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Studying

The Worlds Wife

Credits
Written and edited by Barbara Bleiman and Lucy Webster
Cover design: Rebecca Scambler
Printed by: Stephens and George Ltd.
The English and Media Centre, 18 Compton Terrace, London, N1 2UN, 2007
ISBN: 987-0-0907016-95-3

Acknowledgements
Thanks to Ava Houris of Parliament Hill School, Camden for reading and commenting on the text,
and to the teachers on the EMCs Teaching The Worlds Wife course, November 2006.
Thanks also to the publishers, authors and picture libraries who have given permission to
reproduce the following texts and images:
The Bridgeman Art Library for: Circe offering the cup to Ulysses, 1891 (oil on canvas) by
Waterhouse, John William (1849-1917) Gallery Oldham UK/The Bridgeman Art Library; The
Resurrection of Lazarus by Casado del Alisal, Jose (1832-86) Museo Real Academia de
Belles Artes, Madrid, Spain/Index/The Bridgeman Art Library; Ulysses and the Sirens, 1910
(oil on canvas) by Draper, Herbert James (1864-1920) Leeds Museums and Galleries (City
Art Gallery), UK/The Bridgeman Art Library; Head of Medusa (oil on wood) by Flemish School
(16th century), Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence, Italy/The Bridgeman Art Library; The Return of
Persephone, c.1891 (oil on canvas) by Leighton, Frederic (1830-96) Leeds Museums and
Galleries (City Art Gallery) UK/The Bridgeman Art Library; Christ with Pilate, 1910 (oil on canvas)
by Malczewski, Jacek (1854-1929) Lviv State Picture Gallery, Ukraine/The Bridgeman Art
Library; Salome with the Head of John the Baptist, c.1525-30 (panel), Luini, Bernardino (c.14801532)/Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria/The Bridgeman Art Library. The Mary Evans
Picture Library for Poster by John Hassall in The Poster, 1898. The National Gallery, London for
Penelope with the Suitors by Pintoricchio. Linda Combi for the cartoon on page 63.
Extracts from The Worlds Wife by Carol Ann Duffy, Macmillan, London, UK; The Erl King from
The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter (first published in 1979) Copyright 1979 Angela Carter.
Reproduced by permission of the author c/o Rogers, Coleridge and White Ltd, 20 Powis Mews,
London W11 1JN; front cover and inside pages from Princess Smartypants by Babette Cole
(Hamish Hamilton, 1986) Copyright Babette Cole, 1986; Extracts from The Waste Land from
The Waste Land and Other Poems by T.S. Eliot (1922), Journey of the Magi from Ariel Poems by
T.S. Eliot (1930), Pygmalion from Tales From Ovid (1997) by Ted Hughes, all by kind permission
of Faber and Faber Ltd; Judith from The Handless Maiden by Vicki Feaver, published by Jonathan
Cape. Reprinted by permission of the Random House Group Ltd; extracts from essays by Stan
Smith, Antony Rowland, Jeffrey Wainwright and Avril Horner published in The Poetry of Carol
Ann Duffy: Choosing Tough Words ed. Michelis and Rowland, by kind permission of Manchester
University Press; extracts from Myth, Fairytale and Feminism After the Womens Movement in
Consorting with Angels: Essays on Modern Women Poets by Deryn Rees Jones (Bloodaxe, 2005)
by kind permission of Bloodaxe Books Ltd; Rapunzelstiltskin by Liz Lochhead from Dreaming
Frankenstein is reproduced by permission of Polygon, an imprint of Birlinn Ltd (www.birlinn.co.uk);
Waiting Gentlewoman from Standing To by U.A. Fanthorpe (Peterloo Poets, 1982); Cinderella
from Transformations by Anne Sexton (1971, reprinted Mariner Books, 2001).
Every effort has been made to trace and acknowledge copyright but if any accidental infringement
has been made we would welcome the opportunity to redress the situation.

Studying The Worlds Wife

English and Media Centre, 2007

Contents

Contents
Introduction
Before Reading

Reading the Collection

After Reading

Criticism and Sources

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4
Re-interpreting the world a feminist agenda

Contextualising The Worlds Wife the dramatic


monologue

15

Features of a dramatic monologue

19

Exploring the titles

20

Little Red-Cap

21

Thetis

25

Queen Herod

28

Mrs Midas

34

from Mrs Tiresias

37

Pilates Wife

43

Mrs Darwin, Frau Freud and Mrs Aesop

46

Mrs Sisyphus

49

Mrs Faust

51

Delilah

53

Anne Hathaway

55

Duffy and 20th-century icons

58

Mrs Quasimodo

65

Medusa

68

The Devils Wife

70

Circe and Penelope

72

Mrs Lazarus

77

Pygmalions Bride

80

Mrs Rip Van Winkle

85

Mrs Icarus

86

Salome

87

Eurydice

92

Pope Joan

96

Mrs Beast

98

Demeter

102

A dramatic reading

106

Whats in a voice? A close focus on language

106

Images and motifs

108

Satirical techniques in The Worlds Wife

110

Duffys use of form

114

Representing women

115

Talking back to a poem different versions

116

Pastiches of The Worlds Wife

117

Categorising the poems

117

Controversial statements

118

Critics and reviewers on The Worlds Wife

120

The Worlds Wife drama and role-play revision games

122

Carol Ann Duffy in the dock

123

The themes addressed in the poems a wall display

123

Criticism and reviews

124

Source stories and characters

126

Studying The Worlds Wife

Introduction

Introduction
The scope of the material
Studying The Worlds Wife is divided into four main sections:
Before Reading
Reading the Collection
After Reading
Criticism and Sources
Before Reading includes activities on the literary context and the dramatic monologue,
placing Duffys work in the context of both earlier feminist re-writings of traditional tales and
the history of the monologue from Tennyson and Browning onwards.
Reading the Collection provides activities on the individual poems, integrating critical and
contextual material into the study of Duffys poetic and linguistic techniques, the creation
of character and voice, and the exploration of key themes. Recognising that students need
to balance detailed knowledge of the individual poems with an appreciation of the whole
collection, this section includes activities Looking outwards, placing each particular poem in
the context of the collection as a whole.
After Reading builds on this overview approach encouraging students to range around the
collection, developing insights into the collection and the discrete poems.
Throughout the material a wide range of approaches is used, including creative and critical
writing, role-play, close analysis, charting, diagrammatic representations and so on.

On the website
A high resolution pdf of the key images used throughout the publication is available to
download from the English and Media Centres website.
Go to http://www.englishandmedia.co.uk, choose Publications, then Studying The Worlds
Wife.

Ways of using the material


It is not expected that any student will work through all the work on any one poem, nor indeed
that all the poems will be studied in the same amount of detail in class. The material in this
pack could be used in the following ways:
in class as individuals, pairs or groups working on on the same poem, with selected
support from this pack
in class as individuals, pairs or groups working on different poems, followed by
whole class feedback or sharing/expert groups
whole class work on a key poem followed by individual/pair/group work on related
poems
homework preparation followed by sharing groups
homework preparation followed by groups teaching their poem to the class.

A Level post-2008
We have chosen to include a range of other related texts, in recognition of the fact that, after
2008, students are likely to be required to study clusters of texts rather than focus exclusively
on single texts.

Studying The Worlds Wife

English and Media Centre, 2007

Before Reading

Before Reading
Re-interpreting the world a feminist agenda
The 1970s and 1980s saw the growth of feminism as a powerful social movement, looking not
just at equality at work and political power but at every aspect of culture. One aspect of this
was that feminist writers, historians and critics began to re-interpret the world. They did this in
a number of ways.
They put women and womens perspectives into history, literature and culture.
They felt that womens voices were often missing. They saw themselves as writing
herstory rather than history).
They re-wrote what they saw as sexist representations of women.
They took a critical look at language and identified ways in which male and female
power relationships were created by, or reflected in, language.
On the pages that follow are four examples of women writers giving a fresh slant to old stories
and genres that had followed very set patterns for hundreds of years.

1.

Princess Smartypants by Babette Cole (1986)

Read the extracts from Princess Smartypants on page 6, looking carefully at the pictures.
If you can, read the whole picture book.

Talk about how Babette Cole subverts the typical fairytale in order to give it a feminist
slant. You might think about:
the roles the characters play
the pictures and how the female and male characters are presented in them
the use of names
the way language is used and what effect this has
the way in which conventional fairytale events are turned on their head
the way in which the tale ends.

English and Media Centre, 2007

Studying The Worlds Wife

Before Reading

Studying The Worlds Wife

English and Media Centre, 2007

Before Reading

2.

Cinderella by Anne Sexton (1971)

Read Anne Sextons poem Cinderella, published in 1971, and talk about the ways
Sexton tells the story. What makes it different from the original story? Whats interesting
or unusual about the style of telling?
You always read about it:
the plumber with twelve children
who wins the Irish Sweepstakes.
From toilets to riches.
That story.
Or the nursemaid,
some luscious sweet from Denmark
who captures the oldest sons heart.
From diapers to Dior.
That story.
Or a milkman who serves the wealthy,
eggs, cream, butter, yogurt, milk,
the white truck like an ambulance
who goes into real estate
and makes a pile.
From homogenized to martinis at lunch.
Or the charwoman
who is on the bus when it cracks up
and collects enough from the insurance.
From mops to Bonwit Teller*.
That story.
Once
the wife of a rich man was on her deathbed
and she said to her daughter Cinderella:
Be devout. Be good. Then I will smile
down from heaven in the seam of a cloud.
The man took another wife who had
two daughters, pretty enough
but with hearts like blackjacks.
Cinderella was their maid.
She slept on the sooty hearth each night
and walked around looking like Al Jolson.
Her father brought presents home from town,
Jewels and gowns for the other women
but the twig of a tree for Cinderella.
She planted that twig on her mothers grave
and it grew to a tree where a white dove sat.
Whenever she wished for anything the dove
would drop it like an egg upon the ground.
The bird is important, my dears, so heed him.
(Cont. over)

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Studying The Worlds Wife

*A famous department store in


New York.

Before Reading

Next came the ball, as you all know.


It was a marriage market.
The prince was looking for a wife.
All but Cinderella were preparing
and gussying up for the big event.
Cinderella begged to go too.
Her stepmother threw a dish of lentils
into the cinders and said: Pick them
up in an hour and you shall go.
The white dove brought all his friends;
all the warm wings of the fatherland came,
and picked up the lentils in a jiffy.
No, Cinderella, said the stepmother,
you have no clothes and cannot dance.
Thats the way with stepmothers.
Cinderella went to the tree at the grave
and cried forth like a gospel singer:
Mama! Mama! My turtledove,
send me to the princes ball!
The bird dropped down a golden dress
and delicate little gold slippers.
Rather a large package for a simple bird.
So she went. Which is no surprise.
Her stepmother and sisters didnt
recognise her without her cinder face
and the prince took her hand on the spot
and danced with no other the whole day.
As nightfall came she thought shed better
get home. The prince walked her home
and she disappeared into the pigeon house
and although the prince took an axe and broke
it open she was gone. Back to her cinders.
These events repeated themselves for three days.
However on the third day the prince
covered the palace steps with cobblers wax
and Cinderellas gold shoe stuck upon it.
Now he would find whom the shoe fit
and find his strange dancing girl for keeps.
He went to their house and the two sisters
were delighted because they had lovely feet.
The eldest went into a room to try the slipper on
but her big toe got in the way so she simply
sliced it off and put on the slipper.
The prince rode away with her until the white dove
told him to look at the blood pouring forth.
That is the way with amputations.

Studying The Worlds Wife

English and Media Centre, 2007

Before Reading

They dont just heal up like a wish.


The other sister cut off her heel
but the blood told as blood will.
The prince was getting tired.
He began to feel like a shoe salesman.
But he gave it one last try.
This time Cinderella fit into the shoe
like a love letter into its envelope.
At the wedding ceremony
the two sisters came to curry favor
and the white dove pecked their eyes out.
Two hollow spots were left
like soup spoons.
Cinderella and the prince
lived, they say, happily ever after,
like two dolls in a museum case
never bothered by diapers or dust,
never arguing over the timing of an egg,
never telling the same story twice,
never getting a middle-aged spread,
their darling smiles pasted on for eternity.
Regular Bobbsey Twins.*
That story.

*A popular series of childrens


books about an all-American
family, first published in 1904

3.

Rapunzstiltskin by Liz Lochhead (1984)

Read the poem and talk about the ways in which Liz Lochhead is re-interpreting several
different fairytales. What tales are being re-told and in what ways?
& just when our maiden had got
good & used to her isolation,
stopped daily expecting to be rescued,
had come to almost love her tower,
along comes This Prince
with absolutely
all the wrong answers.
Of course she had not been brought up to look for
originality or gingerbread
so at first she was quite undaunted
by his tendency to talk in strung-together clich.
Just hang on and well get you out of there,
he hollered like a fireman in some soap opera
when she confided her plight (the old
hag inside etc., & how trapped she was):
well, it was corny but
he did look sort of gorgeous,
axe and all.
(Cont. over)

English and Media Centre, 2007

Studying The Worlds Wife

Before Reading

So there she was, humming & pulling


all the pins out of her chignon,
throwing him all the usual lifelines
till, soon, he was shimmying in & out
every other day as though
he owned the place, bringing her
the sex manuals & skeins of silk
from which she was meant, eventually,
to weave the means of her own escape.
All very well & good, she prompted,
but when exactly?
She gave him till
well past the bell on the timeclock.
She mouthed at him, hinted,
She was keener than a TV quizmaster
that he should get it right.
Ill do everything in my power, he intoned, but
the impossible (she groaned) might
take a little longer. He grinned.
She pulled her glasses off.
All the better
to see you with my dear? he hazarded.
She screamed, cut off her hair.
Why, youre beautiful? he guessed tentatively.
No, No, No! she
shrieked & stamped her foot so
hard it sank six cubits through the floorboards.
I love you? he came up with,
as she finally tore herself in two.

4.

The Erl-King by Angela Carter (1979)

Angela Carters collection of short stories, The Bloody Chamber, written in 1979, gives an
unusual twist to well-known fairytales. Carters work has been a significant influence on later
women writers.

Read the story and talk about the features of Carters writing and what she brings to the
fairytale genre. You might think about:
whether she seems to be writing for children or adults
the roles male and female characters play
the use she makes of some of the conventions of this kind of fairy tale, such as the
woods, the house in the woods, birds, animals, flowers and trees, imprisonment
and hair. (Think about fairy tales you know well and how each of these conventions
is used differently here. For instance, the symbolic importance of Rapunzels hair,
as compared with the use of hair here, or the idea of the house in the woods in
Red Riding Hood, as compared with here.)
the way in which the tale ends.

10

Studying The Worlds Wife

English and Media Centre, 2007

Before Reading

The lucidity, the clarity of the light that afternoon


was sufficient to itself; perfect transparency must
be impenetrable, these vertical bars of a brasscoIoured distillation of light coming down from
sulphur-yellow interstices in a sky hunkered with
grey clouds that bulge with more rain. It struck
the wood with nicotine-stained fingers, the leaves
glittered. A cold day of late October, when the
withered blackberries dangled like their own dour
spooks on the discoloured brambles. There were
crisp husks of beechmast and cast acorn cups
underfoot in the russet slime of dead bracken
where the rains of the equinox had so soaked the
earth that the cold oozed up through the soles
of the shoes, lancinating cold of the approach of
winter that grips hold of your belly and squeezes
it tight. Now the stark elders have an anorexic
look; there is not much in the autumn wood to
make you smile but it is not yet, not quite yet, the
saddest time of the year. Only, there is a haunting
sense of the imminent cessation of being; the year,
in turning, turns in on itself. Introspective weather,
a sickroom hush.
The woods enclose. You step between the first
trees and then you are no longer in the open
air; the wood swallows you up. There is no way
through the wood any more, this wood has
reverted to its original privacy. Once you are inside
it, you must stay there until it lets you out again
for there is no clue to guide you through in perfect
safety; grass grew over the track years ago and now
the rabbits and the foxes make their own runs
in the subtle labyrinth and nobody comes. The
trees stir with a noise like taffeta skirts of women
who have lost themselves in the woods and hunt
round hopelessly for the way out. Tumbling crows
play tig in the branches of the elms they clotted
with their nests, now and then raucously cawing.
A little stream with soft margins of marsh runs
through the wood but it has grown sullen with
the time of the year; the silent, blackish water
thickens, now, to ice. All will fall still, all lapse.
A young girl would go into the wood as
trustingly as Red Riding Hood to her grannys
house but this light admits of no ambiguities
and, here, she will be trapped in her own illusion
because everything in the wood is exactly as it
seems.
The woods enclose and then enclose again, like a
system of Chinese boxes opening one into another;
the intimate perspectives of the wood changed
endlessly around the interloper, the imaginary
traveller walking towards an invented distance that
perpetually receded before me. It is easy to lose
yourself in these woods.
The two notes of the song of a bird rose on the
still air, as if my girlish and delicious loneliness
had been made into a sound. There was a little
English and Media Centre, 2007

tangled mist in the thickets, mimicking the tufts of


old mans beard that flossed the lower branches of
the trees and bushes; heavy bunches of red berries
as ripe and delicious as goblin or enchanted fruit
hung on the hawthorns but the old grass withers,
retreats. One by one, the ferns have curled up
their hundred eyes and curled back into the earth.
The trees threaded a cats cradle of half stripped
branches over me so that I felt I was in a house of
nets and though the cold wind that always heralds
your presence, had I but known it then, blew
gentle around me, I thought that nobody was in
the wood but me.
Erl-King will do you grievous harm.
Piercingly, now, there came again the call of
the bird, as desolate as if it came from the throat
of the last bird left alive. That call, with all the
melancholy of the failing year in it, went directly
to my heart.
I walked through the wood until all its
perspectives converged upon a darkening clearing;
as soon as I saw them, I knew at once that all
its occupants had been waiting for me from the
moment I first stepped into the wood, with the
endless patience of wild things, who have all the
time in the world.
It was a garden where all the flowers were birds
and beasts; ash-soft doves, diminutive wrens,
freckled thrushes, robins in their tawny bibs, huge,
helmeted crows that shone like patent leather,
a blackbird with a yellow bill, voles, shrews,
fieldfares, little brown bunnies with their ears laid
together along their backs like spoons, crouching
at his feet. A lean, tall, reddish hare, up on its great
hind legs, nose a-twitch. The rusty fox, its muzzle
sharpened to a point, laid its head upon his knee.
On the trunk of a scarlet rowan a squirrel clung,
to watch him; a cock pheasant delicately stretched
his shimmering neck from a brake of thorn to peer
at him. There was a goat of uncanny whiteness,
gleaming like a goat of snow, who turned her mild
eyes towards me and bleated softly, so that he
knew I had arrived.
He smiles. He lays down his pipe, his elder bird
call. He lays upon me his irrevocable hand.
His eyes are quite green, as if from too much
looking at the wood.
There are some eyes can eat you.
The Erl-King lives by himself all alone in the
heart of the wood in a house which has only the
one room. His house is made of sticks and stones
and has grown a pelt of yellow lichen. Grass and
weeds grow in the mossy roof. He chops fallen
branches for his fire and draws his water from the
stream in a tin pail.
What does he eat? Why, the bounty of the
woodland! Stewed nettles; savoury messes of
Studying The Worlds Wife

11

Before Reading

chickweed sprinkled with nutmeg; he cooks the


foliage of shepherds purse as if it were cabbage.
He knows which of the frilled, blotched, rotted
fungi are fit to eat; he understands their eldritch
ways, how they spring up overnight in lightless
places and thrive on dead things. Even the homely
wood blewits, that you cook like tripe, with milk
and onions, and the egg-yolk yellow chanterelle
with its fan vaulting and faint scent of apricots,
all spring up overnight like bubbles of earth,
unsustained by nature, existing in a void. And I
could believe that it has been the same with him;
he came alive from the desire of the woods.
He goes out in the morning to gather his
unnatural treasures, he handles them as delicately
as he does pigeons eggs, he lays them in one of
the baskets he weaves from osiers. He makes salads
of the dandelion that he calls rude names, bumpipes or piss-the-beds, and flavours them with a
few leaves of wild strawberry but he will not touch
the brambles, he says the Devil spits on them at
Michaelmas.
His nanny goat, the colour of whey, gives him
her abundant milk and he can make soft cheese
that has a unique, rank, amniotic taste. Sometimes
he traps a rabbit in a snare of string and makes a
soup or stew, seasoned with wild garlic. He knows
all about the wood and the creatures in it. He told
me about the grass snakes, how the old ones open
their mouths wide when they smell danger and
the thin little ones disappear down the old ones
throats until the fright is over and out they come
again, to run around as usual. He told me how the
wise toad who squats among the kingcups by the
stream in summer has a very precious jewel in his
head. He said the owl was a bakers daughter; then
he smiled at me. He showed me how to thread
mats from reeds and weave osier twigs into baskets
and into the little cages in which he keeps his
singing birds.
His kitchen shakes and shivers with birdsong
from cage upon cage of singing birds, larks and
linnets, which he piles up one on another against
the wall, a wall of trapped birds. How cruel it is, to
keep wild birds in cages! But he laughs at me when
I say that; laughs, and shows his white, pointed
teeth with the spittle gleaming on them.
He is an excellent housewife. His rustic home is
spick and span. He puts his well scoured saucepan
and skillet neatly on the hearth side by side, like
a pair of polished shoes. Over the hearth hang
bunches of drying mushrooms, the thin, curling
kind they call jews-ears, which have grown on the
elder trees since Judas hanged himself on one; this
is the kind of lore he tells me, tempting my half
belief. He hangs up herbs in bunches to dry, too
thyme, marjoram, sage, vervain, southernwood,
yarrow. The room is musical and aromatic and

12

Studying The Worlds Wife

there is always a wood fire crackling in the grate, a


sweet, acrid smoke, a bright, glancing flame. But
you cannot get a tune out of the old fiddle hanging
on the wall beside the birds because all its strings
are broken.
Now, when I go for walks, sometimes in
the mornings when the frost has put its shiny
thumbprint on the undergrowth or sometimes,
though less frequently, yet more enticingly, in the
evenings when the cold darkness settles down, I
always go to the Erl-King and he lays me down on
his bed of rustling straw where I lie at the mercy of
his huge hands.
He is the tender butcher who showed me how
the price of flesh is love; skin the rabbit, he says!
Off come all my clothes.
When he combs his hair that is the colour of
dead leaves, dead leaves fall out of it; they rustle
and drift to the ground as though he were a tree
and he can stand as still as a tree, when he wants
the doves to flutter softly, crooning as they come,
down upon his shoulders, those silly, fat, trusting
woodies with the pretty wedding rings round their
necks. He makes his whistles out of an elder twig
and that is what he uses to call the birds out of the
air all the birds come; and the sweetest singers he
will keep in cages.
The wind stirs the dark wood; it blows through
the bushes. A little of the cold air that blows over
graveyards always goes with him, it crisps the
hairs on the back of my neck but I am not afraid
of him; only, afraid of vertigo, of the vertigo with
which he seizes me. Afraid of falling down.
Falling as a bird would fall through the air if the
Erl-King tied up the winds in his handkerchief and
knotted the ends together so they could not get
out. Then the moving currents of the air would no
longer sustain them and all the birds would fall at
the imperative of gravity, as I fall down for him,
and I know it is only because he is kind to me that
I do not fall still further. The earth with its fragile
fleece of last summers dying leaves and grasses
supports me only out of complicity with him,
because his flesh is of the same substance as those
leaves that are slowly turning into earth.
He could thrust me into the seed-bed of next
years generation and I would have to wait until he
whistled me up from my darkness before I could
come back again.
Yet, when he shakes out those two clear notes
from his bird call, I come, like any other trusting
thing that perches on the crook of his wrist.
I found the Erl-King sitting on an ivy-covered
stump winding all the birds in the wood to him
on a diatonic spool of sound, one rising note, one
falling note; such a sweet piercing call that down
there came a soft, chirruping jostle of birds. The
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Before Reading

clearing was cluttered with dead leaves, some the


colour of honey, some the colour of cinders, some
the colour of earth. He seemed so much the spirit
of the place I saw without surprise how the fox
laid its muzzle fearlessly upon his knee. The brown
light of the end of the day drained into the moist,
heavy earth; all silent, all still and the cool smell
of night coming. The first drops of rain fell. In the
wood, no shelter but his cottage.
That was the way I walked into the bird haunted
solitude of the Erl-King, who keeps his feathered
things in little cages he has woven out of osier
twigs and there they sit and sing for him.
Goats milk to drink, from a chipped tin mug;
we shall eat the oatcakes he has baked on the
hearthstone. Rattle of the rain on the roof. The
latch clanks on the door; we are shut up inside
with one another, in the brown room crisp with
the scent of burning logs that shiver with tiny
flame, and I lie down on the Erl-Kings creaking
palliasse of straw. His skin is the tint and texture
of sour cream, he has stiff, russet nipples ripe as
berries. Like a tree that bears bloom and fruit
on the same bough together, how pleasing, how
lovely.
And now ach! I feel your sharp teeth in the
subaqueous depths of your kisses. The equinoctial
gales seize the bare elms and make them whizz and
whirl like dervishes; you sink your teeth into my
throat and make me scream.
The white moon above the clearing coldly
illuminates the still tableaux of our embracements.
How sweet I roamed, or, rather, used to roam;
once I was the perfect child of the meadows
of summer, but then the year turned, the light
clarified and I saw the gaunt Erl-King, tall as a tree
with birds in its branches, and he drew me towards
him on his magic lasso of inhuman music.
If I strung that old fiddle with your hair, we
could waltz together to the music as the exhausted
daylight founders among the trees; we should have
better music than the shrill prothalamions of the
larks stacked in their pretty cages as the roof creaks
with the freight of birds youve lured to it while we
engage in your profane mysteries under the leaves.
He strips me to my last nakedness, that
underskirt of mauve, pearlized satin, like a skinned
rabbit; then dresses me again in an embrace so
lucid and encompassing it might be made of
water. And shakes over me dead leaves as if into
the stream I have become.
Sometimes the birds, at random, all singing,
strike a chord.
His skin covers me entirely; we are like two
halves of a seed, enclosed in the same integument.
I should like to grow enormously small, so that
you could swallow me, like those queens in fairy
English and Media Centre, 2007

tales who conceive when they swallow a grain of


corn or a sesame seed. Then I could lodge inside
your body and you would bear me.
The candle flutters and goes out. His touch
both consoles and devastates me; I feel my heart
pulse, then wither, naked as a stone on the roaring
mattress while the lovely, moony night slides
through the window to dapple the flanks of this
innocent who makes cages to keep the sweet birds
in. Eat me, drink me; thirsty, cankered, goblinridden, I go back and back to him to have his
fingers strip the tattered skin away and clothe me
in his dress of water, this garment that drenches
me, its slithering odour, its capacity for drowning..
Now the crows drop winter from their wings,
invoke the harshest season with their cry.
It is growing colder. Scarcely a leaf left on the
trees and the birds come to him in even greater
numbers because, in this hard weather, it is lean
pickings. The blackbirds and thrushes must hunt
the snails from hedge bottoms and crack the shells
on stones. But the Erl-King gives them corn and
when he whistles to them, a moment later you
cannot see him for the birds that have covered
him like a soft fall of feathered snow. He spreads
out a goblin feast of fruit for me, such appalling
succulence; I lie above him and see the light from
the fire sucked into the black vortex of his eye, the
omission of light at the centre, there, that exerts
on me such a tremendous pressure, it draws me
inwards.
Eyes green as apples. Green as dead sea fruit.
A wind rises; it makes a singular, wild, low,
rushing sound.
What big eyes you have. Eyes of an incomparable
luminosity, the numinous phosphorescence of the
eyes of lycanthropes. The gelid green of your eyes
fixes my reflective face. It is a preservative, like a
green liquid amber; it catches me. I am afraid I will
be trapped in it for ever like the poor little ants
and flies that stuck their feet in resin before the
sea covered the Baltic. He winds me into the circle
of his eye on a reel of birdsong. There is a black
hole in the middle of both your eyes; it is their still
centre, looking there makes me giddy, as if I might
fall into it.
Your green eye is a reducing chamber. If I look
into it long enough, I will become as small as
my own reflection, I will diminish to a point
and vanish. I will be drawn down into that black
whirlpool and be consumed by you. I shall become
so small you can keep me in one of your osier cages
and mock my loss of liberty. I have seen the cage
you are weaving for me; it is a very pretty one and
I shall sit, hereafter, in my cage among the other
singing birds but I I shall be dumb, from spite.
When I realized what the Erl-King meant to do
Studying The Worlds Wife

13

Before Reading

to me, I was shaken with a terrible fear and I did


not know what to do for I loved him with all my
heart and yet I had no wish to join the whistling
congregation he kept in his cages although he
looked after them very affectionately, gave them
fresh water every day and fed them well. His
embraces were his enticements and yet, oh yet!
they were the branches of which the trap itself was
woven. But in his innocence he never knew he
might be the death of me, although I knew from
the first moment I saw him how Erl-King would
do me grievous harm.
Although the bow hangs beside the old fiddle on
the wall, all the strings are broken so you cannot
play it. I dont know what kind of tunes you might
play on it, if it were strung again; lullabies for
foolish virgins, perhaps, and now I know the birds
dont sing, they only cry because they cant find
their way out of the wood, have lost their flesh
when they were dipped in the corrosive pools of
his regard and now must live in cages.
Sometimes he lays his head on my lap and lets
me comb his lovely hair for him; his combings
are leaves of every tree in the wood and dryly
susurrate around my feet. His hair falls down over
my knees. Silence like a dream in front of the
spitting fire while he lies at my feet and I comb the
dead leaves out of his languorous hair. The robin

has built his nest in the thatch again, this year; he


perches on an unburnt log, cleans his beak, ruffles
his plumage. There is a plaintive sweetness in his
song and a certain melancholy, because the year is
over the robin, the friend of man, in spite of the
wound in his breast from which Erl-King tore out
his heart.
Lay your head on my knee so that I cant see the
greenish inward-turning suns of your eyes any
more.
My hands shake.
I shall take two huge handfuls of his rustling hair
as he lies half dreaming, half waking, and wind
them into ropes, very softly, so he will not wake
up, and, softly, with hands as gentle as rain, I shall
strangle him with them.
Then she will open all the cages and let the birds
free; they will change back into young girls, every
one, each with the crimson imprint of his love bite
on their throats.
She will carve off his great mane with the knife
he uses to skin the rabbits; she will string the old
fiddle with five single strings of ash-brown hair.
Then it will play discordant music without a
hand touching it. The bow will dance over the new
strings of its own accord and they will cry out:
Mother, mother, you have murdered me!

