Carol Ann Duffy - 'The World's Wife'

Themes presented in each poem in the anthology and links that can be made to other poems.

HideShow resource information

Little Red-Cap


Innocence - "my first." (enjambement)

Reversing gender - "and went in search of a living bird - white dove"

Independance - "Out of the forest i come with my flowers, singing, all alone"

Male dominance - "howls the same old song at the moon, year in, year out,"  

Female sexuality - "i clung till dawn to his thrashing fur,"     

LINKS: Queen Herod, Mrs Quasimodo, Mrs Beast, Mrs Sisyphus, Delilah, Anne Hathaway

1 of 18


CONTEXT: Rejected by two gods when they learnt Thetis had prophesised that she would farther a child who would become mightier than the farther.  


Female power - "wing, I was gas, / I was all hot air" "his hook and his line and his sinker"

Altering themselves for men - "So i shopped for a suitable shape"   

Independance - "So i changed, i learned" 

LINKS: Pope Joan, Queen Herod, Dementer.

2 of 18

Queen Herod

CONTEXT: Subervts the original biblical story and challenges the patriarcal attitudes of the Christian Church. Herod orders baby boys in Betheliheum to be killed. 


Reversing gender - "We wade through blood" 

Female Power - " I sent for the Cheif of Staff" "and kill each mother's son"

Supressed by men - "And splayed that night / below his fusty bulk"

LINKS: Thetis, Dementer, The Devil's Wife

3 of 18

Mrs Midas

CONTEXTS: Mr Midas helped out an old man and in return got a wish from the Gods. He wished for everything he touched to turn to gold.


Women/marriage neglected by men - "I miss most, / even now, his hands, his warm hands on my skin, his touch"

Deteriation of marriage - "Now the garden was long and the visibility poor," "Seperate beds."

Greed, foolishness - He sat in that chair like a king on a burnished throne throne...He started to laugh"

LINKS: Mrs Aesop, Mrs Icarus, Mrs Darwin, Mrs Sisyphus, Mrs Faust.

4 of 18

Mrs Aesop

CONTEXT: tired of her husband, his morlising and his fables and details the source of annoyance and boredom.


Discontment of marriage - about a mile further up, a tortoise, somebody's pet / creeping, slow as marriage, up the road, slow"

Neglection and unstatisfaction - "the sex / was diabolical"

Demorilising - "i could barely keep awake as the story droned on / towards the moral of itself"

LINKS: Mrs Sisyphus, Mrs Midas, Mrs Icarus.

5 of 18

Mrs Sisyphus

CONTEXT: Performance poem of Mrs Sisyphus observing her husbands work ethic, pushing stones up a hill. Disguising the reality of women being neglected by men.


Female neglection - "he is giving one hundred per cent and more to his work" "but i lie alone"

Male dominance - "but now it incenses me"

Mocking men - "Kirk / jerk / dirk"

LINKS: Mrs Darwin, Mrs Aesop, Mrs Midas, Mrs Icarus.

6 of 18

Anne Hathaway

CONTEXT: a dramatic monologue of Shakespeares marriage and the passionate love-making account of their 'second best bed'. In the form of a sonnet which uses literacy terms to describe love.

THEMES: love shown through 'similes' - "My lover's words were shooting stars that fell to earth as kisses' intune together. 

sensary imagery shown through 'alliteration' - " My living, laughing love" 

LINKS:  Mrs Midas


7 of 18

Queen Kong

CONTEXT: Falls in love with a man, follows to Newyork, lives for many years when he dies she puts him around her neck. Subverting gender roles and 'King Kong'.

THEMES: Obsession - "My little man" metaphor for the way women are regarded in a patriachal world by men.

Mocking men's ability to view women as objects - "I wear him now around my neck"

Women's activites - "Next day, i shopped. Clothes for my man" how shallow men are, women feel inferior to men and have to always look good. 

LINKS: Mrs Quasimodo


8 of 18

Mrs Quasimodo

CONTEXT: Explores double stanzas of men, they hypocrisy and shallowness.

THEMES: Women feeling undesireable to men - "Your thighs of lard, your molted upper arms" divinding herself, women are judged solely on appreance.

Discontent - "i kissed the cold lips of a Queen next to her King" duffy offers an alternative source of comfort, solidality amoungst women.

Invading mens sexuality -" i climbed inside her with my claw hammer" destroying his place in society.

LINKS: Mrs Beast, Queen Herod, Frau Freud.  

9 of 18


CONTEXT: Athena turned her into a gargon and was seduced by a god.

