Concept of Masculinity in My Last Duchess: Analytical Essay

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“Who can be wise, amazed, temp'rate and furious, loyal and neutral, in a moment? No man.” Emma-Rose Devine Reports T he clock of manhood is certainly missing a hand. And in irony, time is changing, society is evolving, but the phrase ‘masculinity’ has been smeared and altered. Further threading through the dignified silence of our society, shackled by misogyny, and distorting our views. The damage is radiating throughout society and leaving a standardised concept of ‘toxic masculinity’. Social and cultural platforms over the years have evolved to normalise society’s construction of toxic masculinity by personifying ideal manhood. Believing that these implication are not impacting society, and in particular you, further elaborates on our society’s standardisation of inhuman ideologies. A multitude of patriarchal nations have resisted to putting an end to gender violence, due to it having unwanted effects on traditional customs.

Numerous countries are protuberant examples of toxic masculinity that have further been ingrained into the traditional and cultural customs. Masculinity in our society is worrying and further exemplifies the obscurity of the objectification of women embedded throughout My Last Duchess. “Though his fair daughter’s self, as I avowed / At starting, is my object” (Browning, R., 1842). Note the reference to the next potential duchess as an object. This is explicit wording from Robert Browning to exemplify the meaning of toxic masculinity throughout the Victorian Era. The Duke regards his wife as an art object to be owned and perhaps thrown away when unsatisfactory. However, the effects on toxic masculinity can be weaved throughout society through societal and cultural settings. Femininity and masculinity in social and cultural contexts have become toxic ideologies throughout Macbeth. The illogicality of males and females is the most obvious representation of Shakespeare’s contradiction on what constitutes gender. Shakespeare expresses his thoughts on sexism by using Lady Macbeth as his voice. Personifying the contradiction of the accepted social hierarchy of the Elizabethan era. “Come, you spirits / That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here” (1.5.38-39) (Shakespeare, W., Raffel, B., & Bloom, H., 1606). Thus, exemplifying the removal of all embodiments of feminist qualities to ensure control.

Shakespeare and Browning’s portrayal of the Elizabethan and Victorian society is a reflection on our culture’s misconceptions of social evolution. A failure to evolve can be considered an adherence to the conception of men’s objectification of women. In its purest sign of toxic, masculinity has led women to be more masculine throughout the ages to further gain power. Thus, defining the actions of numerous characters throughout both the poem and play, embodying those of the pillars of modern masculinity. Modern versions of masculinity have taken a similar approach to femvertising. The new campaign, Gillette, has thoughtfully and critically examined what “The Best A Man Can Get”, the brands iconic slogan, means today. Tackling issues of toxic masculinity in a post #MeToo era. As a result, some perceive the advertisement as negative – a condemnation as opposed to a celebration of boys. Gillette, the shaving company, has been bombarded with both abuse and praise after having 200,000 comments just days after being launched. The number of likes hit 287, 000. While, the number of dislikes exceeded 769,000. (Topping, Lyons and Weaver, 2019) Angry comments covered a range of issues throughout the advertisement.

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All contributing to the same delusional comment, ‘Society is falling apart due to men simply not being “manly” enough’. Do we need to indulge into prehistoric times to ensure men can be considered “manly” enough through their toxic behaviours? We need to reimagine what masculinity can be, rather than sticking with outdated notions of the past. During 1842, the publication of My Last Duchess, women were oppressed. Yet, the poem indulges less on the feudalistic ways of medieval Europe, but rather focuses more of an attack on the bias, overbearing views and rules associated with this era. Robert Browning use of the wording, “E’en then would be some stooping, and I choose / Never to stoop” (Browning, R., 1842), definitely depicts a particular revealing of the Dukes character. Speaking to a servant during this time, further implies that he saw his wife as someone lower than the servant of a noble of a lower ranking. Further personifying the accepted social and cultural hierarchy of the Victorian era. Have this ideologies really advanced from Shakespearean century? Macbeth, explores the contentious definition of masculinity by portraying the male protagonist’s to struggle to uphold and establish his independence as a man. Throughout the play, it can be concluded that Macbeth switches between two differential statuses; one embodies absolute susceptibility and the other defines a perfect example of idyllic heroic manhood.

The ideology of heroism positions Macbeth to possess masculinity which is paradoxically woven within violent aggression and nobility. Macbeth soon comes to recognise the absurdity to upholding such deceitful and deluding notions past the murder of Duncan and the guards. However, when Macbeth is interrogated by Macduff on the killing of the guards, Macbeth public criticizes the views on man. His response of “Who can be wise, amazed, temp'rate and furious, loyal and neutral, in a moment? No man' (Shakespeare, W., Raffel, B., & Bloom, H., 1606) can be further linked to Shakespeare’s outcry of the impossibility of establishing ideal manhood. Further exemplifying our nation’s non - altruistic society and exhibiting our need to let go of the hierarchal statues of men. We must not follow these primeval precedents. Male violence doesn’t emanate from something considered immoral or toxic that’s crept into the nature of masculinity itself. But rather, it is constructed through men’s social and political settings, the construction of which set them up for inner conflict over social expectations and male entitlement. Toxic masculinity is especially harmful in the ideology, that it holds structure of patriarchy that stop women from accessing certain positions for power or more essentially challenges their basic human rights. These toxic behaviours continue to become more paradoxical.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare states that 1 woman a week is killed by a current or former partner. Imagine the lives of the women that have been lost. The lives of the women that will be lost. The lives of those dearest. Your life. You don’t have to imagine. It’s here. And it’s not going away any time soon. However, this does not contradict our patriarchal society. Appearing to embody those of the pillars of prehistoric culture. Note Browning’s use of dramatic monologue to emphasising the Dukes dominant role in the situation. Due to the Duchesses “spot of joy…I gave commands; / Then all smiles stopped together” (Browning, R., 1842). The attention that the Duke wishes to possess was not given in full, defining the Duchess as someone he simply cannot handle. This allows him to give commands for her death. Notice the obvious parallels between modern society and prehistoric era. Deaths’ of women are still occurring at the hands of toxic masculinity. Do the deaths of women need to be slammed across news screens or smacked against our faces for people to get a grip on the matter at hand? I guess not, that would only further standardise the objectification of women. The death of Lady Macduff and her children was initiated by Macbeth himself. Post finding out the death of his family, Macduff further asks “What, all my pretty chickens and their dam / At one fell swoop?”(Shakespeare, W., Raffel, B., & Bloom, H., 1606) Shakespeare’s choice of wording, “chicken” in particular, illustrates the vulnerability and helplessness Lady Macduff possessed. The use of this terminology further implies men’s superiority through the helplessness women embody.

Violence is a key influence in the term toxic masculinity. However, it can be further defined that the death of women has become a way to ensure man’s ability to control those around them. Social and cultural norms are highly influential over violence. These norms are further creating an environment that fosters and migrates violence and its toxic effects. In a world where the revolution of science and technology have been our pinpoint for celebration, has led to the question, are humans, the beating heart of society, making the change for evolution? Or rather is it survival of the fittest? Allowing our downfall to impact all. Quite simply, the answer that we beckon for is explicit throughout classic literature. The social and cultural parallels between prehistoric and modern society have evolved to normalise the construction of toxic masculinity. We need to redefine what masculinity can be rather then sticking with outdated notions of the past. For society to move forward, We need to stop looking back.

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Concept of Masculinity in My Last Duchess: Analytical Essay. (2022, December 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved April 14, 2024, from
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