Reflecting on the four re-tellings


n

For each re-telling, discuss which of the following statements you find most useful and
illuminating.

The tale presents a female perspective.

The female character shows many traits normally associated with masculinity.

The tale is a battle of the sexes.

The tale isnt quite what one would expect of a feminist story.

The tale challenges ones expectations.

The tale is simplistic, offering clearcut ideas about male and female
behaviour.

The tale works on a range of different levels, beyond simply turning a fairy
tale on its head.

The tale takes the typical qualities of a fairy tale and makes them even
stronger and more vibrant.

The tale is about real women and their feelings, rather than make-believe.

10
14

At the heart of the tale is an exploration of female sexuality.


Studying The Worlds Wife

English and Media Centre, 2007

Before Reading

Contextualising The Worlds Wife the dramatic monologue


The poems in The Worlds Wife are all written in the form of the dramatic monologue.

Definitions of a dramatic monologue


A kind of poem in which a single fictional or historical character other than the
poet speaks to a silent audience of one or more persons. Such poems reveal
not the poets own thoughts but the mind of the impersonated character, whose
personality is revealed unwittingly; this distinguishes a dramatic monologue from a
lyric, while the implied presence of an auditor distinguishes it from a soliloquy.
Chris Baldick: Oxford Concise Dictionary of Literary Terms

a speech by a single fictional character that reveals an aspect of the narrators


personality usually a defect of character that the speaker himself is not aware
of.
Lee T. Lemon: A Glossary For the Study of English

This poem is dramatic, in that in it we are presented with a character addressing


another character, as in a play or drama. (The addressee can be plural, multiple,
since more than one character may be present in the scene. But in this case we
fairly naturally slip into supposing that the speaker is talking to just one person.)
Note that the term dramatic as incorporated in the term dramatic monologue
has nothing to do with dramatic in the sense of sensational or even emphatic
or obvious as when the newscasters breathlessly announce some dramatic
events in London or wherever. A dramatic monologue, whether on stage or in a
poem or story, can be quite unassuming or subtle. It need only be interesting.
Lyman A. Baker, Kansas State University, www.k-state.edu

The dramatic monologue has been used by many writers, as a poetic form. What follows is a
selection of poems that will give you a context in which to place Carol Ann Duffys collection.
Tennysons Ulysses and Brownings My Last Duchess are very well known
examples from the 19th century. While Tennyson adopts the character of a figure
from Greek mythology, Brownings persona is based on a 16th-century Italian
Duke, Alfonso II dEste, fifth Duke of Ferrara.
U.A. Fanthorpe and Vicki Feaver are two women poets who, like Carol Ann Duffy,
have chosen to reinterpret a well-known story, giving a voice to a woman character
who has previously been silent, or re-writing the story to give it a different feminist
angle. U.A. Fanthorpes poem is set at the court of Macbeth. Vicki Feaver re-tells
the biblical story of Judith and Holofernes.

Read the dramatic monologues and note down your response to each.

As a class, discuss anything that strikes you about the monologues, particularly the way
in which each poet creates the voice of the speaker.

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Studying The Worlds Wife

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Before Reading

Ulysses

I cannot rest from travel: I will drink


Life to the lees: All times I have enjoyd
Greatly, have sufferd greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone, on shore, and when
Thro scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vext the dim sea: I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known; cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honourd of them all;
And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.
I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro
Gleams that untravelld world whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnishd, not to shine in use!
As tho to breathe were life! Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains: but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.
This is my son, mine own Telemachus,
To whom I leave the sceptre and the isle,
Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfil
This labour, by slow prudence to make mild
A rugged people, and thro soft degrees
Subdue them to the useful and the good.
Most blameless is he, centred in the sphere
Of common duties, decent not to fail
In offices of tenderness, and pay
Meet adoration to my household gods,
When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.

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Studying The Worlds Wife

Ulysses and the Sirens, 1910 by Draper, Herbert James (1864-1920)


Leeds Museums and Galleries

It little profits that an idle king,


By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Matchd with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.

There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail:


There gloom the dark, broad seas. My mariners,
Souls that have toild, and wrought, and thought
with me
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
Free hearts, free foreheads you and I are old;
Old age hath yet his honour and his toil;
Death closes all: but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the
deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my
friends,
Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho much is taken, much abides; and tho
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we
are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1842)

English and Media Centre, 2007

Before Reading

My Last Duchess
Ferrara
Thats my last Duchess painted on the wall,
Looking as if she were alive. I call
That piece a wonder, now: Fr Pandolf s hands
Worked busily a day, and there she stands.
Willt please you sit and look at her? I said
Fr Pandolf by design, for never read
Strangers like you that pictured countenance,
The depth and passion of its earnest glance,
But to myself they turned (since none puts by
The curtain I have drawn for you, but I)
And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst,
How such a glance came there; so, not the first
Are you to turn and ask thus. Sir, twas not
Her husbands presence only, called that spot
Of joy into the Duchess cheek: perhaps
Fr Pandolf chanced to say Her mantle laps
Over my Ladys wrist too much, or Paint
Must never hope to reproduce the faint
Half-flush that dies along her throat: such stuff
Was courtesy, she thought, and cause enough
For calling up that spot of joy. She had
A heart how shall I say? too soon made glad,
Too easily impressed; she liked whateer
She looked on, and her looks went everywhere.
Sir, twas all one! My favour at her breast,
The dropping of the daylight in the West,
The bough of cherries some officious fool
Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule
She rode with round the terrace all and each
Would draw from her alike the approving speech,
Or blush, at least. She thanked men, good! but
thanked
Somehow I know not how as if she ranked
My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name
With anybodys gift. Whod stoop to blame
This sort of trifling? Even had you skill
In speech (which I have not) to make your will
Quite clear to such an one, and say, Just this
Or that in you disgusts me; here you miss,
Or there exceed the mark and if she let
Herself be lessoned so, nor plainly set
Her wits to yours, forsooth, and made excuse,
Een then would be some stooping, and I
choose
Never to stoop. Oh sir, she smiled, no doubt,

English and Media Centre, 2007

Wheneer I passed her; but who passed without


Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands;
Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands
As if alive. Willt please you rise? Well meet
The company below, then. I repeat,
The Count your masters known munificence
Is ample warrant that no just pretence
Of mine for dowry will be disallowed;
Though his fair daughters self, as I avowed
At starting, is my object. Nay, well go
Together down, sir. Notice Neptune, though,
Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity,
Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me!
Robert Browning (1842)

Studying The Worlds Wife

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Before Reading

Waiting Gentlewoman

Judith

If Daddy had known the setup,


Im absolutely positive, hed never
Have let me come. Honestly,
The whole things too gruesome
For words. Theres nobody here to talk to
At all. Well, nobody under about ninety,
I mean. All the possible men have buggered
Off to the other side, and the rest
Poor old dears, theyd have buggered off
Too, if their poor old legs would have
Carried them. HMs a super person, of course,
But shes a bit seedy just now,
Quite different from how marvellous she was
At the Coronation. And this doctor theyve got in
Well, hes only an ordinary little GP,
With a very odd accent, and even I
Can see that what HM needs is
A real psychiatrist. I mean, all this
About blood, and washing. Definitely Freudian.
As for Himself, well, definitely
Not my type. Daddys got this thing
About selfmade men, of course, thats why
He was keen for me to come. But I think
Hes gruesome. What HM sees in him
I cannot imagine. And he talks to himself,
Thats so rude, I always think.
I hope Daddy comes for me soon.

Wondering how a good woman can murder


I enter the tent of Holofernes,
holding in one hand his long oiled hair
and in the other, raised above
his sleeping, wine-flushed face,
his falchion with its unsheathed
curved blade. And I feel a rush
of tenderness, a longing
to put down my weapon, to lie
sheltered and safe in a warriors
fumy sweat, under the emerald stars
of his purple and gold canopy,
to melt like a sweet on his tongue
to nothing. And I remember the glare
of the barley field; my husband
pushing away the sponge I pressed
to his burning head; the stubble
puncturing my feet as I ran,
flinging myself on a body
that was already cooling
and stiffening; and the nights
when I lay on the roof my emptiness
like the emptiness of a temple
with the doors kicked in; and the mornings
when I rolled in the ash of the fire
just to be touched and dirtied
by something. And I bring my blade
down on his neck and its easy,
like slicing through fish.
And I bring it down again,
cleaving the bone.

U.A. Fanthorpe (1982)

Vicki Feaver (1984)

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Studying The Worlds Wife

English and Media Centre, 2007

Before Reading

Features of a dramatic monologue


Below are some typical features of the dramatic monologue form that you might want to think
about, whatever monologue you are reading.

In pairs, apply these features to one of the monologues on pages 16 to 18, then feed
back your ideas in class discussion.
Addressee a listener

Is the listener ever mentioned? Is there any sense of who it might be


and whether it is just one individual, or more than one?

Sense of place

Does the monologue clearly take place in a particular environment or is


this left open?

Openings

Does the monologue have a formal opening or does it seem as if youre


breaking into a conversation thats already part way through?

What kind of voice is it?


use of idioms
idiolect
colloquial phrases

slang and swearing


the same voice throughout or different at different stages in the
poem
repeated phrases
tone of voice

The narrator and the poet behind the narrator

Does the narrator reveal him or herself unintentionally? Is the reader


expected to take away a different view of the narrator to the one he/she
thinks he/she is putting across? Is there a degree of irony in this?

Whats the point?

Are we simply being given a view of a character or is there more to it


than this? Is the poet raising themes, or ideas about the way people
live, through the character?

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Studying The Worlds Wife

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Before Reading

Exploring the titles


Carol Ann Duffys 1999 collection of poems is called The Worlds Wife.

In pairs, brainstorm your responses to, and ideas about, the title.

Looking at your responses to the title, discuss your expectations of the poems in this
collection.

Printed below are the titles of all the poems in the collection.

Read through the titles a couple of times, making a note of anything which strikes you as
interesting, strange, amusing, puzzling and so on.

In pairs, group the titles into as many different clusters as you can, noting the reasons
for your choice. For example, you might decide to divide the titles into two groups: those
women who are referred to as Mrs and those who are not.

Join up with another pair. Take it in turns to introduce and explain the reasons for the
groupings you have chosen. Make a note of any new ideas.

Little Red-Cap

Thetis

Queen Herod

Mrs Midas

from Mrs Tiresias

Pilates Wife

Mrs Aesop

Mrs Darwin

Mrs Sisyphus

Mrs Faust

Delilah

Anne Hathaway

Queen Kong

Mrs Quasimodo

Medusa

Circe

Mrs Lazarus

Pygmalions Bride

Mrs Rip Van Winkle

Mrs Icarus

Frau Freud

Salome

Eurydice

The Kray Sisters

Elviss Twin Sister

Pope Joan

Penelope

Mrs Beast

Demeter

The Devils Wife

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Studying The Worlds Wife

English and Media Centre, 2007

Reading Little Red-Cap

Little Red-Cap
Before reading
The fairy tale
Little Red-Cap is one of the stories included in
the collection of fairy tales published in 1812 by
the Brothers Grimm. It is a story that has been
told in similar ways in many different cultures
across the world and through history. You may
know the story as Little Red Riding Hood.

Share your memories of the story of Little


Red-Cap (or Little Red Riding Hood).

As well as being engaging stories, fairy tales


were often intended to teach the reader
something, to encourage (or discourage) a
particular behaviour. As the descriptions below
indicate, the stories of the Brothers Grimm were often disguised morality tales.
Although in the 19th and 20th centuries fairy tales came to be associated with childrens
literature, adults were as likely as children to have been the original audience for fairy
tales. Fairy tales were part of an oral tradition; tales were narrated orally, rather than
written down, and were handed down from generation to generation.
In later versions, moral lessons and happy endings were more common, and the villain
was usually punished. In the modern era, fairy tales were altered, usually with violence
removed, so they could be read to children.
Sometimes fairy tales are simply miraculous entertainments, but often they are disguised
morality tales. This is true for the Brothers Grimm and much of the drily witty, dead-pan,
social criticism beneath the surface of Hans Christian Andersens tales, which influenced
Roald Dahl.
www.wikipedia.co.uk

Fear of the forest still echoes in fairy tales like Hansel


and Gretel, Little Red Riding Hood and other stories
that take us to the heart of the enchanted forest. In
folklore, the journey into the woods is understood
to be a dangerous one a rite of passage leading
either to transformation or destruction. The creatures
encountered on woodland paths might be fearsome
ones, like ogres and trolls, or timely sources of help
and advice. And some are both helpful in one breath,
devious or malicious in the next...It is the task of the
hero to see through illusion, to learn how to tell friend
from foe, to see the devil behind a handsome face...
Courtesy, compassion and goodness of heart are what
win salvation in some of these stories; in others it takes
cleverness, courage, and guile to make it back out of
the woods. In both kinds of tales, the hero is generally
changed by his or her encounter a transformation
made manifest by a change in physical station,
symbolizing the inner changes that come from surviving
calamity.
Journal of Mythic Arts

English and Media Centre, 2007

Studying The Worlds Wife

21

Reading Little Red-Cap

So fairy tales can be read metaphorically, for example: the plot might represent the passage
from childhood to adulthood while characters might stand for goodness or truth.

Which aspects of the fairy story of Little Red-Cap (Little Red Riding Hood) do you think
could be interpreted metaphorically? Make a list of the possible metaphors and annotate
each with their possible meanings. Share your findings with the rest of the class. What
message or moral do you think a reader (or child listening) might have been expected to
take from this story?

Reading the poem


Exploring Duffys re-telling
n

Now listen to the whole of Little Red-Cap being read out loud.

Read it again to yourself, then, in pairs, share your first thoughts and responses.

Use the prompts below to explore in detail the way in which Duffy plays with the story of
Little Red-Cap and the readers knowledge of it. Which aspects of the story has she:
emphasised or foregrounded
ignored or marginalised
added
given a new meaning (and in what ways)?

On your own, outline what you understand to be the poems central theme or message.
Look back at your notes to remind yourself of the messages or morals of the fairy tale.

Collect together the thoughts of the whole class on the moral or message of both the
poem and fairy tale. How do they compare? Is everyones reading of the poem and the
story the same? Do they present the same moral lesson or has Carol Ann Duffy used the
bare bones of the story for her own ends?

Reading metaphorically
n

Look through the poem identifying any words or phrases that might have a metaphorical
as well as literal meaning.

Choose the three words or phrases that interest


you most and annotate them to show how you
think they could be interpreted metaphorically.
An example has been given to get you started.

the edge of
civilisation and
wildness
limbo neither
one thing or the
other

brink of knowledge
the edge of
the woods

somewhere both
exciting and
frightening
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Studying The Worlds Wife

experience

adolescence

English and Media Centre, 2007

Reading Little Red-Cap

After reading Little Red-Cap


A poem about...
Listed below are 12 statements about Carol Ann
Duffys Little Red-Cap.

Read through the statements, considering


whether you agree or disagree with the
interpretation of the poem.

As a class add any other interpretations that


you think are worth exploring further.

This is a poem about poetry.

This is a poem about obedience.

This is a poem about rebellion.

This is a poem about the power of


words.

This is a poem about relationships.

This is a poem about sexual


attractiveness.

This is a poem about power.

This is a poem about Carol Ann


Duffy.

This is a poem about adolescence.

10

This is a poem about independence.

11

This is a poem about growing up.

12

This is a poem about being a woman


in the late 20th century.

From your complete list, select the three interpretations that you think are most relevant
or significant, and with detailed reference to the poem, explain why.

English and Media Centre, 2007

Studying The Worlds Wife

23

Reading Little Red-Cap

A biographical reading
Some critics and readers have interpreted this poem in the context of Carol Ann Duffys life,
identifying the following biographical details as being relevant:
her relationship with the poet Adrian Henri, begun when she was 16 and he was 39
her attempt as a woman to break into the world of poetry
her questions about her sexuality.
The next year in Stafford she met Adrian Henri at a gig by his band, the Grimms, and
decided she wanted to be where he was...she lived with Henri till 1982, gave readings
and published two pamphlets.

Standing Female Nude was published in 1985. For Roger McGough who had known her
since her early days with Adrian Henri, it was a revelation: She was a strong person,
funny and sharp, but wed assumed she was under Adrians influence; Standing Female
Nude showed that she was more formed than we thought.
Katherine Viner: Guardian, 2001

At 16 she was dating the poet Adrian Henri. She chose to study philosophy at Liverpool
to be near him. He gave me confidence; he was great. It was all poetry and sex, very
heady, and he was never faithful. He thought poets had a duty to be unfaithful. I never
got the hang of that.
Carol Ann Duffy: interview by Jeanette Winterson

Re-read the poem. In what ways does this biographical knowledge enhance your
appreciation of Little Red-Cap? In what ways does it limit the poem?

Looking outwards
Setting the agenda
Some critics have suggested that this poem sets the agenda for the whole collection.

Before reading any more of the poems, draw up a possible agenda based on Little RedCap for a collection called The Worlds Wife.

When you have read the whole collection, come back to Little Red-Cap and consider to
what extent it is a suitable poem to open the collection. You might find it interesting to look
back at your speculations as to its role in setting the agenda for the collection.

Critical extracts
The following analysis by poet and critic Deryn Rees Jones is particularly relevant to Little
Red-Cap and its connections to the rest of the collection.

Read the criticism and identify three points which interest you or which give you new
insights into the poem. Share these in class discussion, explaining what the critical views
add to your own reading.
Duffy uses the stories in tangent with autobiographical narratives so that myth and fairy tale
become ways of reading and mythologizing her own life...
Avril Horner has argued that The Worlds Wife moves in its first poem, Little Red-Cap to a
rejection of heterosexuality in pursuit of poetic female integrity, the final poem Demeter
which celebrates the mother-daughter bond and, by implication, a community of women.
On the one hand the monologues are probably the most overtly feminist of her oeuvre; on
the other, they are also fantastically removed from reality. As such, they allow Carol Ann
Duffy to encode the personal within the characters from myth and history, as well as making
feminist statements about the absence of women from history or their misrepresentation.

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Reading Thetis

Thetis
Ovid
One of Carol Ann Duffys sources for The Worlds Wife was the Roman poet Ovids
Metamorphoses, a collection of linked and intertwined stories which explore the process of
transformation among both the gods and mortals. The following characters appear in Ovid:
Eurydice, Medusa, Thetis and Circe. Tiresias, Icarus and Sisyphus, Pygmalion whose wives
tell their side of the story in The Worlds Wife also feature in Ovids Metamorphoses.

Thetis
n

Read the summary below and pull out what you consider to be the most significant
features of Thetiss story.
Thetis
Thetis was one of the Greek sea nymphs known as the Nereids. She was most famous for
being the mother of Achilles, a man whose fate it was to be stronger than his (mortal)
father and to die at Troy. Despite knowing that this must be his end, Thetis attempted to
make him immortal by dipping him in the river Styx and by ordering him a special suit of
armour. She also tried to persuade him not to fight Hector to avenge the death of his best
friend Patroclus. He was killed by an arrow hitting his heel the one place that had not been
dipped in the Styx. In Homers Iliad she is presented as a mother concerned only for her son
and the awareness that he is doomed to an early death.

Although Thetis is often remembered for her role as a mother, as in this summary, Ovid
focuses on her attempts to evade being captured by a man.

Read the translation of Ovids story of Thetis and talk about:


the representation of Thetis
the representation of the men
the role transformation plays in the story
the overall message of the story.
Old Proteus once had said to Thetis, Bear
A child, fair goddess of the waves. For you
Shall be the mother of a youth whose deeds
In his brave years of manhood shall surpass
His fathers and hell win a greater name.
Therefore, for fear the world might ever have
A greater than himself, Jove shunned the bed
Of Thetis, fair sea-goddess, though his heart
Was fire with no cool flame, and in his place
As lover bade his grandson Peleus take
In his embrace the virgin of the waves.
There is a curving bay in Thessaly,
Shaped like a sickle; two long arms run out
And were the water deeper there would be
A harbour. Smooth across the shallow sand
The sea extends; the shore is firm; it holds
No footprints, slows no passage, slopes unlined
By seaweed. Myrtles grow near by, a grove

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Reading Thetis

Of double-coloured berries. In their midst


There lies a grotto, formed maybe by art,
Maybe by nature, rather though by art,
Where Thetis used to come, naked, astride
Her bridled dolphin. There as she lay lapped
In sleep, Peleus surprised her and, his fond
Entreaties all repulsed, assaulted her,
Winding his two strong arms around her neck.
And had she not resorted to her arts
And changed her shape so often, hed have gained
The end he dared. But first she was a bird
The bird he held; and then a sturdy tree
The tree he fastened on; her third shape was
A stripy tigress Peleus, terrified,
Released his hold on her and let her go.
He prayed then to the sea-gods, offering wine
Poured on the water, smoke of incense, flesh
Of sheep, till Proteus from his briny deep
Said, Peleus, you shall gain the bride you seek
If, while shes sleeping in her rocky cave,
You catch her off her guard and truss her tight
With ropes that wont give way and, though she takes
A hundred spurious shapes, dont be deceived
But grapple it, whatever it is, until
She forms again the shape she had before.
So Proteus spoke and sank into the sea.
His wavelets washing over his last words.
The sun was setting and his chariot
Sloped to the western waves, when the fair child
Of Nereus sought the grotto and resumed
Her usual couch. Peleus had barely touched
Her lovely limbs before from shape to shape
She changed, until she felt her body trussed,
Her arms pinioned apart. And then at last,
Sighing, With some gods help, she said, youve won.
And there revealed stood... Thetis. Self confessed,
He held her, hopes triumphant, to his side
And filled with great Achilles his fair bride.

Duffys Thetis
n

Briefly speculate about how Duffy might transform the story of Thetis.

Read the poem.

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Reading Thetis

After reading
Interpreting the transformation
The first six stanzas describe the forms Thetis adopts and the way in which, in each form, she
is pursued.

In pairs, or small groups, take one of the first six stanzas and explore the associations
and connotations of the forms both Thetis and her captor adopt.

Feed back your thoughts to the rest of the class. Do you notice any patterns in the forms
adopted? How might a 21st-century reader interpret Thetiss transformations? Use the
suggestions below to get your discussion started.
Changes her shape to please men.
Changes her shape to avoid men.
A positive story in which she becomes what she wants to be.
The search for identity.
The power of motherhood.
A negative view of motherhood.

The language of the poem


n

How does the style of the poem contribute to its meaning? Does the rhythm and rhyme
scheme work with the meaning implied by the story or against it? What about Duffys
choice of words? Do they confirm the opinion we form of Thetis from her behaviour, or do
they cause us to revise it?

The final stanza


n

What is your view of the final stanza and its representation of birth and motherhood?

The academic Jeffrey Wainwright comments on the uncertainties in this stanza.

Read his analysis below, annotating it with ticks, crosses and question marks to indicate
your response to his ideas.

Write a reply to Wainwright, either developing his ideas or arguing against them.
The other image of motherhood in the Ovidian poems comes at the end of Thetis. Here the
shape-changing goddess flails and writhes through one creature and another in an effort to
shake off the rapacious Peleus who will father the warrior Achilles upon her. Nothing she can
do can make Peleus go:

So I changed, I learned,
turned inside out or thats
how it felt when the child burst out.
Quite what this change, this learning is that comes with the childs birth I am not sure. The
physical image is clear enough, and the implication must be that this turning inside out
is the one successful, truly transformative change that Thetis makes. Or so she felt at that
moment. Perhaps the suggestion lies here that while Thetis and Demeters motherhood is
transforming and joyous beyond anything else, its joy will be limited by loss: the failure of
Thetis to protect her son and Persephones annual return to the drowned silence of the
dead. The strut of masculinity is mocked throughout The Worlds Wife, but the mother and
child seen here as a life force are poised to withstand its more formidable face, war and
death.
Jeffrey Wainwright: Female Metamorphoses in Strong Words

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Reading Queen Herod

Queen Herod
Before reading
Herods story
Included here is an introduction to King Herod and a summary of the role he played in the
story of Jesuss birth.
King Herod
Herod, sometimes known as Herod the Great or Herod I, was governor of Galilee from 47
BC and King of Judea from 40-44 BC. Herod is best known for sending the wise men to find
the baby Jesus and then ordering the massacre of the innocents (the execution of all boychildren in Bethlehem who were under two years of age), when the wise men failed to
report their discovery of Jesus. Herods justification for this action was that he feared that
one of these infants was the King of the Jews, who would ultimately take his place, robbing
him of his throne. This account is given in the Gospel of Matthew but doesnt figure in any
other documents of the period. Herod had numerous wives of different races and religions.
He is said to have murdered some of his many sons, as well as one of his wives and his
brother-in-law.

On your own, note down the three points you think are most significant or interesting in
this story, then talk about these with the rest of the class.

The first stanza


The first stanza of Queen Herod is printed below.

Read the stanza out loud, paying attention to the sound of the language, its rhythm and
sentence structures.
Ice in the trees.
Three Queens at the Palace gates,
dressed in furs, accented;
their several sweating, panting beasts,
laden for a long, hard trek,
following the guide and boy to the stables;
courteous, confident; oh, and with gifts
for the King and Queen of here Herod, me
in exchange for sunken baths, curtained beds,
fruit, the best of meat and wine,
dancers, music, talk
as it turned out to be,
with everyone fast asleep, save me,
those vivid three
till bitter dawn.

Use the sentence starters below to organise your thoughts on this opening stanza, then,
in groups or as a class, share your first response.
So far this poem...
It reminds me of...
I think this poem will...
What strikes me about this poem is...
The language of this poem is...

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Reading Queen Herod

The star in the East


In the Biblical story the three Kings (or Magi) tell Herod that they are following a star in the
East. This star heralds the birth of the new Messiah who will save mankind.

Read the following extract from the poem, first to yourself, and then out loud, in pairs.

What strikes you about this section of the poem? How does it compare with the first
stanza in terms of its rhythm, tone, style and effect?
Watch, they said, for a star in the East
a new star
pierced through the night like a nail.
It means hes here, alive, new-born.
Who? Him. The Husband. Hero. Hunk.
The Boy Next Door. The Paramour. The Je tadore.
The Marrying Kind. Adulterer. Bigamist.
The Wolf. The Rip. The Rake. The Rat.
The Heartbreaker. The Ladykiller. Mr Right.

Reading the poem


n

Read the poem. In pairs, or as a class, discuss what you find most striking about Duffys
re-telling.

Exploring language home and expert groups


n

Work in small groups, focusing on one of the following aspects of the language in the
poem:
imagery
sentence structure
word groups
patterning (for example: rhythm, rhyme, repetition)
the incongruity of language and setting
the juxtaposition of clashing or oppositional registers.

How does Carol Ann Duffys use of this feature contribute to the meaning and effect of the
poem? A few possible lines of enquiry are suggested here.
Word groups: What is the effect of juxtaposing the informal colloquial language
(some swaggering lad) with the mysterious, lyrical descriptions of the Queens?
Imagery: What is the effect of combining violent imagery with images of
motherhood? What about the blending of the erotic and the maternal in a single
image?
Patterns: What role do the lists, rhymes and alliteration play in creating the overall
tone of the poem?
Sentence structure: Is there a pattern to the use of long and short sentences?
What is the connection between sentence structure, meaning and effect?

Organise yourselves into new sharing groups, so that each has at least one expert on the
different features of the poem.