THEMES: Anger - " Fire Spewed from the mouth of a mountain"

Desperation - " Are you terrfied?" signals lack of confidence

Critisism of men - "Wasnt i young at heart?" men desire certain standards of beauty which is asscioated with age, her joulsy is not unfounded.

LINKS: Mrs Quasimodo, Mrs Beast, Mrs Midas, Queen Kong. 

10 of 18

The Devils Wife

CONTEXT: Ian Brady and Myra Hindley murder children, sexually abuse them and film them in distress. Duffy gives Hindley a voice.

THEMES:  Agressive men - " He bit my breast. His language was foul" physical actions asserting power, male dominance, influence.

Gender reversal - " I howled in my cell" " The Devil was evil, mad, but i was the Devils wife which made me worse" shock to society because the murder was female. Also the fact that she chose to marry a devil made her worse because she choose the life shes now inflicted in. 

Mental deterioation - "Cant remember not in the room" - childish, unknowing voice/tone. 

Identity taken by men - " What i did to us all! gave a bad name to women and allowed a man to control and influence her wrongly. "Nobody's Mam" Brady robbed her of her ability to be a real woman and have a child.

LINKS: Queen Herod, Mrs Quasimodo, Mrs Beast, Medusa, Thetis, Circe.

11 of 18


CONTEXT: a women who could transform men into animals.

THEMES: Violence - " Bulging, vunerable bag of the balls" threatneing to damage mens sensitive area. Harsh 'b' sound, ' soft 'l' sound 

Men being compared to animals - " when the heart of the pig has hardened, dice it small, dice it small" refering men to pigs. Repetition reflects harsh treatment and creates a bitter tone. 

LINKS:  The Devil's Wife, Mrs Beast, Frau Freud.

12 of 18

Mrs Lazerus


THEMES: Discontent marriage - " Slept in a single cot" no union as a couple.

Womens society limitations : "But i was faithful for as long as it took" couldnt have another relationship untill it was socailly accepted. 

Violence - " ripped the cloth i was married in from my breasts" - anguish. " howled, shierked, clawed" harsh 'k' and 'l' effect. 

RARE - 'The moon' feminine symbol.

LINKS : Mrs Midas, Mrs Sisyphus, Circe, Frau Freud 

13 of 18

Mrs Icarus


THEMES:  Female neglection - "I'm not the first or last"  universal issue.

Modern women observing men at work - "Watching the man she married" his obbsession is more important than their marriage .

LINKS : Mrs Midas, Mrs Sisyphus, Mrs Darwin.  

14 of 18

Frau Freud

CONTEXT: subverts Frau's ideas on 'penis nevy'

THEMES: Agression - "rammer, the slammer" weapons.

Mocking - " the average penis is pnot pretty....ones feeling of pty" gald she doesnt have one. (subverting) 

Sonnet form - mocking, 30 different names for a penis. reflecting a mans obbsession.

Comic song/nursery rhyme. 

LINKS: Mrs Icarus, Mrs Sisyphus,Circe. 

15 of 18



THEMES: female independance - "I sorted cloth, and scissors, needle, thread" takes up embriodary, times passing.

female power - " I tricked it" - clever and witty.

LINKS: Mrs Lazerous. 

16 of 18

Mrs Beast

THEMES: Independacne - "my own black horse at the gates" doesnt need or depend on a man.

Violence - " slit her shining, sliver tail in two, rubbed salt into that stinking wound" 's' sound harsh, spitting.

Female power - " The lady says do that. Faster. The lady says thats not where i meant" - reversing gender, imperitive verbs, creates a rhythem then it breaks when the male fails to please the women.

Female dominance - " let the less loving one be me" alliteraion sof 'l' sound shows she wishes she could be like men and less feminine as much as she tried shes the fool in love.

RARE - "the moon" feminine symbol, inner beauty.

LINKS: Mrs Lazerus, Queen Herod, Mrs Quasimodo, Little Red-Cap, The Devil's Wife.

17 of 18


CONTEXT: celebrates the return of her mother and the renewual of life.

THEMES: Mother/fertile air she softned and warmed as she moved" soft alliteration

Distance of time and place - " She came from a long, long way"

Sorrow - "to break the ice. My broken heart" hard 'k' echos brokenheart.

LINKS: Queen Herod, The Devil's Wife.

18 of 18



A good basic covering of the themes and contexts of the dramatic monologues in this anthology and links between the poems have also been made which will be of use when you have to write about two or more poems.

Similar English Literature resources:

See all English Literature resources »See all Carol Ann Duffy resources »