These myths going round, these legends, fairytales,
I’ll put them straight; so when you stare
into my face – Helen’s face, Cleopatra’s,
Queen of Sheba’s, Juliet’s – then, deeper,
gaze into my eyes – Nefertiti’s, Mona Lisa’s,
Garbo’s eyes – think again. The Little Mermaid slit
her shining, silver tail in two, rubbed salt
into that stinking wound, got up and walked,
in agony, in fishnet tights, stood up and smiled, waltzed,
all for a Prince, a pretty boy, a charming one
who’d dump her in the end, chuck her, throw her overboard.
I could have told her – look, love, I should know,
they’re bastards when they’re Princes.
What you want to do is find yourself a beast. The sex

———————————————
is better. Myself, I came to the House of the Beast
no longer a girl, knowing my own mind,
my own gold stashed in the bank,
my own black horse at the gates
ready to carry me off at one wrong word,
one false move, one dirty look.
But the Best fell to his knee’s at the door
to kiss my glove with his mongrel lips – good –
showed by the tears in his bloodshot eyes
that he knew he was blessed – better –
didn’t try to conceal his erection,
size of a mules – best. And the Beast
watched me open, decant and quaff
a bottle of Château Margaux ’54,
the year of my birth, before he lifted a paw.

———————————————-
I’ll tell you more. Stripped of his muslin shirt
and his corduroys, he steamed in his pelt,
ugly as sin. He had the grunts, the groans, the yelps,
the breath of a goat. I had the language, girls.
The lady says Do this. Harder. The lady says
Do that. Faster. The lady says That’s not where I meant.
At last it all made sense. The pig in my bed
was invited. And if his snout and trotters fouled
my damask sheets, why, then, he’d wash them. Twice.
Meantime, here was his horrid leather tongue
to scour between my toes. Here
were his hooked and yellowy claws to pick my nose,
if I wanted that. Or to scratch my back
till it bled. Here was his bullock’s head
to sing off-key all night where I couldn’t hear.
Here was a bit of him like a horse, a ram,
an ape, a wolf, a dog, a donkey, dragon, dinosaur.

———————————————-
Need I say more? On my poker nights, the Beast
kept out of sight. We were a hard school, tough as fuck,
all of us beautiful and rich – the Woman
who Married a Minotaur, Goldilocks, the Bride
of the Bearded Lesbian, Frau Yellow Dwarf, et Moi.
I watched those wonderful women shuffle and deal –
Five and Seven Card Stud, Sidewinder, Hold ‘Em, Draw –

———————————————-
I watched them bet and raise and call. One night,
a head-to-head between Frau Yellow Dwarf and Bearded’s
Bride
was over the biggest pot I’d seen in my puff.
The Frau had the Queen of Clubs on the baize
and Bearded the Queen of Spades. Final card. Queen each.
Frau Yellow raised. Bearded raised. Goldilocks’ eyes
were glued to the pot as though porridge bubbled there.
The Minotaur’s wife lit a stinking cheroot. Me,
I noticed the Frau’s hand shook as she placed her chips.
Bearded raised her final time, then stared,
stared so hard you felt your dress would melt
if she blinked. I held my breath. Frau Yellow
swallowed hard, then called. Sure enough, Bearded flipped
her Aces over; diamonds, hearts, the pubic Ace of Spades.
And that was a lesson learnt by all of us –
the drop-dead gorgeous Bride of the Bearded Lesbian didn’t
bluff.

———————————————-
But behind each player stood a line of ghosts
unable to win. Eve, Ashputtel. Marilyn Monroe.
Rapunzel slashing wildly at her hair.
Bessie Smith unloved and down and out.
Bluebeard’s wives, Henry VIII’s, Snow White
cursing the day she left the seven dwarfs, Diana,
Princess of Wales. The sheepish Beast came in
with a tray of schnapps at the end of the game
and we stood for the toast – Fay Wray –
then tossed our fiery drinks to the back of our crimson
throats.
Bad girls. Serious ladies. Mourning our dead.