Together draft a brief statement outlining your thoughts on the contribution Carol Ann
Duffys use of language makes to the particular effect of the poem.
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Reading Queen Herod

Maternal or sexual
One of the ways in which the poem exploits clashing registers or unexpected relationships is
in the depiction of Queen Herod as both maternal and sexual. In some cases a single word or
image contains within it both connotations.

Commentary

Sexual

Commentary

Both

Commentary

Read the poem again, filling in columns 1, 3 and 5 with quotations. Fill in columns 2, 4
and 6 with your analysis/commentary.

Maternal

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Reading Queen Herod

Readings of Queen Herod


Printed below are 10 possible readings of Queen Herod.

Read through the list. If you think a possible interpretation has been missed, sum it up in
one sentence, share it with the rest of the class and add it to the list.

Work on your own or in pairs. Share the readings between individuals or pairs.

Take this reading as a starting point for a more extended analysis of the poem, with
evidence from the poem.

Take it in turns to read your expanded interpretations. Talk about which of these readings
you find most convincing.

Queen Herod is about the love of a mother for her daughter.

The main point of the poem is to think differently about the New Testament
story of the birth of Christ.

Queen Herod presents men as a threat to a female world.

Queen Herod is a particularly shocking and frightening poem because it is


a woman who orders the massacre.

It is a typically feminist poem in which men are presented in wholly


negative terms.

The all-female world of the poem is presented as something desirable.

Queen Herod verges on a parody of feminism.

Duffy transforms the biblical story from being one of political and religious
power to one about domestic and sexual power.

This is not a poem about the relationship between men and women, nor
between mothers and daughters. The focus is on the mother only.

10
n

Queen Herod is a lesbian poem.

As a class, experiment with different ways of clustering together readings which could be
used to create a consistent and persuasive interpretation. For example, you might use
starting points 1, 3 and 6 to argue that the poem advocates matriarchy.
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Reading Queen Herod

Journey of the Magi


T.S. Eliots poem Journey of the Magi also explores this moment in the Christian tradition.

Share your immediate thoughts about the connections between the two poems.
A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey;
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbert.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.
Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon,
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.
All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

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Reading Queen Herod

In an interview with Andrew McAllister (Bte Noire, 1988) Carol Ann Duffy described Eliot as
[the poet] who devastated me and made me shiver and want that, suggesting the echoes of
Journey of the Magi in Queen Herod are not accidental.

Look back through Queen Herod and identify any sections which you think are deliberate
echoes (or inverted echoes) of Eliots poem.

Draw up a list of the similarities and differences in the way Eliot and Duffy have used the
story of the birth of Jesus, the journey of the three Kings, Herod and the massacre of the
infants. You might find it helpful to use the following headings to organise your thoughts:
aspects of the story foregrounded
voice and point of view
form
linguistic and poetic techniques
themes explored
your response to each poem.

Looking outwards
The Worlds mothers?
Carol Ann Duffys Queen Herod turns a story about male dominance and political power into
one about mothers and daughters.

Begin to construct a mind-map to explore the representation of the mother/daughter


relationship in this poem. As you read the collection, add to the mind map any other
poems which you think add something interesting or important to this exploration. Dont
feel restricted to considering only those poems in which both mothers and daughters
appear together. Some possible variations on the theme are listed here:
women whose daughters have been lost
women without daughters
mothers and sons
estranged mothers and daughters.

Bible stories
n

Queen Herod is just one of a number of poems in The Worlds Wife which draw on
stories from the Judeo-Christian tradition. The other poems with a biblical or religious
connection are Salome, Pilates Wife, Delilah, Mrs Lazarus and Pope Joan. As
you explore these poems individually, try also to notice any similarities and differences
between the group, for example:
in the way Carol Ann Duffy uses the Bible stories
in the voice of the women
in the language they use to tell their stories
in the representation of their more famous (or more vocal) men.

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Reading Mrs Midas

Mrs Midas
Before reading
Reading fragments
n

The fragments below are from the poem Mrs Midas. Read the fragments a few times,
paying attention to the language being used, for example:
voice
implied audience (if any)
imagery
word groups
register.

Feed back your thoughts in class discussion.


the way/the dark of the ground seems to drink the light of the sky,
Id just poured myself a glass or wine, begun/to unwind,
a fragrant, bone-dry white from Italy,
as he picked up the glass, goblet, golden chalice, drank.
keep his hands to himself.
its perfect ore limbs
when it comes to the crunch,
heart of gold
a hare hung from a larch,/a beautiful lemon mistake.
lack of thought for me
I miss most,/even now, his hands, his warm hands on my skin,
You see, we were passionate then,
hearing, he said, the music of Pan/from the woods
That was the last straw.

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Reading Mrs Midas

Midass message
n

Read the summary of the King Midas story printed below. What do you think is its
meaning or message? Use the ideas suggested here to get you started:
be careful what you wish for
men are the play things of the gods
you can have too much of a good thing.

When you have read and worked on the poem, return to your thoughts on the story of
King Midas to see how Carol Ann Duffy has used it and to what purpose.
Midas
Midas, King of Phrygia, was granted a wish by the gods after helping the drunken god Silenius.
He wished that everything he touch might turn to gold, a wish that was granted. His gift was
soon revealed to be a curse rather than a blessing as his food and wine turned to gold the
moment he touched it. He begged the gods to take their favour back, which they did.

Reading the poem


n

Read the whole poem.

In pairs, or as a whole class, share your ideas about where you imagine the poem is
set. When? In the myth Midas is a King. What sort of people are the Midases in Duffys
poem? What class do you think they belong to? What gives you this idea?

After reading
Shifting tone colour coding the poem
For this activity you will each need a photocopy of the poem (it wont be useable by anyone
else afterwards) and sets of coloured pens.

As a class, brainstorm all the words you can to describe the tone of this poem, for
example: bright, moody, angry, fearful and so on.

Read through the list crossing off any words that people find difficult to justify or which are
similar to another.

Now, still as a class, allocate a colour to each tone on your final list.

On your own, read the poem using your coloured pens to identify the shifts in tone. If
you feel that a particular line, phrase or word combines more than one tone, use your
coloured pens to indicate this.

Compare your tonal poem with those of your neighbours and talk about any striking
differences in your choices.

A soundtrack
Mrs Midas is a poem in which tone is manipulated particularly effectively from relaxed
tranquillity to fear, frustration, sarcasm or longing. Music is one of the ways in which we can
both explore and communicate complex emotions of this sort.

If you were choose a soundtrack or a montage of tracks to accompany Mrs Midas,


what would it be and why?

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Reading Mrs Midas

Analysing the structure


Look through the poem and choose three examples where you think the punctuation or the
structure is particularly striking or effective in creating meaning and voice. Explain why
this is and how the effect is achieved. For example, is it through:
punning
words with more than one meaning
punctuation making meaning ambiguous?

Gold
Listed here are some of the descriptive words from Mrs Midas.
Amber
Honeyed
Gleamed
Burned
Burnished
Sun

Annotate each word with the associations it has for you, then collate your ideas.

One of the ways in which Carol Ann Duffy plays with the story of King Midas and the granting
of his wish is to infuse the poem not only with the words gold and golden, but with synonyms
for gold or words which conjure up images of gold, such as those you have been considering.
She also uses a number of less obvious references to gold:
Halycon: calm, peaceful, tranquil, prosperous, golden
Fondante dAutomne: a yellow skinned pear
Field of the Cloth of Gold: the site of a two week meeting between Henry VIII
and Francis I of France in 1520. Temporary pavilions and sumptuous tents
were erected, decorated with cloths of gold material and with temporary
fountains plumbed to flow with red wine.
Aurum: gold

Read the poem again, paying attention to Duffys use of the golden words and images. In
what ways does Duffy renew their meaning or associations through the context in which
she places them? The example below shows you the sort of thing you might say or write.

Heart of gold is conventionally used to refer to someone who is very good, or whose motives
are pure gold indicates the high value placed on their good intentions and actions. Carol
Ann Duffy transforms this clich by returning it to its literal meaning: a heart really
made of gold would be dead, unfeeling and cold.
A metaphor for ...?
Carol Ann Duffys transformation of King Midass story extends beyond the invention of Mrs
Midass perspective and voice, to translating it into the late 20th century.

Read Mrs Midas again and talk about the message or ideas you take from the poem.
Are they the same as you take from the classical myth? (Look back at your notes on the
activity on page 35.)

Consolidate your reading of the poem by exploring what you think Carol Ann Duffy is
saying through her use of the Midas story and the ways in which she achieves this.

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Reading from Mrs Tiresias

from Mrs Tiresias


The title
n

Without doing any research into the character Tiresias, annotate the title with anything
you notice about it. Next read the following comment on Carol Ann Duffys choice of title.
The title from Mrs Tiresias is a joke in that Carol Ann Duffy is suggesting that the poem
is from a larger, more learned work. Having read the poem in public on one occasion, an
academic pointed out that some of the story was missing. She was, naturally, concentrating
on those elements that suited her purpose in the poem and is thus satirising those who overintellectualise.
Avril Horner: Small Female Skull in Strong Words

In the context of your reading of The Worlds Wife, talk about why this comment and
Duffys response is appropriate to the overall thrust of the collection.

Tiresias
n

Read the summary of Tiresiass story and, as a class, speculate about the potential this
story offers for Carol Ann Duffy in putting together her collection The Worlds Wife.
Tiresias
Tiresias was a prophet or soothsayer. There are two stories telling how he came by this gift.
The first tells how he was blinded by the goddess Pallas Athene after seeing her naked.
Chariclo pleaded on his behalf and in compensation Athene gave him the gift of prophecy.
The second and more famous version describes how walking on Mount Cyllene Tireisias saw
two snakes mating and either separated them or killed (or wounded) the female. He was
transformed into a woman. Several years later, exactly the same happened but this time
he was turned back into a man. At a later point Zeus and Hera called upon him to settle an
argument. As someone who had experienced sex as both a man and a woman they wanted
to know who got most pleasure. When Tireisias claimed it was the woman, Hera, in a fury,
blinded him and Zeus gave him the gift of prophecy, as compensation for the loss.

Reading the poem


from Mrs Tiresias is written in free verse, rather than in a form with a fixed rhythm and rhyme
scheme. However, there is a clear structure with the main stanzas interspersed with single line
stanzas. These single lines are reproduced below.

What can you work out about the poem from these fragments? What is He [Tiresias]
like? What about Mrs Tiresias? What view of men and women do you expect this poem to
present?
Whistling.

It got worse.

He was late getting back.

His flirts smile.

Life has to go on.

I gritted my teeth.

Then he started his period.

Read the poem, stopping at each asterisk (*) included within the text of Duffys poem,
to record your response and to speculate about the next section. Think about the
language of the poem and its structure, particularly the single line stanzas you have been
speculating about.
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Reading from Mrs Tiresias

A 20th-century poem
The story of Tiresias is taken from Greek myth. Carol Ann Duffy transposes the story and
characters into the late 20th century.

In pairs, fill in the table with the ways she does this (for example, through her humour
which depends upon the reader understanding a particular social and cultural context).

Strategy

Depicts Tiresias as
a rather pompous,
middle-aged man.

Quotation
He liked to hear
the first cuckoo of spring
then write to The Times.

Comment

Depends upon the readers


understanding of a particular
male stereotype, as well as a
particular, perhaps ctitious,
image of Britishness.

Humour
n

In your opinion is the poem funny? Why? Why not?

Talk about the way the following techniques are used to create humour in the poem and
whether you think they are effective:
word play
punning
the sounds of words (including rhymes)
the creation of a recognisable stereotype
incongruity between the ordinary and the surreal
satire
a combination of clichd language and an extraordinary situation.

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Reading from Mrs Tiresias

What is the poem about? Finding evidence


n

Choose three of the 12 possible interpretations of the poem below and on page 40 that
you have an opinion about. For each one, choose two pieces of evidence (quotation
or close reference to the text) which either support or challenge the statement. Add a
comment analysing the statement and the evidence.

Swap evidence and analyses with other people in your class.


1.

This poem relies on outdated stereotypes of both men and women.

Evidence:. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Evidence:. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Comment: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

2.

The humour in this poem is entirely at the expense of men.

Evidence:. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Evidence:. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Comment: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

3.

The poem suggests homophobia is deep seated in society.

Evidence:. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Evidence:. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Comment: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

4.

The poem suggests that in relationships with men, women inevitably modify their behaviour.

Evidence:. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Evidence:. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Comment: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

5.

The poem is about repression and liberation.

Evidence:. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Evidence:. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Comment: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

6.

There is no coherent argument in this poem.

Evidence:. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Evidence:. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Comment: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
English and Media Centre, 2007

Studying The Worlds Wife

39

Reading from Mrs Tiresias

7.

Although called from Mrs Tiresias this poem is still very much the story of Tiresias, the man.

Evidence:. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Evidence:. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Comment: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

8.

from Mrs Tiresias is about appearance, reality and hypocrisy.

Evidence:. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Evidence:. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Comment: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

9.

The poem suggests that men are only concerned with the way they are viewed by others.

Evidence:. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Evidence:. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Comment: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

10. The poem suggests that however we change our external appearance we remain in
essence the same.
Evidence:. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Evidence:. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Comment: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

11. The poem is exclusively about female sexuality.


Evidence:. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Evidence:. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Comment: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

12. The poem is part of a wider debate about gender and sexuality and whether they are
socially or biologically determined.
Evidence:. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Evidence:. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Comment: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

40

Studying The Worlds Wife

English and Media Centre, 2007

Reading from Mrs Tiresias

Critical readings
In pairs, read the three critical comments below, along with the brief summaries (A, B and
C) of each reading. Agree which summary best describes each critical reading.

Talk about which aspects of the readings you agree or disagree with. Have any of the
critical comments opened up new readings of the poem for you? Look again at the
poem and discuss the extent to which each of these interpretations can be defended or
challenged through a close reading of the poem.

Share your discoveries in class discussion.

Reading 1

Duffys Tiresias is a self-important cove, a creature of habits remembering his stick,


walking the dog, writing to The Times conceivably an academic, imaginably, with his
open-necked shirt,/and a jacket of Harris tweed Id patched at the sleeves myself.,
F.R. Leavis. The stick will be the one which, in Ovid, he shook impatiently at two
copulating snakes in his path resulting in his being suddenly changed into a woman.
The poem then enjoys itself satirising ham-fisted masculine helplessness as Tiresias
grapples with the novel problems of blow-drying his hair, shopping and periods. The
self-importance carries over into his new pontifications such as telling the women
out there/how, as a woman himself, he knew how we felt. He is however asexual.
When, after the split, Mrs T sees him escorted by powerful men, she knows thered
be nothing of that/going on/if he had his way. It is here that Duffy makes her most
radical revision of the myth ... Changed to a woman, he yet remains incorrigibly a
man. Only belatedly does something begin to dawn as his erstwhile wife introduces him
to her lover and he becomes transfixed by her physical beauty and sexual allure. He
pictures her bite at the fruit of my lips and hears my red wet cry in the night. Here,
in Duffys revision is Juno/Heras secret and it is a lesbian one.
Jeffrey Wainwright: Female Metamorphoses in Strong Words

Reading 3

Reading 2

Mrs Tiresias sees Duffy addressing explicitly the relationship between gender and
the body, exploring the performances which make up gender, and also, potentially,
deconstructing them...
Is Mrs Tiresias pondering, for example, whether her husbands capacity for exploitative
and false behaviour is not intrinsically male but is also a capacity her lover has as
a woman? In drawing a parallel between the two women, is she offering a critique
of womens display of femininity which can be seen as a collusion with patriarchys
subjection of women...
...What is crucial in reading the poem is that the bodily presence of the narrator
remains ungendered she mentions the backs of her knees, her gritted teeth, her lips
and her neck, but her performance of femininity is never actively displayed.
Deryn Rees Jones: Myth, Fairytale and Feminism after the Womens Movement

The poems closure then abandons the jealous Theban for a celebration of the wifes
lesbian lover. A traditional amorous sign, fruit, is re-written as a symbol of lesbian
eroticism when the woman chews the fruit of [the wifes] lips. Such poems negate any
requirement for an amorous masculinity in The Worlds Wife.
Antony Rowland: Love and Masculinity in Strong Words

A
A poem in which Duffy re-writes the
Greek myth in order to mock the flaws
and frailities of men, drawing attention to
their uneasy attitude towards sexuality.
The poem seems to conclude that
female pleasure is greater in lesbian
relationships.

A poem in which the story of Tiresias is


less important than the celebration of
lesbian love.

English and Media Centre, 2007

A poem which explores and challenges


cultural assumptions about what it means
to be female.

Studying The Worlds Wife

41

Reading from Mrs Tiresias

Looking outwards
The body in The Worlds Wife
As the critic Deryn Rees Jones suggests, in from Mrs Tiresias Carol Ann Duffy emphasises
the physicality of the body, focusing on the face, eyes, hands, lips and what they signify.

Skim through the poems you have read so far, noting down references to the body.
Annotate each one with its possible significance, first within the individual poem, then
within the collection as a whole.

As you continue to read more of the poems in The Worlds Wife, add to your notes on the
use Carol Ann Duffy makes of the body.

The literary context


n

T.S. Eliots poem The Waste Land also uses the character of Tiresias. Read the extract
and discuss any connections you notice between this modernist poem and Duffys late
20th-century monologue. For example: the focus of the text, the point of view, the tone
and how this tone is created.
At the violet hour, when the eyes and back
Turn upward from the desk, when the human engine waits
Like a taxi throbbing waiting,
I Tiresias, though blind, throbbing between two lives,
Old man with wrinkled female breasts, can see
At the violet hour, the evening hour that strives
Homeward, and brings the sailor home from sea,
The typist home at teatime, clears her breakfast, lights
Her stove, and lays out food in tins.
Out of the window perilously spread
Her drying combinations touched by the suns last rays,
On the divan are piled (at night her bed)
Stockings, slippers, camisoles, and stays.
I Tiresias, old man with wrinkled dugs
Perceived the scene, and foretold the rest
I too awaited the expected guest.
He, the young man carbuncular, arrives,
A small house agents clerk, with one bold stare,
One of the low on whom assurance sits
As a silk hat on a Bradford millionaire.
The time is now propitious, as he guesses,
The meal is ended, she is bored and tired,
Endeavours to engage her in caresses
Which still are unreproved, if undesired.
Flushed and decided, he assaults at once;
Exploring hands encounter no defence;
His vanity requires no response,
And makes a welcome of indifference.
(And I Tiresias have foresuffered all
Enacted on this same divan or bed;
I who have sat by Thebes below the wall
And walked among the lowest of the dead.)
Bestows one final patronising kiss,
And gropes his way, finding the stairs unlit ...

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Studying The Worlds Wife

English and Media Centre, 2007

Reading Pilates Wife

Pilates Wife
Before reading
Pilate in the Bible
n

Read the summary of the Bible account of Pilates role in the trial and crucifixion of Jesus.
Pilates story
The week before Passover Jesus Christ rode into Jerusalem on an ass, where he was greeted
as the saviour. The crowds shouted Hosanna and threw palms on the floor. When asked who
the man was, they answered, This is Jesus, the prophet of Nazareth.
Only days later and just as he had prophesised, Jesus was betrayed by Judas, one of his
disciples, and arrested.
Pilate, the governor of Jerusalem always released one prisoner during the feast of Passover.
This year the choice was between Barabbas, a thief, and Jesus. He knew that Jesus had
only been arrested due to the jealousy of the priests and elders and so asked the crowds
which prisoner he should release. While he was waiting to make his decision his wife sent
him a note saying, Have thou nothing to do with that just man: for I have suffered many
things this day in a dream because of him. The priests and elders of the temple persuaded
the crowd to shout for Barabbas to be released and for Jesus to be crucified. When Pilate
realised he could not persuade them otherwise, he washed his hands before the crowds,
saying I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it. And he released Barabbas
and delivered Jesus to be crucified.

A Victorian re-telling
n

In the 19th century, the poet and novelist Charlotte Bront wrote a long poem called
Pilates Wifes Dream. Read the extract from this poem below, and, as a group, discuss
your response.
All black one great cloud, drawn from east to west,
Conceals the heavens, but there are lights below;
Torches burn in Jerusalem, and cast
On yonder stony mount a lurid glow.
I see men stationd there, and gleaming spears;
A sound, too, from afar, invades my ears.
Dull, measured strokes of axe and hammer ring
From street to street, not loud, but through the night
Distinctly heard and some strange spectral thing
Is now unprepard and fixd against the light
Of the pale lamps, defined upon that sky,
It stands up like a column, straight and high.
I see it all I know the dusky sign
A cross on Calvary, which Jews uprear
While Romans watch; and when the dawn shall shine
Pilate, to judge the victim, will appear
Pass sentence yield Him up to crucify;
And on that cross the spotless Christ must die.
Dreams, then, are true for thus my vision ran;
Surely some oracle has been with me,
The gods have chosen me to reveal their plan,
To warn an unjust judge of destiny:
I, slumbering, heard and saw; awake I know,
Christs coming death and Pilates life of woe.
English and Media Centre, 2007

Studying The Worlds Wife

43

Reading Pilates Wife

Read Duffys poem Pilates Wife and make a note of your first response. On a photocopy
of the poem, highlight or underline all the words, phrases and images which seem, to you,
to come directly from the biblical tale.

Compare annotations with the person next to you and talk about the contribution the
biblical language and allusions make to the impact and meaning of the poem.

In the Gospel Matthew only mentions Pilates wife in relation to the note she is said to have
written. Duffy and Bront, writing more than 100 years apart, both choose to embellish her
character, giving her a voice through which to explore her role in the trial and crucifixion of
Christ.

In what other ways are the two poems similar or different? Make two lists under the
headings Similar and Different, focusing your comparison on key aspects of the poem,
such as tone, language, poetic techniques, aspects of the story foregrounded, message
or themes.

After reading
The dream
Duffy draws on the biblical account of the period leading up to Jesus crucifixion, taking as the
kernel of her poem Pilates Wifes dream. The Bible mentions this only in passing.
When he was set down on the judgement seat, his wife sent unto him, saying, Have thou
nothing to do with that just man: for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because
of him.

How do you interpret this? Read the possible interpretations below and talk about the
ambiguities. Does Pilate act on or ignore her note?
Have thou nothing to do with this man could mean do not get involved with the
calls for him to be crucified.
Have thou nothing to do with this man could mean dont get to know him, dont
listen to him, let the crowd and the others determine what is to be done with him.
I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of him no-one knows
what her dream was. Her suffering may be due to what she thinks will happen to
her if he lives or if he dies.

Now re-read Pilates Wife paying particular attention to Carol Ann Duffys presentation of
the dream. Talk about:
the content of the dream
the Wifes interpretation of it
her response
her note and what this suggests about Carol Ann Duffys interpretation of the Bible
Pilates response
the final line of the poem.

Motifs
Some of the key motifs from the story of Jesuss trial and Pilates decision are listed here:

44

hands

crucifixion

perfume

dream

betrayal

fruit

blood

washing

Studying The Worlds Wife

English and Media Centre, 2007

Reading Pilates Wife

Re-read the poem and identify the motifs or allusions to them.

Although the motifs in the poem pick up on in the biblical story, they are also coloured by other
literary uses Duffy is not the first poet to add layers of meaning of her own. In Macbeth, for
example, Shakespeare shows Lady Macbeth desperately trying to wash an invisible spot of
blood from her hand after the murder of Duncan. The association of washing with guilt and the
pursuit of moral or spiritual cleanliness, is thus even stronger now than it was when the biblical
story was written down.

Talk about the way in which Duffy draws on the associations these motifs have in the
story of Jesus, the crucifixion and beyond.

Jesus and Pilate


Through the character of the Wife, Carol Ann Duffy creates a particular image of both Jesus
and Pilate and the relationship between them.
On a clean sheet of paper, write the headings Jesus and Pilate. Re-read the poem,
listing key words and images associated with each man under the appropriate heading.

Look first at the associations and meanings of each word or image (for example, positive
or negative, feminine or masculine, formal or informal and so on). What do you notice?

In pairs, look at your word lists and talk about the significance of Carol Ann Duffys
presentation of the two men. What difference, if any, does it make that these words are
spoken through the persona of the wife?

Christ with Pilate, 1910 by Malczewski, Jacek (1854-1929)


Lviv State Picture Gallery

Beginning and endings


Included here are the first line and last line of Pilates Wife. In what ways do the opening lines
relate to or connect with those which end it? In what ways do the concluding lines come as a
shock? Why? What had you assumed to be the case?

Look back through the poem, identifying the ways in which Duffy sets up and prepares for
the ending.

Firstly, his hands a womans. Softer than mine,

English and Media Centre, 2007

Was he God? Of course not. Pilate believed he was.

Studying The Worlds Wife

45

Reading Mrs Darwin, Frau Freud and Mrs Aesop

Mrs Darwin, Frau Freud and Mrs Aesop


Before reading
Three influential men
n

Read the following brief accounts of Darwin, Freud and Aesop.


Darwin
Darwin is generally regarded as the father of evolutionary biology. His argument that humans
were a result of natural and sexual selection was both revolutionary and controversial
and continues to be so. If humans are simply one stage in the process of evolution, then
Genesis is no more than a story. Darwin was well aware of how controversial his work was
and so played down the use of the word evolution and did not make the monkey to man
connection. Even in the 21st century there are some who dispute Darwins theory, arguing
instead for Intelligent Design (humans placed by God, fully formed, in the garden of Eden).

Freud
Sigmund Freud developed the psychoanalytic school of psychology. The popular image is of a
man who thought everything could be explained in terms of sex. He believed, for example,
that human development could be explained in terms of the changing object of sexual
desire. He also thought that sexual or aggressive wishes, perhaps regarded as unacceptable
by the individual or society, were repressed by the conscious mind, revealing themselves
in the unconscious dreams, Freudian slips, physical and neurotic symptoms. He is most
famous for his claim that every man wishes to kill his father and sleep with his mother,
which he named the Oedipus complex after the protagonist of Greek tragedy. Although in
favour of sexual freedom and education for women, his belief that women who attempted to
excel outside the home suffered from penis envy and were striving to compensate for their
castration, has made him unpopular with feminists.

Aesop
Aesop was a slave living in Ancient Greece in the 6th-century BC. He is best known as the
originator of the fable, of which he wrote more than 650. The fable is a very short story with
a clear moral lesson or cautionary message. Although people do play a part in Aesops fables,
most of the characters are animals who speak and behave as humans do. The Tortoise and
the Hare and The Lion and the Mouse are examples of Aesops fables which have entered
Western culture and thought.

Sum up your impression of the three men in no more than five adjectives each, then
share these with the rest of the class.

Work in pairs. Your teacher will allocate one of these men to each pair.

Use the information about Freud, Darwin or Aesop, and your knowledge of Carol Ann
Duffys approach in the collection, to write a postcard in the voice of the (unknown) wife.
(This could be to her famous husband but need not be.)

Listen to the postcards and talk about the different approaches people have taken.

46

Studying The Worlds Wife

English and Media Centre, 2007

Reading Mrs Darwin, Frau Freud and Mrs Aesop

Reading the poems


Reading Mrs Darwin
n

As a class, read Mrs Darwin. On your


own write down one word to describe the
poem and your immediate reaction to it, for
example: clever, witty, satisfying, irritating,
trite, pointed.

Read out your word to the whole class. Is


there agreement? If there is, briefly share
your reasons for your response. If there is
disagreement, talk about how such a short
poem might provoke different reactions,
taking it in turns to explain your views.

Is there a serious point?

Darwin

By suggesting it was Mrs Darwin who spotted


the link between chimpanzees and mankind (at
the same time as mocking one particular man!),
is Carol Ann Duffy making a more serious
point about the silent or unnoticed part women
have played throughout history? Or is that to
weigh down an amusing poem with too much
significance?
Argue it out with each contributor allowed no more than 60 seconds to make their point.

Reading Frau Freud and Mrs Aesop expert groups


n

Work in small groups, with half of the groups


focusing on Mrs Aesop and the other half
focusing on Frau Freud.

Read your poem and talk about it, using the


table on page 48 to organise your ideas.

Sharing groups

Aesop

Freud

n Form new groups,


to share your
insights into the two
poems. Begin by
reading the poem
youve focused on
to the others in your
new group. Use
your notes on the
individual poems to
draw out similarities
and differences
between the two.

English and Media Centre, 2007

Studying The Worlds Wife

47

48

Studying The Worlds Wife

Form, rhythm, rhyme scheme,


word groups

Tone

Audience

Wifes use of her husbands


story

The wifes voice

Representation of the wife

Representation of the husband

Duffys use of the husbands


story

Overall response

Frau Freud

Mrs Aesop

Similarities

Differences

Reading Mrs Darwin, Frau Freud and Mrs Aesop

English and Media Centre, 2007

Reading Mrs Sisyphus

Mrs Sisyphus
The opening line
Mrs Sisyphus begins her poem
Thats him pushing the stone up the hill, the jerk.

What can you tell about the character and Duffys approach to the myth of Sisyphus from
this opening line? You should think about:
the tone
the mood of the speaker
the lexis
the assumed audience
the role of the reader (for example in filling in gaps such as the setting and the
context).

