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The poem “” is part of Carol Ann Duffy’s collection of poems, titled “The World’s Wife”. In this collection, Duffy wishes to highlight the fact that women have long been ignored and silenced throughout history. This is why all the poems in the collection are written from a female perspective. Duffy has created a literal version of an old saying, “behind every great man there is an even greater woman”. One of the poems in the collection, ‘Mrs. Aesop’, tells the story of a wife who is tired of her sermonizing, tedious husband, known as Aesop. Aesop was a storyteller who lived around the sixth century BC, in Greece. Many historical details surrounding him are missing, but it is thought that he was first a slave on the island of Samos and his fables came to be in a collection known as “Aesopica.” “Mrs. Aesop” draws on the fables to describe Aesop’s wife’s discontent and unhappiness, the poem emasculating her husband. The major theme of this poem is to make apparent Mrs. Aesop’s transformation from the classic recessive wife with a dominant husband, to an empowered and confident woman that was able to have the last word. This is shown by lines such as, “That shut him up. I laughed last, longest.” This appears in the poem after Mrs. Aesop has mocked her husband\’s impotence, with lines like “I gave him a fable one night/ about a little cock that wouldn’t crow…” mocking his masculinity whilst clearly referring to his genitalia.
Allusions are some of the many literary devices Duffy includes in her works to better deliver the messages of the female protagonists in “The World’s Wife.” An allusion is a brief and indirect reference to a person, place, thing or idea of historical, cultural, literary or political significance. For example, one would be making a literary allusion when stating, “I do not approve of such a quixotic idea.” Quixotic takes on the meaning of foolish and impractical, derived from Cervantes’s “Don Quixote”, a story about the misadventures of a doltish night and his cohort Sancho Panza. Many allusions are ones we use in our daily speech, such as Achilles’ heel – A weakness a person may have. Achilles was invulnerable excepting his heel or Achilles tendon. Pygmalion – Someone who tries to fashion someone else into the person he desires, originating from a myth adapted into a play by George Bernard Shaw. Casanova – a man who is amorous to women, based on the Italian adventurer.McCarthyism – modern witch hunt, the practice of publicizing accusations without evidence, made after Joseph McCarthy.
Some allusions in the literature include when the character Horatio from Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” said
“A mote it is to trouble the mind’s eye.
In the highest and palmy state of Rome,
A little ere the mightiest Julius fell,
The graves stood tenantless and the sheeted dead
Did squeak and gibber in the Roman streets…” (I.i.111-115)
Here, Horatio is making a reference to the historical figure of Julius Caesar, in addition to one of Shakespeare’s earlier plays titled “Julius Caesar.”
Another time when allusions are used are in songs, such as when Nirvana made their classic, “Scentless Apprentice”:
Like most babies smell like butter
His smell smelled like no other.
He was born scentless and senseless
He was born a scentless apprentice.
this allusion is to Patrick Süskind’s literary work Perfume. The scent Nirvana is alluding to is actually the blood of the protagonist’s twenty killing victims.
When Duffy uses allusions in Mrs. Aesop, she mainly uses them in the text to show Mrs. Aesop’s unhappiness with her husband
In the first line, Mrs. Aesop says “By Christ, he could bore for Purgatory”. This is an allusion to Christianity, with purgatory being the place after death where souls go to be cleansed of their sins. The implication here is that Aesop could make this experience even worse.
Later in the first stanza, Duffy alludes to one of Aesop’s fables, when Mrs. Aesop puts her own twist on the line“A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush” changing it to “the bird in his hand that on his sleeve.” By adding to his work in such a way, Mrs. Aesop is disrespecting both her husband and his work, revealing the emotion she had kept bottled up for some time.
Lines such as “a tortoise, somebody’s pet,/ creeping, slow as marriage, up the road,” are a clear allusion to the tale of the Tortoise and the Hare. Mrs. Aesop uses the tortoise and hare to describe the agony of her marriage. With her cynical view Mrs. Aesop shows to her, the fable is nothing more than the reflection of a terrible marriage.
When Mrs. Aesop says “I’ll cut off your tail, all right, I said, to save my face.” this is another reference to her own suppression by her husband and many other wives. This is so because the line alludes to an incident in America in 1993 when a frustrated wife sliced off her husband\’s genitals in a moment of crazed revenge. Mrs. Aesop takes on a similar path to gain the upper hand on her husband, by disrespecting and revealing her true feelings about her husband. Allusions are a key literary device used to show Mrs. Aesop’s transition from a “traditional” oppressed wife to a dominant, independent woman.