 

 

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CONTEXT

  • “Mrs. Beast” is a reimagining of the 1740 French Novella “Beauty and the Beast” by Madame Gabrielle de Villeneuve
  • Helen of Troy:
    • Helen of Troy was married to the Mycenaean King of Sparta, Menelaus.
    • Helen had fallen in love with a prince of Troy, Paris, and sailed back with him, leaving Menelaus behind.
    • War had been waged by Menelaus in order to return Helen to him.
    • “A face to launch a thousand ships”
  • Cleopatra:
    • Cleopatra was famous for being the last active pharaoh of the ptolemaic Egypt.
    • Cleopatra gave her life to her beloved one.
    • She was an egyptian queen that ruled for 21 years almost alone, which is to say that she was a female king
  • Queen of Sheba:
    • Queen of Sheba was known to be a woman of great power, beauty and Wealth
    • Famous for her journey to Jerusalem to meet and test King Solomon on God
  • Juliet (Romeo & Juliet):
    • Juliet gave up her own life for her loved one, Romeo.
    • The Scheming fatal Female that manipulates men and gets killed for it
  • Nefertiti
    • An egyptian queen and the Great Royal Wife to Akhenaten, the Great Pharaoh
    • Nefertiti means “A beautiful woman has come”
  • Mona Lisa
    • A painting by Leonardo Da Vinci
    • “The best known, the most visited, the most sung about, the most parodied work of art in the world”
    • Widely known for the beauty of the woman, Lisa Gherardini
  • Garbo
    • Swedish born American film actress and icon during 1920-30s.
    • She was ranked the most famous female star in the US on 1930-32
  • The Little Mermaid
    • A fairy tale written by Danish author Hans Cristian Andersen
    • A mermaid who gave up her life in the sea as a mermaid to become human and be with a prince
  • Woman who Married a Minotaur
    • There has not been a woman who married the Minotaur.
    • Ariadne, the daughter of Minos fell in love with the minotaur.
  • Goldilocks
    • A tale of an old, ugly woman who sneaks into three bachelor bears and eats their pudding then sleep in their bed
    • When the bears returned, she got up and jumped out the window, never to be seen again.
    • The tale was retold with the bears being a family, Papa Bear, Mama Bear and Baby bear.
  • The Bride of the Bearded Lesbian
    • A beard is a person of the opposite sex who marries or dates a lesbian or gay person to cover up their homosexuality, so that both could pass on as straight.
    • In Mrs. Beast, the Bearded Lesbian is covering the fact that she is a girl with facial hair.
  • Frau Yellow Dwarf
    • A tale of the Yellow Dwarf, who slaughtered the lover of a princess, which led to her death, as she didn’t want to live without her lover.
    • The yellow dwarf is a hideous character that was supposed to marry the princess.
  • Eve
    • From Adam and Eve.
    • Was the first woman ever and the companion of Adam.
  • Ashputtel
    • Cinderella is a modern day retelling of Ashputtel
    • For one night, she became so beautiful that no one could recognize her and she even gained the attention of the Prince.
  • Marilyn Monroe
    • Famous American actress and Model
    • Huge sex symbol in the 1950s
    • Considered to be one of the most beautiful women in ever
  • Rapunzel
    • A German fairytale by the Brothers Grimm
    • An adaptation of the fairy tale Rapunzel by Friedrich Shulz, based on Persinette
    • A girl trapped in a tower, with beautiful long hair, saved by a prince
    • “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair, so that I may climb thy Golden Stair”
  • Bessie Smith
    • A famous American Blues singer
    • Most famous blues singer in the 1920s and 1930s
    • Nicknames the Empress of Blue
  • Bluebeard’s wives
    • “Bluebeard” is a french folktale
    • Only surviving version was written by Charles Perrualt and published by Barbin in Paris 1967
    • Bluebeard has had several wives, all mysteriously vanishing (Bluebeard killed them)
  • Henry VIII’s Wives
    • Henry VIII was the King of England
    • Had 6 wives
    • Wife 1 and 4 were divorced, Wife 2 and 5 were executed, Wife 3 died, and his last wife was widowed.
  • Snow White
    • Nineteenth century German poem, published by the Brothers Grimm in 1812
    • A beautiful princess under a sleeping enchantment, placed by an evil queen
    • “Magic mirror on the wall, who is the fairest one of all?”
    • “My Queen, you are the fairest here so true. But Snow White is a thousand times more beautiful than you.”
  • Diana
    • From Roman mythology, Diana is the goddess of the moon, the hunt and nature
    • Twins with the Roman god Apollo
    • A connection with light, inaccessibility, and virginity
  • Princess of Wales
    • Princess Diana, was the first wife of prince charles.
    • She understood that others weren’t yet afforded the opportunities as she was so she worked to overcome imbalances in the society.
    • She died at a young age,36 years old and her story had such a bad ending no princess/fairytail should have.
  • Fay Wray
    • Fay Wray is an American/Canadian actress, most well known for her lead role in King Kong.
    • She was the female that Tamed the Beast in King Kong.
  • Virgin Mary
    • Woman of Nazareth as the mother of Jesus.
    • She conceived her son while a virgin by the holy  spirit.
  • Queen Herod
    • The wife of Herod the great, the king of Judea.
    • Another poem written by Carol Ann Duffy, having similar beliefs that all princesses are bastards.