The rhymes
Mrs Sisyphus is structured around rhymes and half-rhymes with the word jerk. These words
are listed below.

Look at all the rhyming words, listed below.


Jerk

Folk

Shark

Kirk

Flock

Shirk

Irk

Bollocks

Murk

Berk

Walk

Work

Dirk

Park

Dark

Perks

Dork

Squawk

Perk

Gawp

Ark

Shriek

Shirk

Bach

Cork

Hawk

Smirk

Say the rhyming words out loud, paying attention to their sound and the response you
have to them (both sound and meaning). In conjunction with the opening line, what
type of poem do you think this is going to be? What type of wife (and woman) is Mrs
Sisyphus?

Reading the poem


n

Read the poem as far as the line Mustnt shirk!.

Talk about the effect of the rhyming in the poem. You should think about:
the sound of the words
the meaning of the words
the build-up of rhymes and half-rhymes
the privileging of rhyme (Sisyphus has to bark rather than howl at the moon)
the use of dialect and archaic words.

English and Media Centre, 2007

Studying The Worlds Wife

49

Reading Mrs Sisyphus

Adapting the myth


In the myth, Sisyphus is condemned to roll a stone up the hill only to have it roll back down
again as a punishment, as summarised below. Carol Ann Duffy has removed the compulsory
element to the task: no-one but Sisyphus is making him continue.

Talk about the difference knowledge of the myth, and Duffys selective adaptation of it,
make to your understanding of the poem.
Sisyphus was a King of Corinth and the most cunning of mortals. He was often referred to
as a trickster. He was condemned for eternity to roll an enormous rock to the top of a hill
only to have it immediately roll down again. In Homers account Sisyphus is already in Hades
for other crimes when he receives this punishment.

The end of the poem


n

Read the final stanza and highlight the similarities and differences with the rest of the
poem and the way in which these are revealed.

Comment on the effect of this ending on the rest of the poem (for example tone, allusions
to the biblical and historical couples, the implications for his wife of Sisyphuss dedication
to his work).

A dramatic reading
n

Use the suggested approaches on page 106 to develop a dramatised reading of Mrs
Sisyphus. For example you might choose to have one person speaking with the rest
of the group listening and responding either silently or vocally. Alternatively, you could
practise a choral reading, with repetition, stamping and clapping to emphasise both the
rhythm and key words.

Writing tasks
n

Choose one of the following creative response tasks.


1. An article on work/life balance for a womens magazine or a supplement in a
weekend paper, written by Mrs Sisyphus.
2. A letter to a problem page from Mrs Sisyphus.
3. A script for a daytime TV programme (for example, Tricia) looking at the problem of
workaholic husbands, where Mrs Sisyphus appears as a guest.

Whichever task you choose, you should draw on:


your understanding of the poem
its themes and the way in which the male and female characters are presented
the style (the use of the rhyme, the incongruous relationship between the context of
the poem and the language, shifts in tone and so on).

Looking outwards
Mrs Faust, Frau Freud, Eurydice, Mrs Darwin and Mrs Aesop all explore the relationship
between men and women in the context of the mans work. Salome, Frau Freud and
Eurydice employ similar linguistic techniques such as the use of rhyme (and half-rhyme), the
use of synonyms and repetition.

Re-read these poems and create a mind-map showing the ways in which they can be
compared and contrasted.

50

Studying The Worlds Wife

English and Media Centre, 2007

Reading Mrs Faust

Mrs Faust
Before reading
Faust for the 21st century a film pitch
Printed below is a summary of the story of Faust.
Faust
A learned and ambitious man who strives after knowledge forbidden by the Church, Faust
summons the Devil to help him gain this knowledge. The Devil agrees to serve him in
exchange for his soul. In Christopher Marlowes 16th-century re-telling of the story. Faust
uses his power for trivial worldly pleasures, and is ultimately called on to keep his side of the
bargain and relinquish his soul to the Devil.

What might tempt a modern day Faust to strike such a bargain with the Devil? Take one
of the ideas suggested here (or one of your own) and write a 200-word pitch for a 21stcentury adaptation of the Faust story:
beauty
sexual attractiveness
eternal youth
fame and celebrity
footballing skill
money.

Reading Mrs Faust fragments


n

What impression do you get of Faust, Mrs Faust, their lives and their relationship from the
fragments below? Discuss your impressions, making sure you consider the language as
well as the subject of each fragment.
shacked up, split up,
made up, hitched up,
I went to yoga, tai chi,
Feng Shui, therapy, colonic irrigation.
I smelled cigar smoke,
hellish, oddly sexy, not allowed.
Next thing, the world,
as Faust said,
spread its legs.
Turned 40, celibate,
Teetotal, vegan,
Buddhist, 41.
left everything
the yacht,
the several homes,
the Lear jet, the helipad,
the loot, et cet, et cet,
the lot
to me.
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Reading Mrs Faust

After reading
Who or what is the object of Duffys satire? A 60-second argument
In many of the poems in The Worlds Wife the object of Carol Ann Duffys satire or criticism
is a man the specific husband or men more generally. Mrs Faust could be interpreted as
slightly more complicated than this. Listed here are some possible objects of Duffys criticism
in this poem.
Belief
Religion
Commercialism
Men
Women
Lack of belief
Pursuit of power
Ambition
Greed
Trust in humans
Morality
Lack of spiritual value
Consumer society
Late 20th-century Western society

Choose one of the possible objects of satire (or add one of your own) and prepare a oneminute argument justifying your choice. Present your arguments to the rest of the class.
When you have heard all the arguments, take a vote on which you find most persuasive.

An Hello exclusive
Following the untimely disappearance of the richest and most powerful man in the world, Mrs
Faust signs an exclusive deal with Hello magazine to tell her story.

The poem is the story she gives you. How will you write the article? What will you
emphasise (for example the glamour; the tragedy; the strength of an independent
woman)? Will you tell the story chronologically as Mrs Faust does in the poem? Or will
you start with the end? As its a long story you will need to divide it into sections, giving
each one a sub-heading.

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Reading Delilah

Delilah
Delilah in the Bible
Delilah is one of very few women who are well-known biblical figures in their own right. She
was the lover of Samson and is best known for the story of how she cut off his hair, the source
of his great strength, betraying him to his enemies, the Philistines.

Read the biblical version of this story and comment on the characterisation of the woman
(for example, faithful? pure? cunning? deceptive? attractive? powerful?).
3. And Samson lay till midnight, and arose at midnight, and took the doors of the gate of
the city, and the two posts, and went away with them, bar and all, and put them upon his
shoulders, and carried them up to the top of an hill that is before Hebron.
4. And it came to pass afterward, that he loved a woman in the valley of Sorek, whose name
was Delilah.
5. And the lords of the Philistines came up unto her, and said unto her, Entice him, and see
wherein his great strength lieth, and by what means we may prevail against him, that we
may bind him to afflict him; and we will give thee every one of us eleven hundred pieces of
silver ...
15. And she said unto him, How canst thou say, I love thee, when thine heart is not with me?
thou hast mocked me these three times, and hast not told me wherein thy great strength
lieth.
16. And it came to pass, when she pressed him daily with her words, and urged him, so that
his soul was vexed unto death;
17. That he told her all his heart, and said unto her, There hath not come a razor upon mine
head; for I have been a Nazarite unto God from my mothers womb: if I be shaven, then my
strength will go from me, and I shall become weak, and be like any other man.
18. And when Delilah saw that he had told her all his heart, she sent and called for the lords
of the Philistines, saying, Come up this once, for he hath shewed me all his heart. Then the
lords of the Philistines came up unto her, and brought money in their hand.
19. And she made him sleep upon her knees; and she called for a man, and she caused him
to shave off the seven locks of his head; and she began to afflict him, and his strength went
from him.
20. And she said, The Philistines be upon thee, Samson. And he awoke out of his sleep, and
said, I will go out as at other times before, and shake myself. And he wist not that the LORD
was departed from him.
21. But the Philistines took him, and put out his eyes, and brought him down to Gaza, and
bound him with fetters of brass; and he did grind in the prison house.

Pull out what seem to you to be the key points of the story.

Fill in the first row of the table on page 54.

Reading Duffys Delilah


n

Read Carol Ann Duffys poem and fill in the second row of the table.

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Reading Delilah

Key points

Characterisation
of Delilah

Meaning of
Samsons hair

Message

Biblical story

Duffys poem

The listener
The poems in The Worlds Wife are all monologues (or duologues in the case of The Kray
Sisters) with previously silenced or marginalised women being given a voice. As monologues
all the poems are assumed to have a listener the wives are speaking to someone. In
Delilah this is suggested through the aside we were lying in bed .

Work in pairs, with one person playing the part of Delilah and reading the poem and the
other person listening and responding. The person listening might respond through nods,
facial expressions, exclamations, questions and comments.

After you have read the poem, share your ideas about the context in which you imagine
this poem being spoken (for example, a court of law or religious court, a hairdressers
salon, a phone call, a girls night out). Refer closely to the poem to justify your decisions.

Readings
Here are five statements summing up points of interest about the poem.

The most interesting point about this poem is not the voice Duffy gives Delilah, but the
voice she gives Samson, one of the few men to be quoted directly in the collection.

The poem presents a radical alternative in which men seek to develop behaviour
traditionally regarded as feminine.

The poem perpetuates stereotypes by suggesting that men are incapable of an


emotional response.

The poem challenges not only the presentation of Delilah but of woman as depicted
in the Christian Bible from Eve onwards: treacherous, fickle, easily tempted, wily and
manipulative of trusting men.

Duffys Delilah retains the essential elements of the story but transfers it from the
political and religious sphere to the personal and intimate.

In pairs, or groups, take one of the statements and discuss your view of the interpretation.

After five minutes, split up and form a new pair with someone who has been discussing
a different statement. Take it in turns to read out your statement and your response to it.
Talk about whether the statement you have just been introduced to has added anything to
your developing understanding of the poem.

Continue to form new pairs and share your statements until you have discussed each
statement at least once.

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Reading Anne Hathaway

Anne Hathaway
Before reading
Anne Hathaway was the wife of William Shakespeare. Eight years older than him, she was
26 and pregnant when they married. Shakespeare spent much of his time in London,
though records of his business dealings suggest he often returned to Stratford where his wife
remained.

The quotation which opens the poem is taken from Shakespeares will. Although there is no
mention of Annes name in the will, his wife is left my second best bed with the furniture:
Item I gyve unto my wief my second best bed...

Before reading the poem, role-play a conversation between Shakespeare and his lawyer
as he writes his will. Why do you think Shakespeare left his wife his second best bed?
Collect together all the different possible reasons and speculate about the way you think
Carol Ann Duffy is likely to have interpreted it.

Poem as prose
Included here is the poem written out as prose.

Read it once and record your first response. Some of the things you might want to talk
about include:
the language
use of the five senses
genre (lyric, narrative, polemic and so on)
poetic techniques, for example alliteration
tone
presentation of the relationship between Anne Hathaway and Shakespeare
connection to the epigraph.

The bed we loved in was a spinning world of forests, castles, torchlight, clifftops, seas
where he would dive for pearls. My lovers words were shooting stars which fell to
earth as kisses on these lips; my body now a softer rhyme to his, now echo, assonance;
his touch a verb dancing in the centre of a noun. Some nights, I dreamed hed written
me, the bed a page beneath his writers hands. Romance and drama played by touch,
by scent, by taste. In the other bed, the best, our guests dozed on, dribbling their
prose. My living laughing love I hold him in the casket of my widows head as he held
me upon that next best bed.

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Reading Anne Hathaway

Structuring the poem


n

Re-read the prose version of the poem. In pairs, talk about where you think the line
breaks should go. Think about: rhythm; ending lines with words you want to emphasise;
whether you think the length of the lines should be regular or irregular; whether you think
there should be any spaces between lines or should it be all one continuous stanza?

Mark your line breaks onto the prose version with the symbol //. Annotate your poem with
the reasons for your decisions.

Take it in turns to feed back your versions of Anne Hathaway, using a computer or
interactive whiteboard, if possible.

Now read Duffys poem. Compare her choices of line break with your own.

The importance of form


Anne Hathaway is written in the form of a sonnet: 14 lines of iambic pentameter, although
Duffy has not followed the strict rhyme scheme of a traditional sonnet. The sonnet is a form
particularly associated with Shakespeare, after whom the English (as opposed to Italian)
sonnet is named. The Shakespearean sonnet is structured into four quatrains and a couplet.
There is often a shift or turn after the second quatrain. The critic Michael J. Woods comments
on Duffys subtle use of rhyme as well as form to create the voice of Anne Hathaway:
In keeping with the impression of a separate identity, Anne Hathaway is presented as
someone who is able to use words in an impressively poetic way. In this sense her personality
rhymes with her husbands. She refers to her body being a softer rhyme to Shakespeare.
Here Duffy is subtly relating the poetic technique of masculine rhyme and feminine rhyme
to the actual lives of two people who could hardly be separated from art: kisses at the
end of line 4 is a feminine ending; touch is a masculine one... The subsequent Romance/
and drama played by touch, by scent, by taste is heavily erotic, concentrating on sensory
exploration and not language itself.

Re-read the poem and, as a class, talk about your own understanding of how Duffy has
used the form of the sonnet to give Anne Hathaway a voice.

Voice and audience


The poems in The Worlds Wife are dramatic monologues. Monologues imply a listener:
Eurydice talks to the girls, Circe instructs the nereids and nymphs while Delilahs aside we
were lying in bed acknowledges a listener. In other poems like Anne Hathaway it is not as
obvious who the poem is for. Is it for the reader, for Anne Hathaway herself or Shakespeare,
perhaps?

In pairs, try reading the poem out loud as though spoken to different listeners. Next, say it
to yourself, more like a soliloquy. Which version do you think is most successful?

Share your thoughts with the rest of the class. Talk about how far voice, structure and the
lyric, rather than narrative form of the poem contribute to the overall impression of the
speaker and her listener.

The five senses a wall display


n

On the wall, pin up sheets of sugar paper, with the names of the five senses printed on
them in large letters. Under each sense, write short quotations from Anne Hathaway.

Talk about what you notice.

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Reading Anne Hathaway

Imagery
n

Highlight all the similes in one colour and metaphors in another. What do you notice? In
your own words, describe the contribution each metaphor or simile makes to the meaning
and effect of the poem.

The poem uses the language as well as the techniques of poetry to convey the love of Anne
Hathaway and Shakespeare, and particularly their physical, sexual relationship. The images
associated with writing and literature are also erotically charged, with clear sexual meanings.
As the critic Michael J. Woods notes:
The image of Shakespeare diving in bed suggests oral sex with Anne Hathaway, as well as
reminding us that he was the man who wrote Ariels song in The Tempest ... The subsequent
Romance/and drama played by touch, by scent, by taste is heavily erotic, concentrating on
sensory exploration and not language itself.

In your pairs, or as a class, talk about what the metaphors and similes reveal to you about
Carol Ann Duffys depiction of Shakespeare, Anne Hathaway and their relationship.

Write a paragraph analysing the way in which poetry, writing and language is:
the medium of communication
the subject of the poem
a way of celebrating love
a metaphor for sex.

Looking outwards
Little Red-Cap and Eurydice also use poetry, the act and language of creation as a
metaphor for a relationship between the man and woman.

Choose two quotations from Little Red-Cap and Eurydice, illustrating the way in which
Duffy uses language and poetry to explore this relationship. Briefly analyse the effect.
Do the same for Anne Hathaway. Compare the contribution the technique makes to the
meaning, tone and effect of each poem.
Quotation

Effect

Anne Hathaway

Little Red-Cap

Eurydice

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Reading 20th-century icons

Duffy and 20th-century icons


The Kray Sisters, Queen Kong and Elviss Twin Sister
Duffy uses popular culture of the 20th century, inventing sisters for Elvis and the Krays and
transforming King Kong into Queen Kong. Although two of the poems are based on historical
figures and one on a character in a fictional film, all three are iconic in some way, capturing
something of the period in which they lived. An icon is an important or enduring symbol or
someone or something that is the object of great attention and devotion, an idol.

Read the information about Elvis, the Krays and King Kong included here. What kind of
icons do you think they were? What did (do) they represent?

What do you think a feminist poet might do with these iconic figures? Share your ideas.
The Krays
The Krays were identical twin brothers who, during the 1950s and 60s, were the most
powerful and famous leaders of organised crime in North and East London. In addition to
their infamy as criminals, they also had a high profile on the celebrity circuit the Krays
were at the centre of swinging London, socialising with the rich and famous, including
politicians. Witness intimidation meant that it was a long time before the police could
charge the brothers. When they did, both men were sentenced to 30 years without parole,
Ronnie in a secure mental hospital.
King Kong
King Kong is a character in a classic Hollywood film. He was a fictional beast living on Skull
Island in the Indian Ocean. He lived there with other oversized creatures the ones who gave
him the name Kong. Captured and named King Kong by an American film crew, he was taken
to be exhibited in New York City. He escaped and climbed onto the Empire State Building in
order to protect the actress whom he loved. He was attacked by aircraft and shot and killed.
Elvis Presley
Known as Elvis, The King of Rock and Roll or simply The King, Elvis Presley was a singer,
music producer and actor who is credited with transforming popular music. John Lennon
once said that before Elvis there was nothing. His recordings, dance moves, attitude
and clothing came to be seen as the embodiment of the period, not least because of the
controversy surrounding them. His music was both slammed and celebrated for being
black, while at some venues and on television his hips had to be concealed behind a screen
for fear his dancing would pollute innocent minds (not for nothing was he known as Elvis
the pelvis). The hysteria seen at his early concerts (in 1956 100 National Guardsman were
needed to control the fans) was only matched by the hysteria following his death in 1977 at
the age of 42. Thousands of fans continue to make the pilgrimage to his home in Graceland,
while others spend their lives going to Elvis conventions or even refuse to believe he is
really dead.

Reading The Kray Sisters


n

In pairs, read The Kray Sisters out loud, using some of the strategies suggested on page
106. As you read, pay particular attention to the rhythm of the poem, the sounds of the
words and the tone of voice you feel best suits the reading.

On your own, write down five words that you think capture the key tones of the poem, for
example fesity, exuberant and so on. Make a brief note by each word to remind you of
the reason for each choice.

Join up with another pair. Share your first response and your key word summary. Talk
about any similarities and differences in your initial interpretation of the poem.

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Reading 20th-century icons

Language and style


n

Continue to work in groups of four, with each person pulling out key references to one of
the following areas:
allusions to 20th-century history
references to popular culture
cockney rhyming slang
clichs.

Take it in turns to feed back your discoveries and fill in the chart below.
Quotations

Comments

Allusions to 20thcentury history

References to popular
culture

Cockney rhyming
slang

Clichs

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Reading 20th-century icons

Beating them at their own game?


n

In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, the media was fascinated by the rise of girl
gangs. Read the extracts below, highlighting anything that strikes you as interesting
about the role of men and women in society and their representation in print.
But nowadays the roles have been dramatically reversed. While 15-year-old boys are content
to play on their computers, more girls are drinking, smoking and taking drugs. The findings
reflect the rise of the ladette culture among young women who try to keep pace with male
drinking and drug taking...
Dr Helen Sweeting, who led the study, said social changes have given girls the independence
to ditch traditional female activities: Girls are freer to be seen out more and to hang around
the streets, she said. They are also freer to smoke and drink and go into pubs and clubs,
there are increased freedoms and opportunities and that is great but this also brings some
health risks.
Daily Mail, 26th January 2004
Twenty years ago boys drugged, drank, smoked, truanted, stole, vandalised and fought more
than girls. Today it is very different. Girls now significantly smoke and binge-drink more than
boys. They truant, steal and fight at similar rates to boys but have started under-aged sex
earlier than boys with 17% of lads in Year 11 having had their First-Sexual-Intercourse (FSI),
whereas 31% of Year 11 girls have had their FSI.
Professor Colin Pritchard, Daily Mail, 18th May, 2006

Re-reading The Kray Sisters


n

Read Duffys poem again, then read the following comments on The Kray Sisters.

Use one of the strategies described on page 118 to debate the comments and so clarify
your thinking about the poem (for example, continuum lines or the boxing match).

The Kray Sisters shows a depressing alternative to a patriarchal society, in


which women adopt the same tactics as the men.

The Kray Sisters presents an alternative reality in which women use strongarm tactics to create a safer society.

The Kray Sisters are shown to be just as skilful as their male counterparts at
justifying their control of the underworld.

This poem is less about two 20th-century gangsters than a celebration of a


century in which women came to have a voice and a place in society.

The playfulness of the language and the exuberance of the poetic voice are
more important than any theme or message.

The final stanza reveals that the Kray Sisters rule is long over, suggesting that
ultimately men will always have the most power.

This is not a feminist poem; it is a parody of a feminist poem.

It is difficult to see what this poem adds to the female voices and experiences
as explored in The Worlds Wife.

In The Kray Sisters Carol Ann Duffy turns clich, slang and street speak into
a vibrant, exuberant account of the womens movement.

10

The Krays and 60s London are used solely because they provide a context for
a clever, witty exploration of a womens eye view of the world.

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Reading 20th-century icons

Reading Queen Kong


The Kray Sisters inverts history to
create an alternative reality in which
women run the underworld. It can be
read as suggesting that women are
just as comfortable with behaviours
often assumed to be male. Queen
Kong explores the opposite situation.
In Duffys poem, Duffy re-creates
Kong as female and her lover as
male.

Male/female stereotypes
n

In pairs, or as a class, list as many words and phrases as you can under the headings
below. If your class is fairly evenly split, the boys could work on the female adjectives and
vice-versa. An example has been given for each to get you started.
Adjectives to describe men Dominant
Adjectives to describe women Compliant

Share your lists and talk about any patterns you notice.

Reading the poem


n

Read Queen Kong all the way through and share your first thoughts about it, using the
following prompts if you need to.
Did you enjoy it? (If so, which bits and why? If not, why not?)
In what ways is the poem similar to or different from others in the collection?
What do you think about the characterisation of Queen Kong and her human lover?
In what ways does the poem confirm assumptions about male and female
behaviour?
In what ways does it challenge these assumptions?
Is the poem anything more than a playful exploration of male/female relationships?

Analysing the language and critical readings


n

Re-read the poem and, on a photocopy, use different colours to highlight:


language you associate with men and male behaviour
language you associate with women and female behaviour

Then fill in the grid below and talk about what your analysis reveals.

Queen Kong
female language
Lover female
language
Queen Kong
male language
Lover male
language

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Reading 20th-century icons

Use your notes from your initial discussion and your analysis of the language to respond
to the critical views expressed here.
Queen Kong gives us an inverted world in which the man is allowed to be nervous, dreamy
and delicate whilst the woman is strong, excessive, determined and passionate.
Avril Horner

The enormous power of Queen Kong in relation to the tiny man she falls in love with
emphasises the control women can have over men.
Michael J. Wood

Looking beyond men and women the humour in Queen Kong


n

Individually choose three sections that you find particularly amusing and one where you
think the humour does not really work.

In groups, take it in turns to read out your choices and explain what it is you like about
each one, identifying the way in which the humour is created, if you can. For example:

I enjoy the humour in Queen Kongs comment that she was accepted into the bohemian
Greenwich village because they are used to strangers. It creates a surreal image and I found
amusing the gap between Queen Kongs description of her life and what it would really
have been like.
Exploring the structure storyboard
Queen Kong is based
on the cult film King
Kong and the poem has
a filmic quality to it, with
flashbacks, cuts between
scenes, even the clichd
Hollywood-romance
language in which Queen
Kong describes her love.

Working on your
own or in pairs,
turn the poem into
a storyboard for a
film (your drawing
abilities are not
important). You will
need to think about:
the structure of the poem and how you will convey the movement between present
and past
the shifts in scene and location
the point of view from which the tale is told
the role of voiceover
the style of the film (rom-com? passionate drama? cartoon?).

Take it in turns to present your storyboard to the rest of the class, along with the insights
you have gained into the poem.

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Reading 20th-century icons

Reading Elviss Twin Sister


The title and epigraphs
n

Annotate the title with anything that strikes you about it, particularly in the context of the
rest of the collection. Add any thoughts you have about the voice Duffy might give the
fictional female twin of an iconic figure of the 20th century.

The poem has two epigraphs: the first is a quotation from Are you lonesome tonight?, one of
Elviss hit records; the second is a quote from Madonna.
Are you lonesome tonight? Do you miss me tonight?
Elvis is alive and shes female. Madonna

Talk about the expectations the epigraphs set up. (For example, will the poem be a reworking of the Elvis hit? Will it be about loneliness? How will the poem use the urban
myths and conspiracy theories about Elviss death?)

Reading the poem


n

Read the poem and write no more than fifty words summing up your response to it
(whether this is immediate enjoyment or complete bafflement). You may also want to think
about the ways in which it is similar to or different from the other poems in the collection.

Look back at the epigraphs. In what ways do they illuminate, complicate or confuse your
response to the poem?

Contextualising the title and epigraphs


Madonnas comment Elvis is alive
and shes female (sometimes quoted
as Elvis is alive and shes beautiful)
was made in reference to the lesbian
country singer KD Laing whose voice
and looks are very much like those of
a young Elvis. Elvis was not the first
artist to record Are you lonesome
tonight? (it was first recorded in 1927)
although his version is probably the
most famous. The spoken part of the
song is loosely based on a speech
by Jacques in Shakespeares As You
Like It, Act 2 Scene 7: All the worlds
a stage, and all men and women
merely players: they have their exits
and their entrances; And one man in
his time plays many parts. Elvis was
a twin: his twin brother was stillborn.
Return to your first response to
the poem and use the additional
contextual information to adapt or
develop your initial ideas.
Linda Combi

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Reading 20th-century icons

The language of the poem


n

Read the poem again, this time focusing on the lexical groups Duffy draws on.

Organise the groups of words into categories which seem to work well together. When
you are happy with your group, make a note of its title and the words that belong in it.
You can use each word in more than one group. One example has been given to get you
started:

Elvis lyrics
Lawdy (title of a song Lawdy Ms Claudy)
Blue Suede Shoes (title of a song)
Heartbreak Hotel (title of a song)
Lonely Street (a phrase from Heartbreak Hotel)
n

What is the effect of juxtaposing words from such different lexical groups?

A perplexing poem
This poem can be rather perplexing. Why, for instance, does Duffy make Elviss sister a nun?
Here are some possible interpretations. Can you think of any others?

Discuss the interpretations you think are most plausible in the light of this particular poem
and the collection as a whole.

It would be too obvious if Elviss


sister were a singer.

Its more fun to have Elviss sister


sharing his physical attributes and
mannerisms if she is a nun.

It undermines the readers


assumptions about nuns and their
world.

Its a poem about sexuality of


different types.

Elvis was idolised by many people


as though he were a god.

The poem draws attention to


the way in which religion is
seen as only one more form of
entertainment in the 20th century.

Its a light-hearted poem mocking


both religion and the worshipping
of pop stars.

Its a poem about sexuality of


different types.

64

Its about an all-female world,


in which women have found
happiness.

Studying The Worlds Wife

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Reading Mrs Quasimodo

Mrs Quasimodo
The male character in this poem is Quasimodo, the Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Read the following information about Quasimodo and look at the image below, taken from
the film adaptation of the novel.
Quasimodo
Quasimodo is the hero of Victor Hugos The Hunchback of Notre Dame, written in 1831 but
set in the Middle Ages. Abandoned as a baby on the steps of the cathedral at Notre Dame de
Paris, Quasimodo grows up shunned and reviled by everyone due to his physical deformities,
regarded as a monster by the inhabitants of Paris. He remains in the cathedral, becoming its
bell ringer. He falls in love with the beautiful Esmeralda but says nothing to her of his love.
He is wrongly accused of kidnapping her and as punishment is pilloried in public, subject
to humiliation by the crowd and his captors. His supposed victim Esmeralda is the one who
shows him pity, bringing him water after his ordeal is over. When she is falsely accused of
witchcraft and attempted murder, she seeks refuge in the cathedral, where Quasimodo
protects and cares for her. Following her execution, Quasimodo throws her tormentor, the
evil archdeacon, from the roof of the cathedral. He then entombs himself with Esmeralda,
where his bones are later discovered.

The context
n

Divide the class into three groups, with each group speculating about how Duffy might
use this story to create a voice for Mrs Quasimodo if set in the following periods:
the middle ages
the Victorian period
the 21st century.

You should think about the characterisation, idioms, possible beliefs and themes, moral
attitudes and so on. If your class is very big, two or three groups could think about each
context.

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Reading Mrs Quasimodo

Reading the poem


n

Read the poem a stanza at a time, stopping to record your developing response as you
read. Make a note of any connections you see between this poem and any of the others
you have read in the collection (for example, similar linguistic or poetic techniques, similar
use of metaphors and so on).

The key points


n

Pull out between 10 and 15 quotations that you think tell the essential story of Mrs
Quasimodo. If possible, they should also give some idea of the voice and the style of the
poem.

Compare your selections with those of the other people in your class, focusing particularly
on the differences in your selections.

