Neptune, though, taming a seahorse”. Here, the speaker’s boastful tone and

obsession with power are highlighted through the noun “Neptune”, as this god was one of the most

powerful gods in Roman religion; by showing a statue of him to the Count, the Duke could be implying

that he believes he is incredibly powerful and perhaps should be worshipped, as a god is, because of this.

Also, the noun “seahorse” could be symbolic of the Duchess and emphasise her inferiority to the Duke;

perhaps this great contrast in power and size could also be highlighting the Duchess’ lack of experience,

due to her only being fourteen when she married, and how the Duke had to guide and eventually punish

her using his authority because of this, which could explain the use of the verb “taming”. However, this

verb could possibly be suggesting that the Duchess was treated as if she were the Duke’s pet and despite

her small size, it seems that he did not manage to have full control and power over her- he is only in the

process of “taming” her. In addition, the fact that this statue is “cast in bronze” creates the impression that

it may be impossible for the Duke to fulfil his desire for control, as the material “bronze” is a rather

starring material and suggests that the Duke is stuck in the process of building his power; it seems he will

never achieve complete control and the statue is a permanent reminder of this.

The power of humans is also presented as controlling in ‘Ozymandias’: “sneer of cold command”. The

use of the negative noun “sneer” here highlights the Pharoah’s cruel personality and could suggest that he

is mocking others for their lack of power; this is rather ironic as it is clear that he had little impact, and it

appears that the sculptor may actually be mocking him instead through his greatly negative portrayal of

him using the statue, which could mirror Shelley’s own hatred towards the English monarchy. Also, by

writing this poem in the form of a sonnet, which is often used for romance, the poet could be illustrating

the love Ozymandias Felt towards himself and his power. However, the fact that punctuation regularly

disrupts the flow of this sonnet emphasises how many felt the opposite about his power; perhaps this is

due to his forceful personality, which is demonstrated through the negative noun “command” and the

alliteration of the harsh ‘c’sound.

In ‘My Last Duchess’, the power of humans is presented through the Duke’s pride for his name: “my gift

of a nine-hundred-years old name”. Here, the use of the noun “gift” implies that the Duke views his

family name and power as highly important, and highlights his belief that the Duchess deserved to be

punished for failing to appreciate it accordingly; during the Italian Renaissance, families passed down

their power and name through having male children, and by the Duke's name being

“nine-hundred-years-old”, there can be no doubting that he would have had great power and therefore he

would have expected the Duchess to respect it. Also, the possessive pronoun “my” illustrates how greatly

the Duke values his power; by beginning a new line with this lexeme it is emphasised, which could

suggest that the Duke is attempting to highlight his superiority to all other men and how his “gift” should

be viewed as the greatest. However, the use of enjambment begins to undermine this power, because it

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