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TONE

 

In this poem, there is clearly a romantic tone that stays throughout this poem, as sarcasm or any sly comments are nowhere to be seen – this is a huge significance among Duffy’s poems, as sarcasm is a common device she uses in order to show her hidden hatred like she did in Mrs. Icarus. There is also a personal tone to it, which makes the readers feel like Diffy is specifically talking to the reader, which suggests that she’s not afraid to express her love for her significant other, and this emphasises the romantic tone even more.

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THEMES 

 

Sexuality

A dominant theme featured in the poem. This firstly subverts the male-female stereotype, and more importantly is used in the poem as a medium for dominance and control by Mrs. Beast.

Also featured in:
• Little Red Cap
• Mrs. Tiresias
• Queen Kong

Independence

This is a common theme in many of Duffy’s poems. Mrs. Beast is described as “Little Red Cap” grown up, with her own money. She is shown to be in control of her life and is stable financially and emotionally, requiring no validation nor an effort to change her persona for a “Prince.”

Also featured in:
• Little Red Cap

Growth/Departure From Innocence

There is a constant reference towards the difference between “Women” and “Girls” by Mrs. Beast. Girls are belittled by Mrs. Beast as she sees their naivety and innocence as a weakness, susceptible to the dominion of patriarchy. She considers herself matured, “No longer a girl, knowing her own mind” and thus has a firmer grasp on her identity as a woman.

Also featured in:
• Little Red Cap

Anthropomorphism

This features heavily in the depiction of the titular male character in the story, defined as undesireable or a “Beast.” Male displays of dominance and aggression are shown to be animal like and savage, his body parts as well are accentuated to be extremely bestial.

Also featured in:
• Little Red Cap
• Queen Kong

 

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LANGUAGE 

 

  • Gender role reversal
    • Overarching technique
    • Done through verb choices, imagery, and tone

 

  • “Let the less-loving one be me.”
    • Role reversal → Mrs Beast is the more dominant one in the relationship
      • Breaks the stereotype in which women are more invested in the relationship
    • Mrs Beast’s coldness, uses Beast’s emotion to her advantage
    • Emotion: humanity; by ridding herself of emotion, it makes her somewhat lose what makes her human
      • Lowers her status to accept her small piece of dominance and power
    • Ends the poem in a melancholic tone

 