The structure
n

Re-read the poem, marking the turning points. Annotate your decisions with your reasons
(for example a stanza break, a shift in tone, a development in the relationship, a change
in the type of language used).

Compare your decisions as a class.

In pairs, or small groups, focus on one of the following structural features of the poem,
analysing its contribution to the meaning and effect of the poem:
use of questions
repetition (words, images, sounds)
line breaks
use of quotations, presented in italics
single sentence stanzas.

Take it in turns to feed back your suggestions.

Language lexical groups and images


One of the striking aspects of Mrs Quasimodo is the range of lexical groups and registers
it draws on to create her voice. The juxtaposition of conflicting registers gives the poem a
jagged quality reminiscent of the woman herself.

In pairs, look at the effect of Duffys use of the following linguistic techniques:
synonyms
clichs
words used in new and surprising ways
taboo language
specialist language
the juxtaposition of words from different lexical groups (religious, archaic, sexual,
domestic, bestial, words associated with deformity).

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Reading Mrs Quasimodo

Language imagery
As well as using prosaic language (boiled potatoes on a ring) and clich (and got a life),
Duffy creates poetic and startling images, for example:
generous bronze throats/gargling, or
chanting slowly,

embossed it on the fragrant air.

my small eyes black/as rained-on


cobblestones.

underneath the gaping, stricken bells

as dusks blue rubber rubbed them


out,

among the murdered music of the


bells

a recognition like a struck match in


my head.

Annotate the following image with the impression it creates in your mind:
an ugly clich in a field
pressing dock-leaves to her fat, stung calves

Mrs Quasimodos describes herself as an ugly clich. In this metaphor there may be an
allusion to Francis Cornfords poem To a Fat Lady Seen from the Train:
O fat white woman whom nobody loves,
Why do you walk through the fields in gloves,

What difference does it make to read Duffys metaphor in the light of this literary context?

Looking outwards
Comparing Medusa and Mrs Quasimodo
n

Read or re-read Carol Ann Duffys Medusa in which a woman is presented as physically
repulsive even dangerous. In this poem, Medusa describes her transformation into the
Gorgon:
A suspicion, a doubt, a jealousy
grew in my mind,
which turned the hairs on my head to filthy snakes,...
....I stared in the mirror.
Love gone bad
showed me a Gorgon.

Discuss the way in which Carol Ann Duffy uses physical appearance and the womans
perception of herself in Medusa. How does this differ from the way Mrs Quasimodos
appearance and disability is used?

Compare the presentation of the two womens desires and their relationship with men.
Are they dangerous? Threatening? Repulsive? How are the women presented as seeing
themselves and their lovers?

Misfits and outcasts


n

In writing, or using one of the debating approaches suggested on page 118, explore the
following interpretation of the collection.
The Worlds Wife is a cacophony of voices from misfits, outcasts, the abandoned, the
excluded, the deformed all of whom fail or refuse to fit in with social norms.
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Reading Medusa

Medusa
Reading the poem
Medusa is a character from Greek myth who was transformed from a beautiful woman into a
terrifying figure with snakes for hair and a stare which would petrify any living thing.

Head of Medusa (oil on wood) by Flemish School (16th century),


Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence, Italy/The Bridgeman Art Library

Medusa
Of the three Gorgon sisters only Medusa was
mortal. She was a beautiful woman, with
exceptional hair. She offended Athena either
by having sex with Poseidon in her temple
or by favourably comparing her beauty with
that of the goddess. As a punishment her
hair was turned into hissing snakes and her
face became such that a single look from
her would turn a man to stone. She was
killed by Perseus who, provided with a shield
by Athena, was able to approach Medusa
without looking at her. In some versions of
the story she was killed by seeing her own
reflection in a mirror. Out of her severed
neck sprang Chrysador and Pegasus, the
winged horse.

Read Duffys Medusa and share your first response, focusing on her use of the story.

Patterns lexical groups


Duffys Medusa is subtly but definitely patterned. The patterns in the word choices, rhymes
and repetition contribute to the meaning and the development of the poem.

Re-read the poem, focusing on one of the following, then share your observations and
insights with the rest of the class: violent/destructive words; words to do with looking;
words to do with stone; the use of the words I and me. You should look for the repetition
of these words and the ways they are used throughout the poem.

Metaphors
One of the ways Duffy uses the story is to transform the Greek myth into metaphor, describing
the way in which the snakes of jealousy destroy the 20th-century Medusas relationship with
her perfect man. The example below demonstrates this technique.
Greek myth

The gods
punished the
mythological
Medusa for
her beauty/
sexuality
by turning
her hair into
snakes.

Quotation

20th-century metaphor

A suspicion, a doubt, a jealousy


grew in my mind,
which turned the hairs on my head
to filthy snakes,
as though my thoughts
hissed and spat on my scalp.

In Duffys poem the snakes are the jealous


thoughts poisoning the womans mind. Not
only do the snakes of jealousy transform
the way the woman sees the world, they also
transform her relationship with the world
in much the same way that the snakes
change Medusa from a beautiful woman
into one who is dangerous. So powerful are
the suspicions that Duffys Medusa is also
changed physically.

In pairs, take one of the quotations in the table on page 69 and explore the way in which
the description from the myth is transformed into a metaphor, as in the example above.

Feed back your analyses, exploring any alternative interpretations that arise.

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Reading Medusa

Greek myth

20th-century metaphor

Quotation

My brides breath soured, stank


in the grey bags of my lungs
There are bullet tears in my eyes.
So better by far for me if you were stone.
I glanced at a singing bird,
a handful of dusty gravel/spattered down.
Love gone bad/showed me a Gorgon.
And here you come/with a shield for a heart
and a sword for a tongue

Interpretating the myth and the metaphor


n

Read the five possible interpretations of Duffys Medusa below. Choose the one that
reflects your opinion most closely, or write one of your own, and find evidence from the
poem to support your interpretation.

This is a poem about the destructive power of jealousy.

This is a poem about loss.

Through metaphor this poem explores the physcial effects of emotional


distress.

This poem is about male and female attitudes towards relationships.

This is a poem about transformation.

A critical reading
n

In pairs, discuss the following critical reading of Duffys Medusa.


The Medusa is another female figure whose power and tragedy are inextricably bound
together. In Duffys account her petrifying visage emerges from within a beautiful creature,
a psychological distortion made manifest as a result of brooding upon A suspicion, a
doubt, a jealousy, about masculine betrayal. Hence her inventing herself into not only the
antithesis of beauty but the power that can turn everything she looks upon, even a buzzing
bee, to stone. Characteristically the perfect man comes with a shield for a heart/and
a sword for a tongue but as she draws him towards her there is an ironic ambiguity in her
seduction: Wasnt I beautiful?/Wasnt I fragrant and young?/Look at me now. Look at me
now and you too will be turned to stone, except that we readers know the end of the story
and the stratagem of the shield as a mirror which will enable Perseus to avert her gaze and
decapitate her. But Look at me now is also a sorrowing clich of the once beautiful wound.
Jeffrey Wainwright: Female Metamorphoses in Strong Words

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Reading The Devils Wife

The Devils Wife


Before reading
Anticipating The Devils Wife
n

Based on your readings of the other wives stories, what expectations do you have of the
Devils Wife and Duffys depiction of her? Some possibilities are suggested below.
the driving force behind the Devils work
a devout Christian
disbelieving/mocking.

5 sections, 5 titles
The Devils Wife is the only poem in The Worlds Wife to be divided into sections. Each
section has its own title, listed below.
1. Dirt
2. Medusa
3. Bible
4. Night
5. Appeal

On your own, annotate the title of each section with the possible connotations of
the words. Draw connections you notice between the five section titles and their
connotations.

Feed back your ideas in group or class discussion.

A grammatical analysis
The table below shows some key grammatical points about each of the five sections.

In pairs, study the table and pull out anything you find interesting or which attracts your
attention. For example, what is the possible significance of there being no full stops in the
whole of Appeal? Why the rapid decline in the number of times he/his/him is used in the
five sections?

Share your observations and speculations in class discussion.

Words

Dirt

Medusa

Bible

Night

Appeal

182

163

127

28

85

Stanzas

Lines

18

16

14

12

Full stops

29

21

14

Commas

Question marks

Conjunctions

Conditional constructions

10

Imperatives

Number of I/me/my

15

26

15

10

Number of he/his/him

13

Number of we/our/us

Number of Devil

Negatives (e.g. cant, wont etc)

29

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Reading The Devils Wife

Reading The Devils Wife


n

Read Duffys poem or listen to it being read aloud a section at a time. After each section
record your response (including your emotional response, comments on the persona,
tone, language, anything you are puzzled about and so on).

In class discussion, talk about what you think is going on in this poem. Are you aware of
any connections or progress between the different sections?

The context
n

Read the following information about Myra Hindley and the Moors murders.
Myra Hindley
With her lover Ian Brady, Myra Hindley abducted, tortured and murdered
four children in the early 1970s. The murders became known as the
Moors Murders after Saddleworth Moor outside Manchester where the
bodies of the children were dumped. One of the most disturbing aspects
of the case was the tape recordings Hindley made of two of the children
screaming for mercy while being tortured by Brady.
Hindley was sentenced to life imprisonment; Brady was sentenced to life
inside Broadmoor Maximum Security Psychiatric Hospital.
Hindley pursued a long campaign for parole supported by the late Lord Longford who often
visited her in prison and believed that she was a truly changed woman who deserved to be
released. While in prison she became extremely religious, acknowledging the enormity of
her crimes, writing in 1994 that she was wicked and evil and had behaved monstrously.
Without me, those crimes could probably not have been committed. It is a view the
Appeal Court Lord Justice Judge agreed with, declaring that the 1987 confession to two
further murders had shown Hindley had been far more involved in the murders than she had
previously acknowledged. Brady also claimed that Hindley was a manipulative liar who was
as committed to murder as he had been.
According to the obituary on the BBC website, Hindley, the woman who had begun life as
a perfectly normal girl with strong religious feelings and much in demand as a babysitter,
became the most hated woman in Britain and the embodiment of evil.
The Moors Murders are still regarded by many as the benchmark by which other acts of evil
came to be measured.

Re-read the poem. Annotate a photocopy with your thoughts on how the contextual
information alters or adds to your understanding or appreciation of the poem. Does it
detract from the poem in any way?

Poems and politics


Myra Hindley generated huge public debate from the time of her arrest to her death and
beyond. Should she be released? Was manipulation by her male lover a valid excuse for her
actions? Did the fact of her gender make her behaviour more excusable or more shocking?
Did she become a genuinely contrite and religious woman? Or was this a cynical attempt to
improve her chances of parole?

Talk about these issues, then consider the significance and appropriateness of a poet
entering the debate.

The poem is spoken in Hindleys voice. What, if any, contribution does Duffys
representation of her in poetry make to this debate?

Talk about the ways in which Duffy uses the concept of the Devil an agent of evil in
this poem.
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Reading Circe and Penelope

Circe and Penelope


Before reading Penelope and Circe in art
Included below are two paintings, one representing Penelope and one representing Circe.
Look closely at the images and annotate them with your ideas about the story they tell.

Share your ideas in small groups or as a whole class.

Penelope with the Suitors by Pintoricchio. The National Gallery, London

Circe offering the cup to Ulysses, 1891 by Waterhouse, John William (1849-1917)
Gallery Oldham UK/The Bridgeman Art Library

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Reading Circe and Penelope

Reading the poems


In The Worlds Wife Carol Ann Duffy gives a voice to two women who feature in Homers epic
poem The Odyssey, an account of Odysseuss journey home from the Trojan war.

Work in groups. One group will discuss Circe and the other will discuss Penelope.

As you read, make a note of any ideas or questions you have about your poem or
similarities you notice with other poems in the collection. Take it in turns to feed back your
first thoughts to the rest of your group.

Re-read the poem this time aloud. Talk in your group about your overall impression
of the speaker. How would you sum up the woman speaking? Is there any change or
development during the poem?

Use the notes below to develop your analysis of the poem you have worked on so far.
Tone of voice: How would you describe the speakers voice (for example,
assertive, timid, contented, agitated, mocking, sincere, private, public and so on?).
Is the whole poem delivered in the same tone of voice or are there variations?
Address: The poems are both dramatic monologues. Is there an assumed listener
(as in Eurydice) or is the poem spoken to a general listener?
Style, language, poetic techniques: How would you describe the style of
the poem? For example, is it serious, light-hearted, prosaic or lyrical? Do you
notice any patterns or particular word groups being used? If so, do these seem
appropriate for the story and context of the poem, or do they strike you as
incongruous? Are there any examples of Duffys characteristic techniques, for
example, repetition, internal rhymes, punning, lists of (near) synonyms, metaphors
(especially those concerned with language and communication)?
Structure: Read the poem again to yourself, adding brief marginal notes (for
example, a title for the stanza or section, or a brief summary). Is there a story or
an obvious progression in the story being told by the wife? Is this progress (or lack
of progress) reflected in the language used? Write out the opening and concluding
lines of the poem you are exploring and talk about any connections you notice (to
do with the style or structure).

The Odyssey, Penelope and Circe


n

Listen to or read the summary of The Odyssey printed on page 75. As you read, highlight
words or phrases connected to the poem you have been studying.

In your group, talk about these words and phrases in the context of Odysseus story and
compare this with the way they are used in the poem you have been studying.

What role do Penelope and Circe play in The Odyssey? How does this compare with the
characterisation and role they have been given by Carol Ann Duffy?

Questions and answers


n

In groups, read aloud the poem you have not yet explored in detail. After sharing your first
response, come up with between five and eight questions to ask the expert students.

Swap questions, so that you now have a set of questions on the poem you have been
focusing on. Try to answer the questions your group has been given.

Re-organise your groups by splitting into two pairs and joining a pair whose questions you
have been trying to answer. Take it in turns to feed back your answers. Talk about any
areas of disagreement and develop further any points on which you agree. As a four, fill in
the comparison grid on page 74.
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Reading Circe and Penelope

Circe

Penelope

First response

Overall impression of
the speaker

Tone of voice

Address

Style and language

Structure

Use of source story

Themes

Connections with
other poems

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Reading Circe and Penelope

The story of The Odyssey


The story of Ulysses is among the most famous of all Greek myths and legends.
Ulysses was the son of Laertes, king of Ithaca. He was one of the leaders of the
Greek army in the Trojan Wars. At first he refused to go to Troy, pretending to be
mad by sowing his fields with salt, but the Greeks put his son Telemachus in front
of his plow to test his sanity and Ulysses was forced to reveal his pretence. Homer,
a Greek poet living before the birth of Christ, wrote an epic poem, The Odyssey,
about Ulysses (Odysseus in Greek). In the poem Ulysses is shown performing many
brave deeds: when the Greek warrior Achilles died, he was awarded Achilles
armour in recognition of his valour. Homer suggests that it was Ulysses who
devised the strategy for finally defeating Troy by using the Trojan horse.
On his long journey back from the wars Ulysses encountered many dangers and
difficulties, and he had to use all his wits and powers of invention to overcome
them. He was the last of the heroes to return home. He and his men sailed from
Troy in twelve ships but immediately ran into fierce storms and were blown off
course. They landed on the island of the Lotus Eaters, where the fruit they ate
induced forgetfulness and made them lose any desire to return home.
They were captured by the Cyclops, a giant with a single eye, and many of
Ulysses men were killed. The rest escaped by destroying the Cyclops one eye. At
Lamos, giant cannibals crushed the ships and captured all of them except Ulysses
own ship, which escaped.
The ship then landed on the island of Aea, where an enchantress called Circe gave
the boarding party milk and honey and drugged wine and turned them into pigs.
Ulysses, who had remained on the ship, went ashore on his own, because none of
his other men had the courage to follow him. The god Hermes, seeing his courage,
gave him a herb as an antidote to Circes magic. This herb stopped her turning him
into a pig. Circe was so overawed by Ulysses that she turned the pigs back into
men and tried to lure Ulysses into staying, with many magical delights. The lure
of her sorcery kept him there, but after a year he suddenly awoke, as if from a
trance, and thoughts of his home and his wife Penelope and son Telemachus urged
him to return.
In the Strait of Messina, Ulysses had to steer a course between Scylla, a sea
monster with six heads and Charybdis, a whirlpool. Having survived this, he landed
on the island of Ogygia, where he was looked after by the daughter of Atlas, a
nymph called Calypso. She fell in love with him and kept him there for seven
years. As time went on he became more and more consumed with longing for his
home and family. Finally the god Zeus ordered her to send him back to Ithaca.
Calypso had promised Ulysses eternal youth but he chose real life and finally
returned home to his kingdom.
His wife Penelope had remained faithful to him through all those years and had
warded off other suitors by a clever ruse. She told them that she must first finish
weaving a funeral shroud for her father-in-law Laertes. Each day she wove the
shroud but every night she undid her weaving. Finally, a maid betrayed her secret
and, after twenty years without Ulysses, she was forced by the goddess Athene to
marry whichever of her suitors could string Ulysses bow and shoot through a row
of axes. Unbeknown to her, Ulysses had just returned and, dressed as a beggar, he
took up the bow and killed off all the suitors. In Homers poem, there is a touching
description of Ulysses and Penelopes tender feelings on being reunited after
twenty years separation. In Homer Penelope is always given the epithets wise
and prudent. She has become a byword for fidelity and the faithful wife, the
model of all domestic virtues.

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Reading Circe and Penelope

The madonna/whore dichotomy


Throughout literary and social history, women have often been grouped under one of two
headings: the whore figure and the Madonna figure. Christians often refer to Eve (the
temptress) and Mary the mother of Christ as the types of womanhood. However, this
separation is far more widespread than the Christian culture. While the Madonna is idealised
and idolised as pure and untainted, the whore is an object both of fear and desire. Wives,
mothers, and daughters are assumed to be in the first group, while mistresses, prostitutes
(and in some cultures any unmarried, independent women, particularly if sexually active) are
placed in the dangerous desirable category. When the former fail or refuse to live up to the
idealised version of femaleness, they immediately fall from grace into the category of whore.

In groups, talk about the whore/Madonna dichotomy in 21st-century society.


Does it still exist, and if so, where is it seen?
Is it challenged or undermined and if so, how and by whom?
Is there any evidence that where it is still seen it is being parodied?
Is there a similar dichotomy for men?

A particularly fruitful context for discussing both Penelope and Circe is the glamorisation and
sexualisation of areas which previously were safely in the domain of the Madonna/goddess:
domestic activities such as cookery, child-rearing and so on.
Readings of Homers The Odyssey frequently categorise Circe as the archetypal dangerous
temptress while Penelope is the archetype of the pure and faithful wife, fending off suitors for
20 years even as her husband is waylaid by the temptress.

Re-read Duffys Penelope and Circe and, under the headings Conforms to and
Subverts, explore how Carol Ann Duffy both uses the conventional reading of Homers
women and challenges or develops it. You should try to think beyond the characterisation
of the women and the role they are presented as playing, to consider the language they
use. For example, Circes language is far more physically sensual and sexualised than is
Penelopes, foregrounding her role as the tempting whore. Penelopes poem focuses on
her sewing, an archetypal feminine domestic goddess activity.

On your own, write a paragraph outlining your view of what Duffy is trying to do in these
poems and how successful you think she is.

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Reading Mrs Lazarus

Mrs Lazarus
Reading the poem in stages
Reading stanzas 1 to 5 only
n

On your own read the first five stanzas of Mrs Lazarus and record your immediate
response as a series of key words.

Use the prompts below to develop this response to the poem. Think about:
the wifes relationship with her husband
the representation of grief (the voice of Mrs Lazarus, the language used)
the process of mourning and recovery (the structure and language of the poem)
the passage of time
the poem within the context of the whole collection.

Now focus on the language of Carol Ann Duffys poem. How would you describe it?
Choose three of the words listed here (or provide your own) and choose a short quotation
that you think illustrates your choice.
Informal
Casual
Lyrical
Matter of fact
Prosaic
Personal
Private
Hopeful
Despairing
Symbolic
Metaphorical
Literal

Speculating about the poem


Although Until he was memory. might seem like a conclusion to a poem about bereavement
and grieving, there are three more stanzas.

In pairs or as a class, speculate about how the poem might develop and end.

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Reading Mrs Lazarus

Lazaruss story
Mrs Lazarus needs to be read in the context of the husbands story. Lazarus is a character in
the New Testament of the Bible. A summary of his story is reprinted below.

Read the story and talk about what happens in it. What is foregrounded? What is
marginalised or not mentioned at all? How do you interpret the story?
Lazarus
Lazarus had been dead for four days by the time Jesus arrived at his house. Lazaruss
sister Martha, who had asked Jesus to come, was upset that he had not come sooner
believing that her brother would have lived had Jesus seen him. She still kept her
faith in Jesus saying that God would grant anything Jesus asked him even now. When
Jesus said, Your brother will rise again, Martha assumed he meant at Judgement Day
when it is written that the dead will rise from their graves and ascend into Heaven.
However Jesus replied that he was the resurrection and the life: he that believeth
in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live. He asked Martha if she believed in
Him and on hearing her answer yes he told her to roll away the stone blocking the
entrance to the grave of Lazarus. Jesus lifted up his eyes to the skies and thanked
God, his father, for listening to him, then called out to Lazarus to come forth from the
grave. And Lazarus walked out from his grave bound in the grave clothes in which he
had been buried.

The Resurrection of Lazarus by Casado del Alisal, Jose (1832-86)


Museo Real Academia de Belles Artes, Madrid, Spain/Index/The Bridgeman Art Library

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Reading Mrs Lazarus

The end of the poem


n

Draft a conclusion for Carol Ann Duffys Mrs Lazarus, using what you now know about
the story of Lazarus. Before you begin writing, you will need to think about:
the content (for example, how it will develop or undermine the first part of the
poem, its relationship with the biblical story)
themes you want to bring out
the voice of Mrs Lazarus
the language and form of Duffys poem.

Reading to the end


n

Read the poem from the beginning again, but this time read right to the end. What do you
think of the way Duffy has used the story of Lazaruss return from the dead?

After reading
Macabre humour
Even in the poems that explore the darker side of relationships there is often a vein of
humour running through them (slapstick comedy, the representation of the ridiculousness of
relationships or life, the witty juxtaposition of story, context and contemporary language, verbal
humour, satirical argument and so on). Mrs Lazarus is no exception.

Find examples of humour in this poem and talk about its effect. For example, does it
heighten the grief, detract from it, feel inappropriate, create a feeling that life must go on
or something else? Discuss your thoughts with the rest of the class.

Looking outwards
Living on the edge
One of the themes explored in Mrs Lazarus is the relationship between life and death. In
the poem it is shown to be an ambiguous threshold from which Lazarus returns. Such a
threshold is sometimes referred to as a liminal space, where edges do not seem as rigid or
strong as they normally do. Demeter and Eurydice also take place in or explore the liminal
place between life and death, light and dark, spring and summer. Several other poems in the
collection explore ambiguity and uncertainty in other ways (for example, sex and sexuality in
from Mrs Tiresias, gender roles in Mrs Beast and Queen Herod, adulthood and childhood in
Little Red-Cap).

Browse through the collection identifying moments of ambiguity and liminality and copy
out short quotations which illustrate these. Do you notice any patterns?

Lady Lazarus
The 20th-century poet Sylvia Plath also wrote a poem in the voice of a Lady Lazarus. You can
hear Sylvia Plath read this poem at http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/poetry/outloud/plath.shtml

Listen to the poem. How has Sylvia Plath used the story of Lazarus and her readers
knowledge of it in this poem? In what ways is it similar or different from Carol Ann Duffys
poem? Are there any other poems in The Worlds Wife that you think it would compare
with well?

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Reading Pygmalions Bride

Pygmalions Bride
Before reading the re-tellings
Pygmalion features in the Roman poet Ovids collection of tales Metamorphoses.

Read Ovids tale of Pygmalion and share what you think it is about.

Pygmalion had seen these women spend


Their days in wickedness and horrified
At all the countless vices nature gives
To womankind lived celibate and long
Lacked the companionship of married love.
Meanwhile he carved his snow-white ivory
With marvellous triumphant artistry
And gave it perfect shape, more beautiful
Than ever woman born. His masterwork
Fired him with love. It seemed to be alive,
Its face to be a real girls, a girl
Who wished to move but modesty forbade.
Such art his art concealed. In admiration
His heart desired the body he had formed.
With many a touch he tries it is it flesh
Or ivory? Not ivory still, hes sure!
Kisses he gives and thinks they are returned;
He speaks to it, caresses it, believes
The firm new flesh beneath his fingers yields,
And fears the limbs may darken with a bruise.
And now fond words he whispers, now brings gifts
That girls delight in shells and polished stones,...
... Venus day came, the holiest festival
All Cyprus celebrates; incense rose high
And heifers, with their wide horns gilded, fell
Beneath the blade that struck their snowy necks.
Pygmalion, his offering given, prayed
Before the altar, half afraid, Vouchsafe,
O Gods, if all things you can grant, my bride
Shall be he dared not say my ivory girl
The living likeness of my ivory girl.
And golden Venus (for her presence graced
her feast) knew well the purpose of his prayer;
And, as an omen of her favouring power,
Thrice did the flame burn bright and leap up high.
And he went home, home to his hearts delight,
And kissed her as she lay, and she seemed warm;

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Again he kissed her and with marvelling touch


Caressed her breast; beneath his touch the flesh
Grew soft, its ivory hardness vanishing,
And yielded to his hands, as in the sun
Wax of Hymettus softens and is shaped
By practised hands into many forms,
And usefulness acquires by being used.
His heart was torn with wonder and misgiving,
Delight and terror that it was not true!
Again and yet again he tried his hopes
She was alive! The pulse beat in her veins!
And then indeed in words that overflowed
He poured his thanks to Venus, and at last
His lips pressed real lips and she, his girl,
Felt every kiss, and blushed, and shyly raised
Her eyes to his and saw the world and him...
Ovid

English and Media Centre, 2007

Reading Pygmalions Bride

The story of Pygmalion was retold in the early 20th century by George Bernard Shaw.
This version was itself adapted into the Broadway musical (and film) My Fair Lady. Ovids
Metamorphoses has been translated many times, notably by Ted Hughes in his Tales from
Ovid (1999). A summary of Shaws play and an extract from Hughes translation are included
below and on page 82.

Which aspects of Ovids story of Pygmalion has Hughes chosen to foreground?


A summary of Shaws Pygmalion
Based on classical myth, Bernard Shaws Pygmalion plays on the complex business of human
relationships in a social world. Phonetics Professor Henry Higgins tutors the very Cockney
Eliza Doolittle, not only in the refinement of speech, but also in the refinement of her
manner. When the end result produces a very ladylike Miss Doolittle, the lessons learned
become much more far reaching. In a coda at the end of the play (entitled Sequel) Shaw
makes it clear that Eliza would not have married Higgins. In the musical the implication is,
in fact, that they will marry.

...The spectacle of these cursed women sent


Pygmalion the sculptor slightly mad.
He adored woman, but he saw
The wickedness of these particular women
Transform, as by some occult connection,
Every womans uterus to a spider.
Her face, voice, gestures, hair became its web.
Her perfume was a floating horror. Her glance
Left a spider-bite. He couldnt control it.
So he lived
In the solitary confinement
Of a phobia,
Shunning living women, wifeless...
So he had made a woman
Lovelier than any living woman.
And when he gazed at her
As if coming awake he fell in love.
His own art amazed him, she was so real.
She might have moved, he thought,
Only her modesty
Her sole garment invisible,
Woven from the fabric of his dream
Held her as if slightly ashamed
Of stepping into life.
Then his love
For this woman so palpably a woman
Became his life.
Cont over

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Reading Pygmalions Bride

Incessantly now
He caressed her,
Searching for the warmth of living flesh,
His finger-tip whirls filtering out
Every feel of mere ivory...
He laid her on his couch,
Bedded her in pillows
And soft sumptuous weaves of Tyrian purple
As if she might delight in the luxury.
Then, lying beside her, he embraced her
And whispered in her ear every endearment...
Pygmalion hurried away home
To his ivory obsession. He burst in,
Fevered with deprivation,
Fell on her, embraced her, and kissed her
Like one collapsing in a desert
To drink at a dribble from a rock.
But his hand sprang off her breast
As if stung.
He lowered it again, incredulous
At the softness, the warmth
Under his fingers. Warm
And soft as warm soft wax
But alive
With the elastic of life...
Then Pygmalions legs gave beneath him.
On his knees
He sobbed his thanks to Venus. And there
Pressed his lips
On lips that were alive.
She woke to his kisses and blushed
To find herself kissing
One who kissed her,
And opened her eyes for the first time
To the light and her lover together...
Ted Hughes

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Reading Pygmalions Bride

Reading the poem Pygmalions Bride


n

Read Carol Ann Duffys poem and, on your own, write down your response. How has
Duffy used Ovids tale of transformation?
What has she cut?
What has she kept?
Which aspects has she kept but inflected differently?

After reading
The voice
Ovids tale of Pygmalion is told in the third person from Pygmalions point of view. In Duffys
poem, as we would expect, it is the statue his bride who speaks. What sort of woman is
she? How can you tell?

