In ‘my last duchess’ and ‘the river god’ we find two characters that are powerful, possessive and want control over women. In ‘my last duchess’, the duke implies that he killed his last duchess because he thought she was flirtatious with other men. In ‘the river god’ the narrator directly tells us that he killed a woman and now keeps her on his river bed. Neither of the male characters seems concerned about the death of these women.
Both poems use possessive language to suggest how powerful the men are. In my last duchess, the duke controls who looks at the duchess’s portrait. He comments, ‘none puts by / the curtain I have drawn for you, but I’, which suggests his possessive nature, and his need to control becomes more sinister when he says, ‘I gave commands; / then all smiles stopped’. He seems proud of his power though he does not actually say what he has done; the chilling ‘all smiles stopped’ only implies that he killed her. His power is highlighted by his polite yet forceful tone when talking to his guest. He says, ‘nay, we’ll go / together down, sir’ which shows that he is very much in charge. Unlike the Duke, the river god admits that he killed the woman, saying ‘I brought her down here’ which is a euphemism for death which sounds loving but possessive. He wants her for himself and says he will ‘not forgive her’ if she leaves him. Similarly, in ‘my last duchess’, the duke is jealous that he received ‘the same smile’ the duchess showed to other men, even though he was her husband.
Both poems are dramatic monologues spoken by one single voice to an audience, which represents these characters well, being possessive and think of themselves first. The use of iambic pentameter in ‘my last duchess’ to mirror the dukes natural speech as he talks to the visitor. ‘there she stands as if alive’ this shows even though the duchess is dead he still believes she is alive. The speaker however contradicts that idea with the use of anthropomorphism ‘passion of its earnest glance’ so the duke when she was alive treated her as an object ‘it’. Also the use of rhyming couplets could indicate the dukes social position but also his need to control women. The use of the rhyme creates a light-hearted mood, though the poem becomes increasingly sinister as the river god becomes more possessive. The childish rhyme between ‘drowning’ and ‘clowning’ also highlights his trivial attitude towards human life. The poem is songlike which is emphasised by the use of enjambment which makes the poem sound more like natural speech.
‘if she wishes to go I will not forgive her’, the idea that the dead woman is able to ‘wish’ and choose her fate implies that he is deluded about the consequences of his actions. He says that she ‘waits’ for him on the river ‘bed’, an image that is associated with comfort and she is dead so doesn’t feel any comfort. The river god tells us that the woman went ‘contrary to rules’ by bathing ‘where the water runs cold’ which suggests he feels she deserved to die, though he is obsessed by the woman’s beauty, ‘my beautiful dear’ sounds possessive rather than affectionate or loving. The poem could be written to show how the natural world can be dangerous at times or it could be to explore the balance of power in relationships between men and women. Similarly, the duke never mentions any grief or lost love at the death of his wife; instead he repeats ‘as if she were alive’, perhaps suggesting that the duchess was just another possession even when she was living and now she is in a portrait he has total control over her.
Both speakers in these poems seek power and control over women. They both want to possess women while not being interested in a human relationship with them and seem unconcerned by the reality of their death. However, the duke is human whereas the river god is a personified river, so his power could be seen as more natural than human effect. In contrast, the dukes power over the duchess and her portrait is emotionless the duke shows no emotion like it’s just ‘another’.