Technique Example from text Analysis
Allusion
  • “My face–Helen’s face, Cleopatra’s, Queen of Sheba’s, Juliet’s …”
  • “My eyes–Nefertiti’s, Mona Lisa’s, Garbo’s eyes…”
  • “The Little Mermaid slit her shining, silver tail in two…”
  • “…line of ghosts unable to win. Eve, Ashputtel. Marilyn Monroe. Rapunzel… Bessie Smith… Bluebeard’s wives, Henry VIII’s, Snow White… Diana, Princess of Wales…”
Alludes to women in history and literature known for their impeccable beauty

Alludes to the harsh story (and not the fairytale ending) of Little Mermaid; introduces the breaking of happily-ever-after stereotypes
Alludes to women who have either died or taken advantage of in pursuit of their man; connects to the idea of gambling in relationships (through the poker game) in which these women lost

Triple
  • “Who’d dump her in the end, chuck her, throw her overboard…”
  • “One wrong word, one false move, one dirty look…”
Describes the unequal affection between a prince and a woman; each verb gets harsher
Emphasises the uncertainty of the situation by repeating the word “one” thrice.
Alliteration
  • Let the less-loving one be me.”
Focuses the attention of the readers onto this line. The alliteration of the letter ‘L’ adds to a peaceful or hushed mood.
Metaphor and Symbolism
  • “My own black horse at the gates”
  • “The moon was a hand-mirror breathed on by a Queen.”
  • “My breath was a chiffon scarf for an elegant ghost.”
Opposite of a “white horse” which represents a prince or a knight, which the Beast is not
Imagery
  • “The Beast fell to his knees at the door”
  • “…didn’t try to conceal his erection.”
Gender role reversal; describes the beast to be in a submissive position (typically female) instead of dominant
Blatant imagery shows how openly Beast showed his attraction
Anthropomorphism
  • “Here was a part of him like a horse, a ram, an ape, a wolf, a dog, a donkey, dragon, dinosaur.
  • “He had the grunts, the groans, the yelps, the breath of a goat.”
Animal imagery dehumanises the Beast. She reduces his behaviour to that of an animal → and the readers are given a list of creatures that all have common similarities to the

Beast.
Duffy reduces the power of the beast by undermining his sexual performance. It also shows that the Beast’s incapability to communicate emphasises his Beast-like nature. Followed by “I had the language, girls,” which shows her intellect and thus dominance.”

Simile
  • “…like a rosary”
Describes her “prayers”, connecting them to the “tears of Mary”, showing the importance of long ‘mourning’
Semantic field
  • Semantic field of poker and card terms
Brings to light the setting and maybe adhere to the notion that getting into a romantic relationship may be a gamble
Profanity
  • “We were a hard school, tough as fuck.”
  • “They’re bastards when they’re Princes.”
Adjective choice
  • “Bad girls. Serious ladies.”
“Bad” and “serious” are not commonly associated with fairytale female figures
Imperative
  • “Bring me the Beast for the night. Bring me the wine cellar key.”
  • “Gaze into my eyes… think again.”
Passive; as if Mrs Beast expects someone to do this for her; accepting her reality instead of chasing after it
Mrs Beast’s authority over the reader because of her experience; pleads for them to actively do something
Enjambments “…yourself a beast. The sex
is better. Myself…”
The use of enjambement here creates a dramatic pause which causes the reader to focus on the last couple of words – in this case – “the sex”.
Author intrusion
  • “I had the language, girls.”
Talks straight to the reader as if to point this qualification as highly significant.
Simple sentences
  • “Twice.” “Harder.” “Faster.”
Separates these words with full stops to bring emphasis on the essence of the word and how they intrinsically provide more descriptions in themselves.
Rhetorical Questions
  • “Need I say more?”
Used to emphasise her point and get the audience to start thinking
Juxtaposition
  • “Bring me the Beast for the night.”
Juxtaposed with the romantic images mentioned prior; emphasises on the loss of a fairytale ending

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