Choose three adjectives to describe your view of her character, then, for each one,
explain why you chose it. Think about her voice as well as the subject of her poem.

Whore and goddess


In Ovids tale of Pygmalion, Pygmalion is a man who has been revolted by the sexual and
sensual behaviour of women. This is his motivation for creating his own pure and chaste
ideal woman (a statue) with whom he then falls in love. Having rejected one stereotypical
representation of women (the whore) he is rewarded with her opposite, the submissive, faithful
goddess. Duffys poem plays with this division of women into whore and goddess a division
which is found in literature from Eve onwards (see page 76).

In the final lines his bride reveals she was faking the sexual pleasure which so disturbed
Pygmalion. How does this final irony affect your reading of the poem?

Opinion posters
Included on page 84 are ten opinions about the poem. Choose one opinion each and write it
out (in block capitals) on an A3 sheet of paper.

Underneath the opinion, write your response to it. Whether you agree or disagree, you
need to integrate evidence from the poem to support your claim, as in the example below.
ONLY WOMEN WOULD FIND DUFFYS POEM FUNNY.

I disagree that women would nd this poem funny; on the contrary, in my opinion it is
a very bleak poem in which blunt endearments are interpreted as terrible, the Brides
heart is ice, Pygmalion is someone only to be repulsed and thus escaped from.
n

Pass your paper on to the person next to you. Read both the opinion you have been
given and the response to it. Now add your own comment. You could either extend the
first comment or disagree with it:

In my opinion this comment takes too serious a view of Pygmalions Bride. This is
a light-hearted and satirical poem, parodying the lay back and think of England
stereotype of women: the Bride takes faking it to an extreme. It is perhaps true, however,
that more women than men would nd it funny.
n

Continue passing your pieces of paper on until you have all commented on each of the
opinions.

Pin the opinion posters on the wall and spend some time looking at the range of
responses this one poem has generated.
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Reading Pygmalions Bride

Duffys version is as anti-men as Ovids is anti-women.

In both stories the man is shown to be squeamish about the physical


relationship.

Where Ovids tale is a celebration of an idealised love, Duffys poem is a


criticism of it.

Duffys poem gives little hope of an equal relationship between men and
women.

Duffys version is bitter.

Only women would find Duffys poem funny.

In Duffys poem Pygmalions bride dislikes sex as much as Pygmalion.

Duffys version is a long overdue re-writing of a poem degrading to women.

Duffys Pygmalions Bride depicts an out-of-date view of male/female


relationships.

10

This poem is about two different but equally damaging forms of sterility
and isolation.

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Reading Mrs Rip Van Winkle

Mrs Rip Van Winkle


Rip Van Winkle
Rip Van Winkle is a character in a story written by Thomas Jefferson in the period of the
American Revolution. Rip Van Winkle went into the Caitskill Mountains to escape his nagging
wife. After various adventures he fell asleep and slept for 20 years. When he woke up he
returned home to discover his wife and friends dead. He was entirely unaware that the
American Revolution had taken place. Rip Van Winkle came to be used as a reference for a
person who sleeps a long time or as a person who is unaware of current events.

The metaphor of sleep


n

Brainstorm all the contexts in which sleep might be used as a metaphor. For each context
you come up with, talk briefly about the meaning sleep is given.

Talk about any other stories you know of which use sleep as a central metaphor. How
would you interpret the metaphor in these literary examples?

Read Mrs Rip Van Winkle.

Discuss your interpretation of Rip Van Winkles sleep. Does Carol Ann Duffy imbue it with
a metaphorical meaning? If so, what?

Use of rhyme
Here are some of the ways in which Duffys use of rhyme in this poem might be interpreted.

Choose the interpretation you agree with most strongly or write your own. Expand on the
interpretation by selecting and analysing an appropriate quotation.
to emphasise Mrs Rip Van Winkles exasperation
to minimise the importance of men and sex
to foreground the incongruity of male and female interests and desires
to highlight the light-hearted humour
to make the poem more pointed
to highlight the difference between what men want and what women want
to refresh an old joke and conventional stereotypes
to underline the fact that this is a parody of stereotypical representations of ageing.

A creative response
n

Choose one of the following creative response tasks to show your understanding of the
tone and style of Duffys poem.
A role-play or written script between Mr and Mrs Rip Van Winkle and a marriage
counsellor.
A Womans Hour 3-minute radio feature on men, women, sex and ageing,
interviewing Mrs Rip Van Winkle.
Mr Rip Van Winkle speaks a poem in the same style (why did he go to sleep for
so long? What does he think of the new independent Mrs Rip Van Winkle).
At home with the Rip Van Winkles a spread for a celebrity magazine.

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Reading Mrs Icarus

Mrs Icarus
Before reading
The story of Icarus
Icarus
In Greek myth Icarus was the son of Daedalus, both of whom were
imprisoned in the Labyrinth, a maze on the island of Crete. So they could
escape, his father made them both wings of feather and wax. Despite his
father warning him not to do it, Icarus flew too close to the sun, the wax
melted and he fell into the sea where he drowned.

As a class, suggest as many different ways that this story could be used as a moral
lesson, for example to warn children they should always obey their parents.

Reading the poem


n

Read Carol Ann Duffys poem. What do you think of it? Is it as you expected?

Without talking to anyone else write down your response.

Listen to the responses of all the female students in your class. Now listen to the
responses of the male students. Is there any difference, and if so what does this suggest
about the poem and its assumed audience?

After reading
Just a joke?
Mrs Icarus is one of the lighter, jokier poems in the collection. The exasperated tone, the use
of rhyme (hillock/pillock), the way Duffy extends the final line to keep the reader waiting all
contribute to the sense that this is a witty, entertaining, throwaway poem. Is it anything more?

In pairs, prepare an argument either in favour or against the following statement:


Mrs Icarus is an amusing dig at mens perceived failings but has no value as a
poem.

Your teacher will tell you which argument to prepare. You might find it helpful to look
beyond this poem to the rest of the collection (and even to other poems you know).

Join up with a pair who have been preparing the opposite side of the argument and
present your case to each other.

After listening to the arguments, write a short piece outlining your opinion of the poem
Mrs Icarus.

Your poem
n

Use the same structure as Carol Ann Duffy uses for Mrs Icarus to write a five-line poem
for another fictional or historical character. When planning your poem, start with the final
rhyme which will create the humorous punchline.

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Reading Salome

Salome
A creative writing activity on rhyme
n

Write down four words that you like, either because they sound good or have positive
associations for you.

Choose one of them, for example book. Put it in the centre of a sheet of paper. Draw two
wide circles around it.

In the innermost circle write all the words you can think of that rhyme with it exactly, for
example look, took, unhook, mistook.

In the next circle, write any words that have some sounds in common but arent full
rhymes, for example back, buck, bike, bloke, block, mistake.
Mock
Mistake

Back

Mistook
Took

Book

Look

Unhook

Buck

Block

Bloke

From all of these words, choose some that might form part of the first few lines of a poem.
Use a mixture of rhymes and half-rhymes. For example:
I took the book back.
The bloke said, Sorry miss,
and fixed me with a filthy look.
It cost a buck, though I was sure
of a mistake. I smiled
my sweetest smile:
he let me off the hook.
Barbara Bleiman

Talk about what difference it might make to use all full rhymes.

Carol Ann Duffys rhyming


n

Now read aloud the following words from a poem by Carol Ann Duffy and talk about the
type of poem you think they come from (for example, serious or lighthearted? Lyric or
narrative? Formal or informal?). Explain your thinking.
matter

fitter

Peter

matted

lighter

laughter

patter

biter

slaughter

clatter

platter

better

pewter

batter

latter

beater

clutter

blighter

glitter

butter

flatter

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Reading Salome

One night stand? The opening lines


The opening lines of the poem from which the rhyming words were taken is reprinted below.

Read and talk about the opening lines of Duffys poem. What impression do you get of
the speaker and the situation in which she finds herself? When do you think the poem is
set? Who do you think the assumed speaker is?
Id done it before
(and doubtless Ill do it again,
sooner or later)
woke up with a head on the pillow beside me whose?
what did it matter?
Good-looking, of course, dark hair, rather matted;

Reading the poem


The speaker is Salome, a character from the Bible. Included here is a summary of her story as
told in the Bible, along with a pictorial interpretation of her story by Bernardo Luini.
Read the summary and look at the image. What is Salomes story according to this
summary? What sort of woman is she presented as being?
Salome
Salome is famous for demanding the head of John the Baptist. Her father was a
disinherited son of Herod. The story is that her stepfather Herod Antipas was so taken
with her lascivious dancing that he offered to give her whatever she desired, up to
half his kingdom. She was persuaded by her mother to call for the head of John the
Baptist. In paintings Salome is depicted dancing, or bearing a platter with the severed
head.

Salome with the Head of John the Baptist, c.1525-30 (panel), Luini, Bernardino (c.1480-1532)
Kunsthistorisches Museum,Vienna, Austria/The Bridgeman Art Library

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Reading Salome

Re-read the opening to Duffys poem and talk about the way she uses Salomes story.

You have already explored the rhyming words used in the poem (page 87).

Look again at these words and, in pairs, talk about how you think the poem might
develop. You should bear in mind both the rhyming words and the expectations set up in
the opening few lines (for example, speakers voice, context, tone and so on).

Share your predictions with the rest of the class.

Your own poem


n

Before reading Carol Ann Duffys Salome, experiment with writing your own poem, trying
to mimic the style of the opening lines, and using as many of the rhyming words on page
87, as possible.

Listen to a selection of the poems and talk about the different ways in which you have
developed the story of Salome. You should think about the voice, rhyme, word choices,
relationship with the rest of the poem, as well as the connection to the biblical story of
Salome.

Reading the poem


n

Read Duffys poem and share your first responses. How do your responses compare to
those summarised here?

I think my response was one of uneasy amusement.


It made me think how important choice of language and voice is in creating
the overall meaning of the poem.
I thought the gap between the tone of the poem and its content was very
effective.
My main response was one of pleasure at Duffys skilful use of rhyme.
I knew what was coming and that increased my enjoyment of the poem.
I was irritated by Duffys trite use of a disturbing story.
Thinking about it, I wonder if this is another poem which is more about the
act of writing and poetry that anything else its all about the relationship
between the literal and the metaphorical.

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Reading Salome

The poetry of clich


In an interview in 1988 Carol Ann Duffy commented on her deliberate use of simple, everyday
and clichd language:
I like to use simple words but in a complicated way so that you can see the lies and
truths within the poem.

Highlight or underline any words that you think are deliberately clichd. Talk about
whether you think they are used in a complicated way to reveal truths.

In this poem you could argue that Carol Ann Duffy draws on a clichd situation and character:
a Bridget Jones clone describing a wrecked one night stand and the promise to clean up [her]
act. However, as with all the poems in The Worlds Wife, this is only half the story.

Look again at all but the final stanza of Duffys poem. Identify the ways in which she has
used the story of Salome to renew 20th-century clichs.

A metaphorical transformation an alternative reading


n

Look at the following definitions of scalp and on a platter.


Scalp:
As evidence that an Indian had killed his
enemy, he would cut off the mans scalp
with the hair on it and carry it home,
there to be honoured as a trophy.
Now used metaphorically to mean a
trophy of victory.

On a platter:
A large shallow dish on which food was
served, particularly at banquets.
Now used metaphorically to mean
without exertion, effortlessly.

Lamb to the slaughter:


Slaughter: massacre
Used metaphorically to mean someone
innocent and helpless, without realising
the danger.

With this linguistic knowledge how might you read Duffys Salome? Is it possible to read
the whole poem as an extended metaphor in which the woman takes as trophies the men
she sleeps with and abandons (metaphorically slaughters)?

Work in pairs, with one of you arguing in favour of this reading and one against it.

Look again at Duffys comment on her use of clich.

In what ways might it be argued that she has renewed clichs such as on a platter and
scalp by reminding the reader of their literal origins?

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Reading Salome

Critical comment a mini response


n

Read the following extract from Avril Horners interpretation of The Worlds Wife. As
you read, mark it with ticks and crosses according to whether or not you agree with her
reading.

Choose one of the points that you find interesting it could be a point you agree or
disagree with. Write a short, informal response to Avril Horner in the form of an email or
postcard.

Take it in turns to read out your emails or postcards.


...we are given a narrative of the morning after the night before which works
to give a kind of realistic account of a hangover, and the surprise of finding a
man whose name you dont know in your bed, but then the narrative twists
so that women who might have identified with the story in their recognition
of the behaviour, or their fantasy about behaving in such a way, then become
implicated in the fact that Salome is not the world-weary apologist she initially
presents herself as. For actually the head on the pillow is only a head.
The monologue ties into all sorts of contemporary myths about the
dangerousness of female sexuality, and the still resonant taboos around female
promiscuity. It also carries with it a sense of revenge. Of turning the tables for
the women in history and fiction who have been murdered by men, or punished
for their excessive sexuality.... The implication in Duffys tale is that Salome has
committed the murder herself, whereas in the biblical story the severing of John
the Baptists head is only caused by Salome.... Duffy simply, it seems, wants to
use Salome as a figure of jubilant and amoral power... the Salome monologue
unapologetically celebrates a behaviour which transgresses moral, social and
legal codes. Her behaviour is in effect licensed by its mythic quality.
Avril Horner: Small Female Skull in Strong Words

Looking outwards
The following poems all make interesting comparisons with Salome: Mrs Sisyphus, Delilah,
Mrs Quasimodo, Frau Freud and Eurydice.

In pairs or small groups, choose one of these poems to compare with Salome. Stick
photocopies of the two poems side-by-side on a large sheet of paper. Using different
coloured pens, annotate the two poems to show the similarities and differences between
them. It would be a good idea to agree a colour code for your annotations across the
whole class, for example:
form and structure
voice
themes
metaphor/simile
word choices (e.g. poetic. slang, clich, biblical)
humour (irony, punning, incongruity, playing with stereotypes)
sound techniques (rhyme, alliteration, assonance).

As a class, or with advice from your teacher, you might decide to focus on a selection of
these features rather than all of them.

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Reading Eurydice

Eurydice
Before reading
Included here is an extract from the story of Orpheus and Eurydice, as told by the Roman poet
Ovid in Metamorphoses.

Read the extract and, in pairs or as a class, talk about the themes you think are explored
in this story, or the message it conveys to you.
Here in the end is home; over humankind
Your kingdom keeps the longest sovereignty.
She too, when ripening years reach their due term,
Shall own your rule. The favour that I ask
Is but to enjoy her love; and, if the Fates
Will not reprieve her, my resolve is clear
Not to return: may two deaths give you cheer.
So to the music of his strings he sang,
And all the bloodless spirits wept to hear;
And Tantalus forgot the fleeing water,
Isions wheel was tranced; the Danaids
Laid down their urns; the vultures left their feast,
And Sisyphus sat rapt upon his stone.
Then first by that sad singing overwhelmed,
The Furies cheeks, its said, were wet with tears;
And Hades queen and he whose sceptre rules
The Underworld could not deny the prayer,
And called Eurydice. She was among
The recent ghosts and, limping from her wound,
Came slowly forth; And Orpheus took his bride
And with her this compact that, till he reach
The world above and leave Avernus vale,
He look not back or else the gift would fail.
The track climbed upwards, steep and indistinct,
Through the hushed silence and the murky gloom;
And now they neared the edge of the bright world,
And, fearing lest she faint, longing to look,
He turned his eyes and straight she slipped away.
He stretched his arms to hold her to be held
And clasped, poor soul, naught but the yielding air.
And she, dying again, made no complaint
(For what complaint had she save she was loved?)
And breathed a faint farewell and turned again
Back to the land of spirits whence she came.

Why do you think Duffy has chosen Eurydice as one of her wives? Which aspects of the
story do you think she might foreground or revise? Share your ideas with the rest of the
class.

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Reading Eurydice

Its a mans world


Included here is a selection of quotations from Duffys Eurydice.

Read the quotations and talk about what you can tell about Eurydice, Orpheus and
Duffys use of the characters from Greek myth. What seems to be a key theme or
preoccupation of the poem?
in the one place youd think a girl would be safe
from the kind of man
who follows her round
writing poems,
calls her His Muse,
and once sulked for a night and a day
because she remarked on his weakness for abstract nouns.
With his lyre
and a poem to pitch, with me as the prize.
For the men, verse-wise,
Big O was the boy.
The blurb on the back of his books claimed...
even the mute, sullen stones at his feet
wept wee, silver tears
Bollocks. (Id done all the typing myself,
I should know.)
But the Gods are like publishers,
usually male,
and what you doubtless know of my tale
is the deal.
Orpheus strutted his stuff.
to be trapped in his images, metaphors, similes,
octaves and sextets, quatrains and couplets,
elegies, limericks, villanelles,
histories, myths...
Orpheus, your poems a masterpiece.
Id love to hear it again...

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Reading Eurydice

Reading the poem home and expert groups


n

In groups, read the poem out loud all the way through and briefly share your first
responses. Each group is going to look at one of the following aspects of the poem:

Eurydice, her voice and address.

The tone (for example, angry, cynical, mocking, amused and so on) and
how this is created.

The relationship between Ovids story and Duffys revision of it.

The themes or ideas being explored through the re-telling.

The presentation of Orpheus and the male world of poetry.

Re-organise the groups so that each new group has at least one expert on the different
aspects of the poem.

Take it in turns to feed back your analysis of the poem.

Humour
The themes explored in Eurydice might lead readers to expect a serious, weighty poem:
alienation, death and a death wish, hatred, exclusion, exploitation and manipulation. What
Carol Ann Duffy gives us, however, is a very different monologue, spoken by a woman who
knows what she wants and how to get it.

Talk about how this is achieved. How does the humour in the poem work? For each of the
techniques listed below find an example from the poem.
Puns and double meanings
Lists of synonyms
A jaunty rhythm
Knowing insights into the world of publishing
Mocking recognisable stereotypes
Rhymes which give the poem a light-hearted tone in particularly inappropriate
places
Unexpected word groups and inappropriate registers

Critical views
n

In pairs, each read one of the two critical views on page 95. Sum up what you think is the
main point being made. Tell your partner the main thrust of your critics reading.

Talk about your response to the two readings, using the questions suggested here to get
your discussion started.
Have you gained any new insights into the poem?
Have the readings caused you to re-think your own interpretation?
In your opinion, have the critics missed anything important or interesting about the
poem (for example, its wit, Duffys playful use of language)?

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Reading Eurydice

Write your response to the poem and the critical readings as a series of statements. The
sentence starters below show you the sort of structure you could use.
Critic X makes an interesting point when he/she says xxxx. However, I think xxxx
In my opinion, Critic Xs focus on xxxx is xxxx
Although I cannot agree with xxxx
I would argue that in addition to xxxx
Critic Xs reading made me look again at xxxx
By foregrounding xxxx, Critic Xs reading is xxxx
Critic 1
If words give a name to things, they also estrange those things, make them strange. To find
them truly is to witness the death of words. Eurydice speaks of the Underworld of the
dead not as a some- but as a nowhen, a place where language stopped, where words
had to come to an end. It is, in fact, the final silence at the heart of things, their inhuman,
speechless, thingness. Summoned back to life by the voice of the searching poet, Eurydice
feels only the indignation of brute matter that does not want to be trapped in his images,
metaphors, similes, his histories, myths. In the end, like Eurydice impatient to return to
her death, things will refuse the words that give a human name to them. Those names are a
delusive attempt to domesticate, make safe the difference and strangeness of things.
Stan Smith: What like is it? in Strong Words

Critic 2
In Eurydice we see a revision of the Greek myth that develops the themes set up in Little
Red-Cap. Other poets, including DH Lawrence and HD have adapted the tale of Orpheus
and Eurydice in order to explore the dynamics of creativity; Duffy does so with a candid
irreverence for both the individual and the tradition, with a special swipe (again) at the
conceit of the male poet.
Her retreat to Hades, it is implied, had nothing to do with Pluto and everything to do with
wishing to escape both the Big Os appropriation of her as Muse and typist and the male
chauvinist world of publishing.
Here, then, to be dead to the male world of writing is to become alive as a female subject
and author.
Avril Horner: Small Female Skull in Strong Words

Looking outwards
Eurydice, like Little Red-Cap can be read biographically as a comment on Duffys
experience of male poets. Other poems that lend themselves particularly well to a biographical
reading include: Queen Herod, from Mrs Tiresias, Demeter and Mrs Beast.

Research the life of Carol Ann Duffys life at www.contemporarywriters.com and


www.guardianunlimited/books.co.uk and write an opinion piece on your views of the
importance or dangers of reading biographically.

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Reading Pope Joan

Pope Joan
Breaking the glass ceiling
Its a mans world
Nicola Horlick, dubbed superwoman for combining a high-flying city career with being a
mother of five, claimed in an interview that women are now making it on their own terms in
a way that they couldnt when she first started in the 1980s:
There was this tendency for women to try and emulate men. When you look back at film
footage of business women in the 1980s, they all had shoulder pads out to here and were
dripping with gold jewellery. They all spoke in slightly deep voices and it was all quite scary.
Filthy Rich and Female, Philip Kemp, BBC Money Programme

Share your own thoughts about the ways in which women have tried to break into
professions traditionally reserved for men (and vice-versa). Do you feel that in order to
make it as a woman in a male occupation such as high finance or structural engineering,
or as a man in nursing or beauty therapy you would have to copy the behaviour of the
other sex? Or is this an outdated view? Is it even true now that there are male and female
behaviours, let alone male and female occupations?

A female Pope
The Catholic priesthood is one of the areas of work and life from which women are still wholly
excluded. However, there is a legend that in the 9th century a woman held the highest office
in the Roman Catholic church, that of Pope. Carol Ann Duffy has used this legend to explore
contemporary issues about the role of women.

Read the contextual information about Pope Joan below, then read Duffys poem.
Pope Joan
Pope Joan was a woman renowned for her learning who is said to have held the office
from 853 to 855. The legend of the woman chosen as pope is chronicled in a 13th century
document by a Polish writer, Martin of Opava, amongst others. He claims that, while in
office, she became pregnant by her companion and delivered her child while in procession
from St Peters to the Lateran, in a narrow lane. After her death, it is said that she was
buried there. There are other mentions of Pope Joan in writings of the period and, from the
mid-13th century on the legend spread and came to be believed. The issue of whether she
really existed still causes controversy in the Catholic Church today.

In pairs or small groups, read the poem and discuss your first response to it. In your
opinion how does Duffy use the legend of Pope Joan (for example, to criticise the Church,
to criticise women who try to emulate men, to highlight the hypocrisy of the Church, to
show the power of motherhood and so on)?

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Reading Pope Joan

The structure turning points


The poem is formed from a single sentence leading the reader finally to Pope Joans
recollection of her own moment of revelation: that she is neither man nor Pope and has
experienced her own miracle.

Re-read the poem, identifying the structural turning points and noticing the way the poem
develops.

On your own, edit the poem into short sentences.

Compare your work with the versions produced by two or three other students. What
is the effect of shortening the sentences? What does Carol Ann Duffy achieve through
writing it as a single long sentence?

The structure rhyme and repetition


Although the poem does not have a regular or formal rhyme scheme, rhyme is used. Rhyme
and repetition are two techniques that help to structure a poem.

Identify the rhyme and repeated words and phrases. How do the rhyme and repetition
contribute to the sense of development and coherence in the poem? Can you identify any
patterns or method in the way Carol Ann Duffy has used both?

The language of the poem


The poem is created through the language of religion and the Church even to the extent of
quoting the Liturgy in Latin (it translates as In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of
the Holy Spirit). The section dominated by the lexis of religion culminates in:

I came to believe
that I did not believe a word,

What is the effect of using the very language of the Church to tell a tale of loss of faith?

What happens to the language after this point?

A message to...?
As late as stanza 6, there is no indication who Pope Joan is speaking to. As in Mrs Lazarus
or Demeter we may read it as an internal monologue or one spoken to a general, unspecified
audience (the reader, perhaps). In stanza 7, however, she addresses her audience directly:

so I tell you now,


daughters or brides of the Lord,

Pope Joan is speaking publicly to female believers in Christianity (the daughters) and, more
specifically, those who have dedicated their lives and bodies to Christ: nuns, also known as
brides of the Lord.

How do you read the poem having looked more closely at these two lines?

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Reading Mrs Beast

Mrs Beast
Before reading
Male and female language
n

On your own, brainstorm associations of the words beast, girls, ladies, then share your
ideas in class discussion.

Printed below is a selection of words and phrases from the poem.

Gaze

Invited

Beautiful

Dump

Hard

Beast

Chuck

Touch

Charming

Bastards

Girls

Tossed

Pretty

Ladies

Bad

Stashed

Blessed

Serious

Wildly

Tears

Hard

Unloved

Rich

Cheroot

In groups or as a class, organise them into three groups:


words with male associations
words with female associations
neutral words (with neither male nor female associations).

Reading the poem


n

Now read the poem, paying attention to these words as you come across them in
context. Does anything surprise you? To what extent does the effect of the poem rely on
the reader having certain expectations of male and female relationships, behaviour and
language?

Mrs Beast
n

Talk about your impressions of Mrs Beast herself and how these are created. Is she a
character who challenges steretypes particularly those based on gender or has she
escaped the stereotype of Beauty only to fall into the stereotype of the dominatrix?

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Reading Mrs Beast

After reading
Groups of women
At three points in the poem Mrs Beast lists famous women from literature, history, myth, music
and popular culture. These lists are reproduced, out of context, below:
Group 1: Helen, Cleopatra, Queen of Sheba, Juliet, Nefertiti, Mona Lisa, Garbo,
Little Mermaid
Group 2: Goldilocks, the Minotaurs wife, Frau Yellow Dwarf, Bride of the Bearded
Lesbian
Group 3: Henry VIIIs wives, Diana, Eve, Ashputtel, Marilyn Monroe, Bluebeards
wives, Bessie Smith, Rapunzel, Snow White

In groups, take one of the lists and share what you know about the women you may
need to do some research into some of the characters. What do the women in your group
have in common? How would you describe or classify them as a group?

Now re-read Mrs Beast, paying particular attention to the role played in the poem by the
women in your list. As a group, talk about the role these women play in the poem.

As a class, take it in turns to share what you have found out about your group of women
and discuss the role each plays in the poem.

I had the language


Mrs Beast herself claims ownership of language I had the language, girls suggesting this
is something desirable.

Talk about what you think Mrs Beast means: what language does she have here and
throughout the poem? (What, for example, is the significance of her using the word
girls?) Could it have a more general significance?

Why do you think Carol Ann Duffy put this claim into the mouth of Mrs Beast?

Look through the collection to remind yourself of other poems in which language is a
central concern and talk about whether you can recognise any patterns.

Tone
n

Without looking at Mrs Beast again, write down between three and five adjectives that
you think sum up its tone and mood, for example, confident, angry, sad and so on. Collect
all your adjectives together and talk about similarities, differences and patterns in your
choices.

You are now going to read the poem again to explore its tone in more detail. To slow
down your reading, cover the poem with a blank sheet of paper. Pull the paper down to
reveal just a few lines at a time.

Read the lines and note down the adjective which you think most accurately captures the
poems tone at this particular point.

When you have read the whole poem, share your list of words with those of the person
next to you. How do they compare to those chosen before you completed the sloweddown reading? Are there any points where you could not decide on the tone, or where
you and your partner read the tone differently? Is the tone of the poem consistent or are
there significant shifts (for example, from loud and angry to sad and quiet)?

Look back at any points in the poem where you feel the tone shifts. Explore the ways in
which this shift is conveyed through the language, imagery, structure and content of the
poem.
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Reading Mrs Beast

Critics forum a simulation


Imagine Carol Ann Duffy is the subject of a late night arts programme on BBC4. The focus
of the programme is her collection The Worlds Wife. The discussion has just moved on to
consider Mrs Beast although of course it is bound to range across the collection.

On the discussion panel are seven critics and the host of the programme. The main
interests of the critics are summarised on page 101.

Work in pairs or groups of four. Your teacher will tell you which critical role to prepare.
You should prepare a written introductory statement and notes on points to support your
critical position.

Your teacher will choose one person from each group to take part in the discussion panel.
The rest of the class will form the audience for the discussion. Your teacher will play the
host.

Each critic will be invited to read his or her introductory statement before the discussion
is opened out. Members of the audience are free to contribute through questions and
comments.

Looking outwards
Comparing poems Mrs Beast and Little Red-Cap
n

Mrs Beast is the penultimate poem in the collection. It is an interesting poem to compare
with Little Red-Cap that opens The Worlds Wife. Under two headings, draw out the
similarities and differences in the poems. Although content and thematic connections (or
contrasts) are important, you should try to look beyond these to the style of the poem, the
use of language and so on.

A manifesto?
While some critics have called Little Red-Cap an agenda for the whole collection; others have
described Mrs Beast as its manifesto.
An agenda is defined as a list of matters to be discussed
A manifesto is defined as a public declaration of policy and aims.

In what ways might Little Red-Cap be interpreted as an agenda for the collection? Is Mrs
Beast a public declaration of aims?

Argue it out in pairs, with one of you arguing in favour of this interpretation of Little RedCap and Mrs Beast and one arguing against it.

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Reading Mrs Beast

Critic 1
A feminist critic who likes the poem and believes that Mrs Beast sums up Carol
Ann Duffys aim in The Worlds Wife to give a voice to the marginalised and
misrepresented women of history and literature.

Critic 2:
A post-feminist critic who feels that feminism has moved on, beyond a polarised
view of gender but feels that Mrs Beast reflects an earlier feminist stance.

Critic 3:
A moral critic who believes that despite the word play and exuberance, this is a
bleak and depressing poem, showing the impossibility of equal love between men
and women.

Critic 4:
A historicist critic who read texts in terms of the context in which they were
written and finds this text particularly interesting as an exploration of feminisim in
the latter half of the 20th century.

Critic 5:
A postmodern critic who particularly likes the poem for its playful, subversive uses
of language and cultural material.

Critic 6:
A traditional critic who believes the poem is feminist propaganda which doesnt
really hold its own as a poem of lasting value.

Critic 7:
A traditional critic who values the quality of the poetry and its accomplished use
of poetic techniques.

Host:
Chairs the discussion, ensuring all the critics have an opportunity to make their
point, asks questions to clarify or extend arguments, challenges unsubstantiated
points, acts as devils advocate putting forward deliberately controversial
arguments.

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Reading Demeter

Demeter
Before reading
Exploring words
Here are some words from a poem.

flint

mouth

way

break

shy

new

sky

heart

moon

lake

long

ice

tough

came

bare

flat

air

girl

blue

small

feet

Talk about what the words, or groups of the words, have in common and speculate about
what the poem might be like.You might, for example, think about:
the voice and characterisation of the speaker
the tone of the poem
the themes it might explore
the ways in which it seems similar to, or different from, the other poems in the
collection.

Use the words taken from the poem to write a 14-line poem of your own, exploring the
themes you have been discussing.

Reading the poem


n

Read the poem and talk about your immediate response. (Do you like it? If so, why? If
not, why not? In what ways does it seem similar to or different from other poems in the
collection?)

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Reading Demeter

Exploring contrasts and oppositions


n

Look for oppositions in the poem, for example light and dark. These could also be
oppositions in the sounds of the words (open or constricted, for example, or soft
consonants contrasted with plosives).

What do they reveal to you about the ideas in the poem and its development?

The myth of Demeter and Persephone


n

Read the following summary of Demeters story.


Demeter
Demeter was the Goddess of fruit, crops, grain and vegetation, often thought of as a fertility
goddess. Associated with mother earth, the bringer of seasons and the health-giving cycle
of life, she was the mother of Persephone (the maiden). Persephone was abducted by her
uncle Hades, possibly with the help of Zeus, and taken to the Underworld. In her grief and
depression Demeter gave up her divine status in order to search for her daughter. As a result
the earth became sterile and seemed to die, provoking Zeus into ordering Hades to return
Persephone to her mother. Persephone would only be able to return fully to the world if she
had not eaten anything. Although she resisted eating in Hades, she swallowed six seeds of a
pomegranate (possibly having been tricked into it) and so could only return to the world for
six months a year, spending six months in Hades. This is winter, the period when the earth
seems to die; her return heralds the spring.

Under the following headings explore the way in which Carol Ann Duffy has drawn on
and used the myth
of Demeter and
Persephone.
Plot
Themes
Relationships
Language

The Return of Persephone, c. 1891 (oil on canvas) by Leighton, Frederic (1830-96) Leeds
Museums and Galleries (City Art Gallery) UK/The Bridgeman Art Library

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Reading Demeter

After reading
The sonnet form
n

Read the poem alongside Anne Hathaway.

Both Anne Hathaway and Demeter are written in the form of a sonnet.

Explore how the poet uses the sonnet form in both poems by filling in a chart such as the
one below.

Similarities

Differences

Both economical in their


exploration of an idea about the
womans life.

Very different uses of imagery. Anne


Hathaway uses rich comparisons
(metaphors and similes). Demeter
uses the physical world to symbolise
the inner experience of the persona.

Mothers and daughters


In Demeter the focus is on the relationship between a mother and her daughter. The man
who keeps Persephone in the Underworld, away from her mother for half the year, is present
only in the mind of the reader who brings to the poem their knowledge of the myth.
Although Demeter is the mother, the story is often regarded as belonging to the daughter,
Persephone. Throughout The Worlds Wife, Carol Ann Duffy explores women as mothers,
wives, girlfriends, lovers of men, lovers of women, friends, enemies, sisters, as part of a
community of women but never directly as daughters.

Talk about why this might be.

Avril Horner, however, reads Demeter as representing the strength of the daughter.

Read her comment and look again at the summary of Demeters story on page 103.
Duffy inverts the Greek myth so that, rather than the mother seeking to rescue the daughter
from Plutos cold clutches, it is the daughter who rescues the mother and who heals her
broken heart.
Avril Horner: Small Female Skull in Strong Words

Compare the presentation of the mother-daughter relationship in this poem with its
exploration in Queen Herod, Thetis, Mrs Midas and Pope Joan. In the Mothers and
daughters column sum up your response to the presentation of this relationship (for
example fierce, equal, sad and so on). In the Techniques column suggest ways in which
Duffy uses the forms and techniques of the poetic monologue and of the literature on
which she draws, to explore the complexities of this relationship.

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Reading Demeter

Poem

Response to mother-daughter
relationship

Techniques

Demeter

Queen Herod

Thetis

Mrs Midas

Pope Joan

The final poem


n

Why do you think Duffy chose to end the collection with the voice of Demeter and the
return of Persephone? In considering this question you might find it helpful to compare
Demeter with the poem which opens the collection Little Red-Caps account of her
maturing through adolescence to adulthood. Is there any movement from first to last?

Avril Horner places the poem in the context of both the collection and Duffys own life.

Read her analysis and discuss whether you think the biographical context adds to, or
detracts from, the experience of reading the poem and what it might have to say about
mothers and daughters more generally.
It [the collection] has its own emotional chronology, too, which moves us from the
experience of the adolescent girl losing her virginity to an older man in the first poem,
through various chartings of disillusion and disenchantment with heterosexual experience
and marriage, alongside a gradual and joyful affirmation of womens desire for each other to
the love of a mother for a daughter. The analogies with Duffys own life are clear: lover of
the much older Adrian Henri whilst still an adolescent; intellectual development as a student
of philosophy; maturation into poet, lesbian and mother of a daughter in adulthood.
Avril Horner: Small Female Skull in Strong Words

Creative writing the daughters voice


n

Write a poetic monologue either in the voice of Persephone, the daughter whose return
heralds the spring or in the voice of Queen Herods daughter for whom, according to
Duffy, the baby boys of Judea were massacred.
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After Reading

After Reading
A dramatic reading
n

Prepare a dramatic reading of one of the poems. To do this, you might like to do some of
the following:
find a prop that you can hold
set the scene for your audience in some way, possibly using mime, or by adding
a few extra comments to the beginning of the monologue to give them a sense of
where you are, for example: putting on your make-up at a mirror; making a cup of
tea in the kitchen; rattling the gates of hell
get dressed up in a costume that you feel is appropriate
give your character a few gestures that match her personality or mood.

If youre doing this as a revision activity, try learning part or all of the monologue.

Whats in a voice? A close focus on language


Carol Ann Duffys characters come to life to a large extent because of their voices. Each
character has her own characteristic voice. But how are these voices created and what makes
them different? (You might first think back to the different voices created in the dramatic
monologues on pages 16 to 18 and how they were evoked.)

Read the fragments from different poems on page 107. Put each one on a spectrum from
formal to informal.

Talk about what aspect of the language makes them more or less formal.

Now try putting the same extracts on a spectrum from colloquial to poetic, or from
sensitive to strident. For each of these tasks you might want to consider some of the
following aspects of language, to decide what characterises a voice:
use of slang
use of taboo words
abbreviated words and ellipsis
repetitions
use of idioms
use of clichs
use of puns and word play
exaggeration
length of lines
how much or little is said
use of punctuation
questions, statements, exclamations or commands.

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After Reading

Bollocks. (Id done all the typing myself,


I should know.)
And given my time all over again,
rest assured that Id rather speak for myself
than be Dearest, Beloved, Dark Lady, White Goddess,
etc., etc.
Wasnt I beautiful?
Wasnt I fragrant and young?
Now the garden was long and the visibility poor, the way
the dark of the ground seems to drink the light of the sky,
but that twig in his hand was gold. And then he plucked
a pear from a branch we grew Fondante dAutomne
And here you come
with a shield for a heart
and a sword for a tongue
and your girls, your girls.
...By the time we were six,
we were sat at her skirts, inhaling the juniper fumes
of her Vera Lynn; hearing the stories of Emmelines Army
before and after the 14 war. Diamond ladies,
they were, those birds who fought for the Vote, salt
of the earth.
I swear
the air softened and warmed as she moved,
the blue sky smiling, none too soon,
with the small shy mouth of a new moon.
Well-cleaned pigs ears should be blanched, singed, tossed
in a pot, boiled, kept hot, scraped, served, garnished
with thyme.
Get this:
When I was done,
and bloody to the wrist,
I squatted down among the murdered music of the bells
and pissed.
Firstly, his hands a womans. Softer than mine,
with pearly nails, like shells from Galilee.
Indolent hands. Camp hands that clapped for grapes.
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After Reading

Images and motifs


Below is a list of some of the images and motifs that recur throughout the anthology. A few
gaps have been left for you to add any others that you notice.

Spring, Autumn,
Winter

The heart

Hands and nails

Stone, pebbles and


gravel

Flowers

Bones

Birds the white


dove

Fruit

Cigars and cigarettes

Gold

The moon

Perfume

The weather

Rings and other


jewellery

Ice, snow, cold and


heat

Red

Share out the images and motifs between pairs or small groups. Explore all the
connotations each image has for you, perhaps as a spider diagram. Then look for the
occurrence of these images in the poems and decide whether they have a particular
consistent connotation for Duffy, or varying connotations from poem to poem. On page
109 is one example to show how you might do this on the image of fruit.

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After Reading

Stage 1: Our connotations

fresh, natural, full of goodness, health-giving, luscious, fruit of the Garden of Eden a
temptation

Stage 2: How fruit appears in a few of Duffys poems

from Mrs Tiresias: A cling peach slithering out from its tin. used to describe
Tiresiass new female voice sickly sweet, slightly false, not like fresh fruit?
her bite at the fruit of my lips fruit as a sexual image, something to be violently eaten.
Queen Kong: put/the tip of my tongue to the grape of his esh sexual, the idea of
tasting the fruit of pleasure
Mrs Midas: ...And then he plucked
a pear from a branch we grew Fondante dAutomne
and it sat in his palm like a light bulb. On.
Contrast between something soft and natural that they put effort into growing, with
something hard and bright and manufactured.

Stage 3: Drawing some conclusions

For Duffy fruit is used to explore sexuality images that conjure up the sensuality of
the body. Interestingly its not always the female body, sometimes the male body as
well. It also seems to be used in different contexts to suggest the contrast between the
natural and true, and the unnatural and false. So, Tiresiass voice is not like a fresh
peach but like a tinned one and Midass foolishness is demonstrated in his destruction
of the natural lusciousness of a pear, replacing it with something hard and bright but
inedible.

English and Media Centre, 2007

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After Reading

Satirical techniques in The Worlds Wife


n

Here is a list of some of the satirical and humorous techniques adopted by Carol Ann
Duffy in the more humorous poems in the collection. You could first explore each one
independently, before looking at the notes and ideas that follow, or, for a bit more help,
use the notes to guide you.
1. Playing with idioms.
2. Use of rhyme.
3. Shock, surprise and incongruity.
4. Irreverent language swearing, taboo words, slang.
5. Exaggeration and caricature.

Playing with idioms


One of Duffys recurring styles and strategies is to work playfully with idioms.
Dictionary definition: a group of individual words whose meaning cannot be
deduced from those of the individual word, for example over the moon.

Idioms often started out as metaphors, but the original meaning has been lost and they have
become so much part of everyday use that no-one ever questions them. For instance, why
does over the moon mean happy?

Make a list of as many idioms as you can think of.

Carol Ann Duffy takes idioms and plays with them, so that we focus on their literal meaning
again. By doing this, she brings them to life again, in a different way.
For instance, in Thetis, when the narrator changes into gas, she says I was all hot air. It
was all a lot of hot air is an idiom meaning that theres lots of big talk and not much substance
beneath it. Thetis is literally hot air but perhaps it also suggests that this particular way of
dealing with men using language isnt as successful as one might think. Or maybe it
suggests that what she says to men is just an act and has no substance to it?

Look for other uses of idioms in poems in the collection. See if you can explain what use
Duffy is making of them and why they are humorous.

Go back to your list of idioms and see if you can write a few lines of a poem that play with
the idiom in similar ways, for example:
Mother love
She took a cloth and a bar of soap,
she made a lather, white as lace,
she scrubbed and scrubbed
with the cloth, as tough as rope
till shed wiped the smile right off my face.
Barbara Bleiman

Talk about what you think Duffys use of idioms contributes to her poetry. For instance,
is it just light humour, or does it make you think afresh about something youve taken for
granted?

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After Reading

Use of rhyme
Rhyme is a particularly powerful weapon in Carol Ann Duffys armoury. Not only does she use
half and full rhymes to end lines, but also plays with internal rhymes (patterns of half and full
rhymes in the middle of lines), to set up sound echoes. This can be used for a range of effects,
both serious and comic.
Full rhymes are when the final vowel and consonant of words are the same e.g.
twin/win/bin/sin.
Half rhymes are when the end sounds are the same but the vowel sound is
different e.g. bin/ban, window/wander.

Look at these extracts from The Worlds Wife and for each one talk about:
a) whether it is using full or half rhyme, or both and whether the rhymes are internal
ones, at the end of lines or both
b) what effect the rhyming has and why. (For example, is it comic; does it create
echoes and reverberations; does it draw attention to certain ideas or does it achieve
some other effect? Thinking about this involves your interpretation of the poem and
its effects. There is plenty of scope for different suggestions and viewpoints.)
Thats him pushing the stone up the hill, the jerk.
I call it a stone its nearer the size of a kirk.
When he first started out, it just used to irk,
but now it incenses me, and him, the absolute berk.
I could do something vicious to him with a dirk.
The Devil was one of the men at work.
Different. Fancied himself. Looked at the girls
in the office as though they were dirt. Didnt flirt.
Didnt speak. Was sarcastic and rude if he did.
Id stare him out, chewing my gum, insolent, dumb.
Id lie on my bed at home, on fire for him.
Ladies, for arguments sake, let us say
that Ive seen my fair share of ding-a-ling, member and jock,
of todger and nudger and percy and cock, of tackle,
of three-for-a-bob, of willy and winky; in fact,
you could say, Im as au fait with Hunt-the-Salami
As Ms M. Lewinsky...........
I shrank myself
to the size of a bird in the hand
of a man.
Sweet, sweet, was the small song
that I sang,
till I felt the squeeze of his fist.
Then I did this:
shouldered the cross of an albatross
up the hill of the sky.
Why? To follow a ship.
But I felt my wings
clipped by the squint of a crossbows eye.
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After Reading

Shock, surprise and incongruity


Amongst Duffys strongest qualities as a poet is her ability to jolt the reader out of their
complacency and challenge expectations. This can be done in a range of ways:
putting together two ideas or kinds of language that you wouldnt expect to find
together (the juxtaposition of incongruous ideas)
bathos, where you start with something noble-sounding and serious and bring
it down to earth with a bump, ending with something much more low-key and
unexpectedly ordinary
a surprising twist, within a poem or at the end of a poem
challenging expectations of poetry by surprising the reader with what she considers
to be worthy of including in a poem
piling on the detail by listing more and more examples, so forcing the reader to pay
attention or making it seem ridiculous
using shocking language, such as taboo words, swearing and irreverent language
(see the separate section below)
creating a sense of the absurd, by presenting ridiculous or odd ideas or forms of
behaviour, or connections between things.

Individually, or in pairs, skim through the poems. Find one example of each of the
techniques described above. For each one, write out the example, then jot down a few
notes explaining the effect of the technique and analysing how it works.

Choose one of your examples to present to the rest of the class, as a brief oral
presentation.

Write up your example on a sheet of A3 paper, using large lettering. Quote from the poem
and use your notes to explain the effect. Display all the examples on the wall. This can
be a good way of remembering interesting quotations from the poems as part of your
revision of the text. If you want to add to this, you could go on to write more A3 display
sheets for fresh examples.

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Irreverent language
Part of Duffys way of surprising the reader is to use language that is unexpected, particularly
for those with a fairly traditional set of ideas about what poetry should be like.
These are some of her uses of language that might be considered to be challenging or
shocking:
taboo words (the f- word, taboo words for genitalia and so on)
slang words and phrases (words that arent necessarily taboo but wouldnt usually
be expected to be used in poetry, such as gagging for it)
insults
everyday colloquial language used in contexts that are usually treated with respect
using more formal language, such as religion.

Here are some views of Duffys irreverent uses of language. Choose the one that best
sums up your view, then find evidence from across the collection to back up your opinion.

Duffys use of irreverent language makes the poems leap off the page, as
if youre hearing real people talking. It brings her ideas to life with great
vitality.

Duffy seems to be trying to shock the reader. This can sometimes border on
the offensive and is a cheap tactic rather than a mark of a really good poet.

Duffys whole project in this collection is to challenge ideas about culture,


poetry and society her irreverent uses of language are the perfect way of
achieving this.

Duffys use of shocking language shouldnt be taken too seriously its all part
of her comedy and her approach to making poetry more light-hearted.

Duffys poems are in the voices of a range of characters, so its not surprising
that some of them will speak like ordinary women, with all the slang,
swearing and colloquial language youd expect. Anything else would sound
stilted.

Exaggeration and caricature


Satire often depends on portraying things boldly characters are larger than life, descriptions
are exaggerated so that the impact is stronger. If you play things down, it just isnt funny.
You can test this out for yourself by looking at any of the current comedy programmes on
TV the comic characters work by being caricatures, having one phrase that they use to a
ridiculous extent, or one characteristic that swamps all the others, whether its the only gay
in the village or Am I bovvered? If you ask yourself whether anyone is really like that, the
answer is obviously, no. People arent as one-dimensional as that in reality.

Explore this idea in The Worlds Wife. Look for examples of exaggeration in the depiction
of the characters, in their uses of language, or Duffys use of language to convey an idea
or a point of view.

Look also for poems where exaggeration doesnt really seem to be a major technique.
Ask yourself whether these poems are also satirical and humorous, or whether the
absence of exaggeration signals a different purpose.
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Duffys use of form


Carol Ann Duffy uses many different forms in her poems, ranging from sonnets to what are
sometimes called open forms of poetry, or free verse. Some of her poems read more like
prose, others are definitely more traditionally poetic in shape and form.

Try these different activities to focus on how the form of the poems relates to their
meaning.

1.

Work in small groups. Pick the name of a poem out of a hat. See how many different
things you can say about the form of your poem. You could start with simple, obvious
things and move on to more complex things, or ways the form might be said to relate to
the meaning. For example The Devils Wife:

1. Its in 5 parts.
2. Each part has a separate title.
3. This might suggest different voices or different phases in a story, or new
angles. 5 parts allows 5 slightly different slants on the same topic or story.
4. The rst three have a regular pattern of stanzas (six lines and four lines)
with half or full rhymes, perhaps giving them a sense of coherence. The third
feels more disjointed (more crazy and desperate perhaps?) because of the way
almost all of the lines are end-stopped and repetitive. The fourth seems to
mark a turning point. It is brief and almost factual in tone. The fth and
nal section, with its repeated ifs and nal question, seem nally to lead
us, not to rm conclusions but to a questioning of both the punishment and
the crime. The separate couplet at the end mark it out as an important ending
to the whole sequence. The fact that it ends on a question is signicant.
5. The 5 part form seems to be about the stages in the story the woman tells,
as she changes in prison and tries to understand, or perhaps justify to us
and herself, her own crime. It tries to take us inside the head of a woman who
kills, at different moments and in the nal section asks the question about
what is t punishment.
2.

As a next stage, you might pick two names out of the hat. You could go through the
same process, but this time each of your comments on form should be comparative. For
example:

Whereas The Devils Wife is a long poem, Mrs Icarus is short.


Mrs. Icarus is short because its just one idea, one joke, whereas The Devils
Wife is about a complex issue of how a woman could be persuaded to take
part in child murder and benets from a series of explorations of the
psychology of the woman.
3.

Look for all the poems that use the same or similar form, for example all of the sonnets in
the collection. Explore the similarities and differences between Duffys use of the form.

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Representing women
The following three activities all involve looking at different ways of grouping the women in The
Worlds Wife. Use the character cards on page 20 to complete the activities.

1. Domesticity, assertiveness, role-reversal?


n

Here is what one reader had to say about The Worlds Wife:

How very domestic the lives of many of these women are, despite their strong
voices and assertive role in the relationships. It seems to go with the fact that
many of the women are still named and defined in relation to their husbands
even if it is in relation to their weaknesses and failings rather than strengths.

To begin to explore this idea, start by collecting examples from across the anthology that
seem to you to suggest different ways of representing women. Use the headings below.
Women in domestic roles (and hating it)
Women in domestic roles (and enjoying it)
Strong women (but unlike men)
Downtrodden women who rise up
Women who love their men
Women who once loved their men
Women who have outgrown/dont need their men
Women who arent interested in men
Role reversals women behaving like men
Women who leave
Women who have been left
Women relating to each other

2. Historical, biblical, mythological and modern women


n

Group the women under these headings. Do you notice anything interesting about the
ways Duffy represents them? Are there any interesting patterns? For instance, are all
the historical figures downtrodden women who rise up? Or does Duffy offer different
representations of women, no matter what the origins of their story?

3. Women and class


n

Do you get any sense of the class of the women characters? Do you notice any patterns
in terms of the way they are represented? For instance, are the working women
presented as more feisty than the women from a different class or rank in society? Are
they more or less downtrodden? Or do no such patterns emerge?

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Talking back to a poem different versions


1. A poem in reply
n

Take any poem in the collection and write a reply in the voice of the husband.

2. The listener speaks


n

The implied listener is usually not characterised by Duffy, though in several poems she
does make it clear that she is female, for example Eurydice starts by addressing her
listeners as Girls. You are going to imagine who the implied listener(s) might be and
what he/she/they might say. While one person starts reading the poem, the listener can
butt in with comments. You can decide who your implied listener is. You could try it more
than once to see how different listeners might respond differently:
a female friend
a male friend
the speakers mother
a friend of the husband/man
a stranger with whom shes struck up a conversation in the pub
a group of friends, chatting in a bar.

For example: Pygmalions Bride talking to a female friend.

PB:

Cold, I was, like snow, like ivory.

FF:

I was just the same the rst time.

PB

I thought He will not touch me but he did.

FF:

Theyre all the same, men. No good at feelings. You know what they say, men need sex
to know theyre loved and women need to know theyre loved to want sex.

For example: Pygmalions Bride talking to her husbands friend.

HF:

Hed always put you on a pedestal, like a goddess. He liked you because you seemed so
remote, so unattainable.

PB

I thought He will not touch me but he did.

HF:

What did you expect? Hes a red-blooded male. He wasnt going to worship you forever.
Once youre married, reality kicks in. Youd be a mug not to realise that!

3. Role-playing a conversation
n

In pairs, improvise a dialogue between the woman of the poem and the husband or man
behind that woman.

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Pastiches of The Worlds Wife


n

Choose another female character from history, literature, popular culture or myth who is
not included in this collection and write a poem to present her untold story in the style
of Duffy. Write a commentary to explain the perspective, style and so on of this poem,
showing what features of Duffys style you were imitating. Here are some examples of
characters you could choose: Mrs Noah, Eve, Boudicca, the Wicked Witch in Snow
White, Helen of Troy, Mrs Attila the Hun, Mrs Einstein, Mrs Charles Dickens.

Other viewpoints laddettes, It girls, footballers wives or Big Brother contestants


Some readers have expressed the view that Duffys personae and the messages of her
poems are a bit outdated, part of a feminist past that has been superseded by post-feminism.
Others see a post-feminist side to her work, in which are characters have the freedom to
reject feminist stereotypes.

You could try writing a different version of one of Duffys monologues, or another female
character, this time taking a different, perhaps post-feminist voice. For instance, what
would Eve be like as a Big Brother contestant? How about Mrs Midas as a footballers
wife? Or how about the old woman in the shoe, as a Wife Swap participant?

Categorising the poems


Some of the ways you might categorise the poems in The Worlds Wife are listed below.
Reflective
Angry
Wry
Jokey
Dark
Serious
Satirical

Using a colour coding key, record the balance of tones within a selection of poems, as in
the example below.

What do you think this activity has revealed to you about the collection?

Mrs Darwin

Demeter

Mrs Icarus
Eurydice

Jokey

Satirical

Reflective

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Controversial statements
Listed below and on page 119 are 15 controversial statements about the text. They could be
used in any of the following ways:
a debate around the room, where you go and stand in an agree, disagree or dont
know corner and try to argue other people round to your view.
a formal debate, in which small teams make the case for or against the
proposition, making formal opening speeches, having seconders to follow up,
challenging each others points, then summing up.
a boxing match, in which a boxer from each team goes into the ring to argue on
either side, in a serious of rounds. A new boxer can be chosen for each round.
a tennis match, in which two people on different sides of the argument try to keep
the ball in court until one person cant continue. Each shot must include evidence.
a game of Frisbee, in which each player says something for or against the
statement, then sends the Frisbee to someone else in the circle either to make a
new point or respond to the point thats just been made.
a two-minute speech, made by each member of the class in favour of, or against
any one of the statements.
a quick revision activity, in which the statements are put into a hat and people
take it in turns to pull one out. You have to give one quotation, either to support the
statement or to oppose it. The statement goes back into the hat and if it comes up
again, a different quotation must be used. No quotation can be used more than
once in the whole duration of the game.

Despite its intention to subvert Western male culture, the collection is,
in fact, trapped by it.

...............................................................................

The collection is an act of revenge.

...............................................................................

The Worlds Wife is not a feminist collection.

...............................................................................

This is not a collection about male and female relations but a


collection of poems about power.

...............................................................................

This is a collection of poems about language.

...............................................................................

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The cost of female liberation is shown to be isolation.

...............................................................................

This collection of poems presents an outdated view of gender,


sexuality and relationships.

...............................................................................

Theres just one joke in the collection and in the end it gets rather
tedious.

...............................................................................

In this collection Carol Ann Duffy is debunking myths of femininity.

...............................................................................

10

The poems in this collection are viciously anti-men.

...............................................................................

11

Duffys depiction of female liberation is just a reversal of roles for


men and women.

...............................................................................

12

The poems in this collection arent very subtle.

...............................................................................

13

In The Worlds Wife liberation brings the end of marginalisation or


isolation for the female characters.

...............................................................................

14

The poems challenge the place of story (myth, history, fable, biblical)
in our culture.

...............................................................................

15

Although the poems are in the voices of the wives, this is a collection
about life in the 20th century.

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Critics and reviewers on The Worlds Wife


A web page on The Worlds Wife
Scenario: You have been asked to create a series of three web pages on The Worlds Wife for
a new website called Lit crit hot debates. The format youve been asked to follow is:
a page of hostile critical comment
a page of positive critical comment
a page summing up some of the key debates that readers and critics have
engaged in about Carol Ann Duffys collection.

Use the extracts from critics and reviewers on pages 124 to 125 to compile your pages in
an attractive and engaging style for the Internet. Remember that:
web pages cant contain too much information, so youll need to be highly selective
you always need to attribute quotations fully (author, title, publisher, date).

Answering back to a critic or reviewer


n

Choose one extract from critics and reviewers on pages 124 to 125. Write a reply, in
which you:
comment on how well you think the critic has represented the anthology and on the
stance he/she has taken
comment on what you particularly agree with, giving your own supportive evidence
and adding any arguments that you think strengthen this view
take issue with anything you disagree with, giving evidence from the collection in
support of your views
pull it all together with a punchy, quotable and memorable phrase or two, that might
be used by other readers and students of Duffy in their exploration of her work.

Incorporating quotations from critics or reviewers in your essays


These suggestions will help you use criticism to enhance your own arguments, rather than as
superficial decoration in your essay. The example below shows you how you might do this.
1. Keep the quotation short just a phrase or two will do.
2. Attribute it properly name the critic or reviewer and the source (for example, Xan
Brooks writing in the Guardian, suggests that .........).
3. Treat the quotation from a critic as you would a quotation from the text itself. In
other words, use it to make a point, quote it, then follow up the quotation with
an analysis of why its useful or interesting, what it reveals about the text or
alternatively why it isnt a helpful way of looking at the text. (PQE - Point Quotation
Exploration - or other acronyms youve learned to help you incorporate quotations
into your argument, apply just as much to quotations from critics.)

Duffys poetic style is not shy and retiring. It is bold, almost aggressive at times, for instance
in the forthright opening of Mrs Aesop, By Christ, he could bore for Purgatory or in Mrs
Sisyphuss blunt criticism of her husband, the absolute berk. Peter Forbes, on the British
Council Contemporary Writers website says of her:
Using a lot of slang and a buttonholing style hers is a voice that leaps off the page...
Its true that her use of slang gives energy and vitality to the poems, making us feel that were
hearing someone actually speaking to us, rather than engaging in a rened literary activity.
Mrs Sisyphuss A load of old bollocks or Mrs Icaruss total, utter, absolute, Grade A pillock
are voices that, as Forbes suggests, stridently demand our attention. But theres another side to
Duffy, in poems like Demeter or Anne Hathaway, where a quieter, less demotic voice is heard.
Duffys women are not all loudmouthed or shrill.

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Reading from different critical positions


n

You are going to experiment with reading one of the poems from a selection of key critical
positions. Simplified summaries of these critical positions are included here. Your teacher
will tell you which pair or group should work on each position.

Moral
For me, literature is nothing unless it teaches its reader something and helps
them to become better people. All good literature is basically moral and
uplifting. It is important to consider the themes in the text, to understand its
moral purpose.

Reader-response theory
I believe that the text needs to have a reader before it can mean anything.
I work on constructing meanings from the text, filling in the gaps, making
connections and predictions, and seeing how far these expectations of it are
confirmed or disappointed. I think that the mistakes a reader makes when
predicting what will happen in a text are an important part of the meaning.

Genre theory
I believe that all literature can be classified into various types or forms, e.g.
tragedy, comedy, romance, thriller, epic, lyric etc. I look for ways in which the
text relates to the conventions of its genre. You can only really make sense of a
text when you recognise the tradition to which it belongs.

Feminist
I believe that feminine and masculine are ideas constructed by our culture,
and it is important to be aware of this when reading texts from periods and
cultures different from our own. I prefer to read literature written by women,
which explores womens experience of the world. I am interested in how women
are represented in texts written by men, and how these texts display the power
relations between the sexes.

Psychoanalytic
Because of my interest in the unconscious, I pay most attention to what is
glossed over or repressed. I want to look beyond the obvious surface meaning
to what the text is really about. I also look for representations of psychological
states or phases in literature, and am more interested in the emotional conflicts
between the characters or groups in a text than in its wider context.

Read the poem in role and make brief notes on which aspects of it would most interest
critics reading from this position.

Take it in turns to feed back the main points of your discussion and talk about which
critical positions seem to be most helpful in illuminating the poem.

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The Worlds Wife drama and role-play revision games


For these activities you will need a set of cards with the characters from The Worlds Wife
printed on them. You could photocopy and enlarge the cards on page 20.

Game 1: Props
n

Shuffle the pack. Each person should choose a card. Dont tell anyone else the name on
the card.

For the next lesson, bring one object into the class that seems to you to have relevance
to your character.

Take turns to show your objects and see if other people can guess who you are.

Game 2: Whos who?


n

Shuffle the pack. Each person should choose a card. Dont tell anyone else the name on
the card. Go back to your anthology to re-read your poem and familiarise yourself with
everything about your character.

Wander around the room and talk to other people. Ask each other questions to find out
who the other person is, without them saying their name. The only answers they can give
are yes or no or maybe. Continue asking questions until you find out who they are.

Game 3: Miming a character from The Worlds Wife


n

Work in teams. Each team should identify someone to do the mime. Pick a card out of the
hat and perform a mime that will allow the rest of your group to identify who you are. If
your team guesses correctly within the time limit, you gain one point. (You could play it as
a race, seeing how many correct guesses the team can make within one minute.)

Role playing a public meeting The Battle of the Sexes


There is going to be a big public debate on The Battle of the Sexes. Five keynote speakers
have been invited to introduce the debate: Mrs Midas, Mrs. Beast, Queen Herod, Anne
Hathaway and Frau Freud. The rest of the women and/or their husbands or lovers will be in
the audience and will take part in the debate.

Allocate the roles of the keynote speakers.

Share out the rest of the women in the anthology and choose to play either the womans
role or that of her husband or lover.

Go back to your poem to prepare for the debate. Decide what views your character holds.
Try to go beyond the most obvious points to get at the finer subtleties. For instance, does
your character just seem to dislike one aspect of male behaviour? Does she feel torn?
Does she seem at all critical of women and their behaviour?

See if you can learn some phrases from your poem, so that you can incorporate them in
your contributions to the debate:

e.g. Mrs Sisyphus: Too many men are only interested in their careers, giving one
hundred percent to their work and leaving no time for the women in their lives.
n

Hold the debate, with your teacher acting as the Chairperson.

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Carol Ann Duffy in the dock


n

Imagine that Carol Ann Duffy is brought to a literary court, accused of one of the
following crimes:
writing a collection that does no favours to women
writing a collection of mediocre poetry
only reaching out to female readers
being a one joke wonder.

Divide up the class into advocates for the defence, advocates for the prosection, judge,
jury , the defendant and witnesses. (Witnesses might be members of the class called
to speak on Duffys poetry as expert witnesses.) The case will proceed as in a court
case, with cross-examination of witnesses and the defendant and a summing up by the
advocates for the prosecution and defence.

The themes addressed in the poems a wall display


Here is a list of some of the themes that Carol Ann Duffy might be said to be addressing in
The Worlds Wife.

If you can think of other ideas, add them to the list.

Work in a small group. Pick one of the themes. Individually try writing a single sentence
that expresses what you think Duffy is saying about that theme.

Talk about your sentences and see if you agree with all of them. Adapt any disputed ones,
till you reach agreement.

Write your statements, widely spaced out, on a large sheet of sugar paper. For each one,
find three or four short quotations from across the anthology to support that statement.
Display the quotations around the statements.
Transformation

Freedom and entrapment

Re-interpreting the world

The power of women

Finding or releasing a voice

Control and liberation

Defining female sexuality

The nature of poetry and the


poetry world

Love and relationships

Male behaviour

Western cultural traditions

Motherhood

Patriarchy

Misfits/outcasts

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Criticism and Sources

Criticism and Sources


Criticism and reviews
Carol Ann Duffy plays with words the
way Mozart played with notes. Duffys
writing, like Mozarts composing, is
highly sophisticated in both concept and
execution, economical even in its excesses,
and strangely light despite its substance...
Internal rhyming is rampant here as well,
and exhilarating. These poems romp...Duffy
mixes formal and informal diction with high
wit...Although Duffys poems are terribly
funny, they do have an agenda. City
Paper Online: The Arts (13th June 2001)
www.citypaper.com
Stunningly original, haunting and
memorable, the voices of Mrs Midas, Queen
Kong, Mrs Lazarus, the Kray Sisters, and
a huge cast of others startle with their
wit, imagination, lyrical intuition and
incisiveness...Carol Ann Duffy is a master at
drawing on myth and history and subverting
them in a wholly unexpected and surprising
way. These myths have the pull of the past
and the crack of the contemporary. Poems
for a new century vivid, funny, outrageous
and entertaining they will dazzle you, the
wives of the past, the present, the future.
Contemporary Scottish Literature, The
British Council

slangy, immediate women. Duffys language


is exactly right for her project. Rhythmically
it is strongly pulsing; even more important
is the function of rhyme and half-rhyme
(the latter perhaps this poets single most
impressive talent). Reinforcing the wilful,
aggressive quality of the rhetoric is Duffys
aptitude for witty puns involving clich
and hackneyed figures of speech. At the
same time, however, the language is kept
aerated and three-dimensional by beautiful
off-the-cuff metaphors. I think all this is
extremely well-judged poetry; it is rich and
confident and if it lacks subtlety, irony or
mysteriousness, that is in the nature of its
unusually rhetorical mission. Tom Adair,
Reader reviewer on Amazon.co.uk
With a lot of artists, the mystique is to
baffle their readership. She never does
that. Her aim is to communicate. Eliana
Tomkins, singer-composer

But while Duffys revisionist dramatic


monologues are rife with clever twists,
this material has been well mined by such
poets as Alta, Margaret Atwood and Alicia
Ostriker. Even references to Viagra, sheepcloning and Monica Lewinsky seem an
updating of Transformations (1971), Anne
Sextons deadpan fairytales studded with
cultural references, with the poems trapped
in a similarly polarised conception of
gender relations...The flippant tone elicits
chuckles, but one imagines these characters
would have come a long way by now, baby.
From Publishers Weekly

Not since Larkin has a poet articulated the


mood of the times as well as Carol Ann
Duffy. Sean OBrien has rightly called her,
the representative poet of our time. ...
politically left-wing...with a wonderful
feel for idiom and contemporary culture,
especially low-life, she has been able to
unite timeless themes in her work with a
sense of life as it is lived now...Her style
is absolutely distinctive and has been
much copied. Using a lot of slang and a
buttonholing style hers is a voice that
leaps off the page...The Worlds Wife
surpassed her previous achievements, in
sales and fame, if not necessarily in poetic
brilliance....It is a thematic book, every
poem being in the voice of the notional wife
of a great man of history or mythology. So
this is a return to the monologue style. The
book caught the imagination of readers and
made Carol Ann Duffy a genuine bestseller.
It is always gratifying when the best poet
writing is also the most popular. Peter
Forbes, British Council Contemporary
Authors www.contemporaryauthors.com

Duffys approach to these monologues is


almost absolutely consistent: the women
express contempt, irritation, resentment
and sorrow for the foolishness and egotism
of their partners...The subject-matter,
thus paraphrased, looks gloomy and bitter,
but in fact these poems are entertaining
and very likeable. It is quite important
to these pieces that they are funny and
we do laugh because of the constantlyperceived clash between lofty, remote,
sacred men and contemporary-sounding,

This kind of re-reading and re-writing of


fairy tales, legends and myth was to develop
into a major feature of Duffys work, with
the process undergoing a continuous formal
and discursive fine-tuning until it emerged
at its most successful in The Worlds Wife
in 1999... The Worlds Wife attracted rave
reviews and cemented her reputation as a
skilled poet concerned with contemporary
issues who speaks in the voice of her time.
Duffy often works in a Brechtian tradition
by putting familiar subjects in a strange

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environment, often by the means of


humour and satire, and by doing so she
allows her readers to be involved actively
in a critical re-vision of traditional truths.
In The Worlds Wife, myth, in its social as
well as literary sense, is one of the major
areas Duffy re-views from a feminine, and
often feminist, perspective. These poems
are voiced by the wives of various famous
men, both fictional and historical. The
overall effect of enabling these previously
marginalised figures to tell their version of
events is that myth is not only unravelled
from a narrative perspective, but also
poetically scrutinised as relying on a
specific discursive structure one that only
achieves social intelligibility by silencing
other versions that might challenge its
status as truth. Duffys particular talent
here is that she achieves this without
being overly heavy handed when it comes
to writing poetry with a message. The
Literary Encyclopaedia www.litencyc.
com
Less impressive is Duffys satirical
collection The Worlds Wife, which for all
the rave reviews seems to me to suffer
from a jokiness that palls, much like
Terry Dearys Horrible Histories in verse.
Duffys technique of mediating an archaic
situation through a modern womans mind
and idiom...becomes monotonous in the
griping of Mrs Midas, Mrs Aesop, Mrs Zeus,
Mrs Faust and co, while the inverted
stereotypes Queen Herod or Queen Kong
are a bit, well, obvious. Jan Montefiore,
www.poetrysociety.org.uk/review
The Worlds Wife saw her re-telling famous
stories and fables Midas, King Kong,
Elvis as wry and exuberant feminist
documents from the point of view of real
or imagined women. Although The Worlds
Wife is presented in this way, it is said to
be her most autobiographical collection of
poems. Wikepedia www.en.wikepedia.org
I love the rhymes, particularly in Mrs Faust,
which are perfectly timed. The poems
are very intelligent linguistically .... The
individuality of each of the womens voices
featured really shines through. Reader
review, www.anotherbookshop.com

as Larkin was the bicycle-clipped


representative of the dowdy, repressed
fifties...Duffys rise rather wrong-footed
the Oxbridge poetry establishment. The
first issue of the Oxford little magazine
Thumbscrew (Winter 1994/5) carried
a critical essay by Simon Brittain. He
concludes: by employing simplistic
language and overstated imagery, Duffy is
perfect for those no longer accustomed nor
inclined to close reading. But according to
her supporters, he comes to this conclusion
by ignoring her best poems....The Worlds
Wife was the watershed in her career. She
widened her audience and perhaps slightly
bemused some of those whod followed
her until then. The harrowing note of
The Other Country and Meantime was
replaced by a roistering, wickedly spiced
burlesque. A few men think the poems are
a bit too anti-men but Andrew Motion says:
There is a sense that as a member of the
gender one is under attack but I didnt feel
her face was turned against me. Peter
Forbes, Observer Review, 31 August 2002
For all her real rhetorical power and her
real talent in pleasing a broad audience
too much of Duffys recent verse is what
one might call pre-digested proto poetry,
the sort of verse that sends a telegraph
about where it intends to go long before it
gets there, and which shows us mostly what
we already know. It is the sort of verse
every age admires and the next will find
unreadable, having replaced our certainties
with their own. Stephen Burt, The Times
Literary Supplement, 27th September
2002
Highbrow and lowbrow, readers love her...
Her poems are accessible and entertaining,
yet her form is classical, her technique
razor-sharp...Reviewers praise her
touching, sensitive, witty evocations of
love, loss, dislocation, nostalgia... Here it
is: she is easy and she is good. Katherine
Viner, The Guardian Weekend, September
1999

Her ventriloquism has been remarkable


throughout her career... The name Larkin
often comes up when Duffy is discussed,
She is, of course, in many ways Larkins
antithesis, but they do occupy the same
niche in their respective eras. Duffy is
the poet of the multicultural noughties
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125

Criticism and Sources

Source stories and characters


Pontius Pilate (Biblical)
Pontius Pilate, the fifth governor of the Roman province
of Judea from around AD 27 to 36, is most famous
for the role he played, according to the Christian
Gospels, in the trial and crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
Under pressure from the high priests and the crowds
to sentence Jesus to death, Pilate let the crucifixion of
Jesus go ahead. Pilates wife is only mentioned once
in Matthews Gospel While Pilate was sitting in the
judgement hall, his wife sent him a message: Have
nothing to do with that innocent man, because in a
dream last night, I suffered much on account of him.
Herod (Biblical)
Herod, sometimes known as Herod the Great or
Herod I, was governor of Galilee from 47 BC and King
of Judea from 40-44 BC. Herod is best known for
sending the wise men to find the baby Jesus and then
ordering the massacre of the innocents (the execution
of all boy-children in Bethlehem who were under two
years of age), in case one of these babies was Jesus,
prophesied to become king of the Jews. Herod had
numerous wives of different races and religions. He is
said to have murdered some of his many sons, as well
as one of his wives and his brother-in-law.
Delilah (Biblical)
Delilah is one of very few women who are well-known
biblical figures in their own right. She was the wife of
Samson and is best known for the story of how she cut
off his hair, the source of his great strength, betraying
him to the Philistines.
Lazarus (Biblical)
Lazarus had been dead for four days by the time Jesus
arrived at his house. Lazaruss sister Martha, who had
asked Jesus to come, was upset that he had not come
sooner believing that her brother would have lived had
Jesus seen him. She still kept her faith in Jesus saying
that God would grant anything Jesus asked him even
now. When Jesus said, Your brother will rise again,
Martha assumed he meant at Judgement Day when it
is written that the dead will rise from their graves and
ascend into Heaven. However Jesus replied that he
was the resurrection and the life: he that believeth in
me, though he were dead, yet shall he live. He asked
Martha if she believed in Him and on hearing her
answer yes he told her to roll away the stone blocking
the entrance to the grave of Lazarus. Jesus lifted up
his eyes to the skies and thanked God, his father for
listening to him, then called out to Lazarus to come
forth from the grave. And Lazarus walked out from his
grave bound in the grave clothes in which he had been
buried.
Salome (Biblical)
Salome is famous in her own right, for demanding
the head of John the Baptist. The story is that
her stepfather Herod Antipas was so taken with
her lascivious dancing that he offered to give her
whatever she desired, up to half his kingdom. She was
persuaded by her mother to call for the head of John
the Baptist. In paintings Salome is depicted dancing, or
bearing a platter with the severed head.

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The Devil (Biblical)


According to Christian belief, the Devil or Satan or
Lucifer or Beelzebub was an Angel who rebelled
against God and so was expelled from heaven. He
and his followers formed their own world, the very
opposite of heaven: hell. It is the Devil, in the form
of the serpent, who tempts Eve to eat from the tree
of knowledge in the Garden of Eden, thus tainting
humankind with original sin. In the New Testament the
Devil tempts Christ with promises of power and fame.
The Devil is held to be the very embodiment of evil.
Midas (Classical)
Midas, a King of Phrygia, was granted a wish by the
gods after helping the drunken god Silenius. His wish
that everything he touched be turned into gold was
granted. His gift was soon revealed to be a curse rather
than a blessing, as his food and wine turned to gold
the moment he touched it. He begged the gods to take
their favour back, which they did.
Icarus (Classical)
Icarus was the son of Daedalus. With his father he
was imprisoned in the Labyrinth, a maze on the island
of Crete. So they could escape, his father made them
both wings of feathers and wax. Despite his father
warning him not to do it, Icarus flew too close to the
sun, the wax melted and he fell into the sea where he
was drowned.
Demeter (Classical)
Demeter was the Goddess of fruit, crops, grain and
vegetation, often thought of as a fertility goddess.
Associated with mother earth, the bringer of seasons
and the health-giving cycle of life, she was the
mother of Persephone (the maiden). Persephone
was abducted by her uncle Hades and taken to the
Underworld. In her grief and depression Demeter gave
up her divine status in order to search for her daughter.
As a result the earth became sterile. Zeus ordered
Hades to return Persephone to her mother. However,
as Persephone had eaten 6 pomegranate seeds while
in Hades she could only be allowed to return to the
world for 6 months a year. The remaining 6 months
must be spent in Hades. This is the period when the
earth seems to die; her return heralds the spring.
Penelope (Classical)
Penelope was the wife of Odysseus/Ulysses. During
Odysseuss prolonged absence at the Trojan War
(and his very extended journey home) Penelope was
besieged by suitors. Penelope protected her virtue by
promising to make a choice when she had finished
weaving Laertes shroud. Every night she secretly
undid the work she had completed during the day.
In Homer she is always given the epithets wise and
prudent. She has become a byword for fidelity and the
faithful wife, the model of all domestic virtues.
Circe (Classical)
Circe was a goddess and sorceress who drugged lost
sailors when they came to her door, turning them into
animals and serving them for dinner. On their return
from Troy Odysseus and his men landed on her island;
his men drank the drugged wine and turned into swine.
Odysseus outwitted Circe by putting into his wine
the herb moly given to him by Hermes/Mercury thus
preventing his metamorphosis.
English and Media Centre, 2007

Criticism and Sources


Thetis (Classical)
Thetis was one of the Greek sea nymphs known as
the Nereids, most famous for being the mother of
Achilles. Despite knowing that her sons fate was to
die at Troy, Thetis attempted to make him immortal
by dipping him in the river Styx and by ordering
him a special suit of armour. He was killed by an
arrow hitting his heel the one place that had not
been dipped in the Styx. In Homers Iliad Thetis is
presented as a mother concerned only for her son
and the awareness that he is doomed to an early
death.
Eurydice (Classical)
Eurydice was the wife of Orpheus who died and was
taken to the Underworld after being bitten by a snake.
In his grief Orpheus journeyed into the Underworld
to get her back. The beauty of his music won over
Pluto and Proserpine and they granted him the return
of Eurydice on condition that he would not look back
at her as they made their way out of the Underworld.
Nearing the end of their journey, Orpheus turned
round to see her and Eurydice was dragged back into
the Underworld.
Pygmalion (Classical)
In Greek legend Pygmalion was a King of Cyprus
and sculptor whose story is told in the 10th book of
the Roman poet Ovids Metamorphoses. Pygmalion
falls in love with his statue which represents his ideal
woman. He begs the goddess Aphrodite to grant him
a woman like his statue; she gives life to the statue
and they marry.
Medusa (Classical)
Of the three Gorgon sisters only Medusa was mortal.
She was a beautiful woman, with exceptional hair.
As a punishment for offending the goddess Athena
her hair was turned into hissing snakes and her face
became such that a single look from her would turn
a man to stone. She was killed by Perseus who,
provided with a shield by Minerva/Athena, was able
to approach Medusa without looking at her directly.
In some versions of the story she is killed by seeing
her own reflection in a mirror. Out of her severed neck
sprang Chrysador and Pegasus, the winged horse.
Sisyphus (Classical)
Sisyphus was a King of Corinth and the most cunning
of mortals. He was often referred to as a trickster.
He was condemned for eternity to roll an enormous
rock to the top of a hill only to have it immediately roll
down again. In Homers account Sisyphus is already
in Hades for other crimes when he receives this
punishment. Sisyphean is now used to refer to an
endless and fruitless task. The 20th Century French
writer Albert Camus used it as the title of his collection
of essays on the absurdity of life and the futility of
mans endeavours.
Tireisias (Classical)
Tiresias was a prophet or soothsayer. There are two
stories telling how he came by this gift. The first tells
how he was blinded by the goddess Pallas Athene
after seeing her naked. Chariclo pleaded on his
behalf and in compensation Athene gave him the gift
of prophecy.

walking on Mount Cyllene Tireisias saw two snakes


mating and either separated them, or killed or
wounded the female. He was transformed into a
woman. Several years later, the same happened and
he was turned back into a man. At a later point Zeus
and Hera called upon him to settle an argument. As
someone who had experienced sex as both a man
and a woman, they wanted to know who got most
pleasure. When Tireisias declared it was the woman,
Hera, in a fury, blinded him; as compensation Zeus
gave him the gift of prophecy.
Little Red-Cap (Literary/cultural)
On her way through the forest to visit her sick
grandmother, Little Red-Cap (also known as Little
Red Riding Hood) meets the wolf. She is not afraid
as she doesnt realise what a wicked animal he is.
At his suggestion she goes further into the forest to
pick flowers for her grandmother. Meanwhile the wolf
hurries to grandmothers cottage, pretends to be Little
Red-Cap, is welcomed in, eats grandmother and
dresses in her clothes. By the time Little Red-Cap
arrives, the wolf is in grandmothers bed. Little RedCap is surprised at her grandmothers appearance but
before she can do anything, she is eaten by the wolf.
A passing woodcutter realises what has happened,
slits open the wolfs belly and rescues grandmother
and Little Red-Cap.
Rip Van Winkle (Literary/cultural)
Rip Van Winkle is a character in a story written by
Thomas Jefferson in the period of the American
Revolution. Rip Van Winkle went into the Caitskill
Mountains to escape his nagging wife. After various
adventures he fell asleep and slept for 20 years.
When he woke up he returned home to discover his
wife and friends dead. He was entirely unaware that
the American Revolution had taken place. Rip Van
Winkle came to be used as a reference for a person
who sleeps a long time or a person who is unaware of
current events.
Quasimodo (Literary/cultural)
Quasimodo is the hero of Victor Hugos The
Hunchback of Notre Dame, written in 1831 but set in
the Middle Ages. Abandoned as a baby on the steps
of the cathedral at Notre Dame de Paris, Quasimodo
grows up shunned and reviled by everyone due to
his physical deformities, regarded as a monster by
the inhabitants of Paris. He remains in the cathedral,
becoming its bell ringer. He falls in love with the
beautiful Esmeralda but says nothing to her of his
love. He is wrongly accused of kidnapping her and
as punishment is pilloried in public, and subjected
to humiliation by the crowd and his captors. His
supposed victim Esmeralda is the one who shows him
pity, bringing him water after his ordeal is over. When
she is falsely accused of witchcraft and attempted
murder, she seeks refuge in the cathedral, where
Quasimodo protects and cares for her. Following her
execution, Quasimodo throws her tormentor, the evil
archdeacon, from the roof of the cathedral. He then
entombs himself with Esmeralda, where his bones
are later discovered.

The second more famous version describes how


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127

Criticism and Sources


Faust (Literary/cultural)

Freud (Historical)

Faust was a learned and ambitious man who strived


after knowledge forbidden by the Church, Faust
summoned the Devil to help him gain this knowledge.
The Devil agreed to serve him in exchange for his soul.
In Marlowes 16th-century re-telling of the story, Faustus
uses his power for trivial worldly pleasures, and is
ultimately called on to pay the price for his indulgent life.

Sigmund Freud developed the psychoanalytic


school of psychology. He believed that human
development could be explained in terms of the
changing object of sexual desire. He also thought
that sexual or aggressive wishes, perhaps regarded
as unacceptable by the individual or society,
were repressed by the conscious mind, revealing
themselves in the unconscious dreams, Freudian
slips, physical and neurotic symptoms. He is most
famous for his claim that every man wishes to kill
his father and sleep with his mother. He called this
the Oedipus complex after the protagonist of Greek
tragedy. Although in favour of sexual freedom and
education for women, his belief that women who
attempted to excel outside the home suffered from
penis envy and were striving to compensate for
their castration, has made him unpopular with
feminists.

Beast (Literary/cultural)
Beauty, the youngest daughter of a merchant, is forced
to live with the Beast, to pay for her fathers debt. She
grows fond of the Beast but cannot bring herself to
accept his proposal of marriage. The Beast agrees
to let Beauty visit her dying father for seven days if
she promises to return. Beauty agrees but once home
forgets the time. On the seventh night she dreams of the
Beast writhing in agony, calling to her. Frightened that
he is already dead, she promises to marry him. At these
words the Beast is turned into a handsome young prince
who, cursed by an evil witch, had to win the love of a
maiden to break the curse.
King Kong is the character in a classic Hollywood
film. He was a fictional beast living on Skull Island in
the Indian Ocean. He lived there with other oversized
creatures the ones who gave him the name Kong.
Captured and named King Kong by an American film
crew, he was taken to be exhibited in New York City. He
escaped and climbed onto the Empire State Building in
order to protect the actress, whom he loved, where he
was shot at from aircraft and killed.

The Krays (Historical)


The Krays were identical twin brothers who,
during the 1950s and 60s, were the most powerful
and famous leaders of organised crime in North
and East London. In addition to their infamy as
criminals, they also had a high profile on the
celebrity circuit the Krays were at the centre of
swinging London, socialising with the rich and
famous, including politicians. Witness intimidation
meant that it was a long time before the police
could charge the brothers. When they did, both men
were sentenced to 30 years without parole, Ronnie
in a secure mental hospital.

Pope Joan (Historical?)

Anne Hathaway (Historical)

Pope Joan was a woman renowned for her learning


who is said to have held the office from 853 to 855. The
legend of the woman chosen as pope is chronicled in
a 13th century document by a Polish writer, Martin of
Opava, amongst others. He claims that, while in office,
she became pregnant by her companion and delivered
her child while in procession from St Peters to the
Lateran, in a narrow lane. After her death, it is said that
she was buried there. There are other mentions of Pope
Joan in writings of the period and, from the mid 13th
century on the legend spread and came to be believed.
The issue of whether she really existed still causes
controversy in the Catholic Church today.

Anne Hathaway was the wife of William


Shakespeare. Eight years older than him, she
was 26 and pregnant when they married.
Shakespeare spent much of his time in London,
though records of his business dealings suggest
he often returned to Stratford where his wife
remained. There is no mention of Annes name in
Shakespeares will, although his wife is left my
second best bed with the furniture. She is buried
next to Shakespeares grave.

King Kong (Film)

Elvis Presley (Historical)


Known as Elvis, The King of Rock and Roll or The King,
Elvis Presley was a singer and actor who is credited
with transforming popular music. His recordings, dance
moves, attitude and clothing came to be seen as the
embodiment of the period, not least because of the
controversy surrounding them. His music was slammed
and celebrated for being black, while at some venues
and on television his hips had to be concealed behind a
screen for fear his dancing would pollute innocent minds
(not for nothing was he known as Elvis the pelvis). The
hysteria seen at his early concerts (in 1956 100 National
Guardsman were needed to control the fans) was only
matched by the grief following his death in 1977 at the
age of 42. Thousands of fans continue to make the
pilgrimage to his home in Graceland, while others spend
their lives going to Elvis conventions or even refuse to
believe he is really dead.

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Aesop (Historical)
Aesop was a slave living in Ancient Greece in the
6th-century BC. He is best known as the originator
of the fable, of which he wrote more than 650. The
fable is a very short story with a clear moral lesson
or cautionary message. Most of the characters are
animals who speak and behave as humans do.
The Tortoise and the Hare and The Lion and the
Mouse are examples of Aesops fables which have
entered Western culture and thought.
Darwin (Historical)
Darwin is generally regarded as the father of
evolutionary biology. His argument that humans
were a result of natural and sexual selection was
both revolutionary and controversial, a fact of
which Darwin himself was well aware. Even in the
21st century there are some who dispute Darwins
theory, arguing instead for intelligent Design
(humans placed by God, fully formed, in the garden
of Eden).

English and Media Centre, 2007