Carol Ann Duffy: Poems

Violence and Gender in Duffy's "Queen Herod" 12th Grade

Queen Herod is taken from Duffy’s The World’s Wife, a collection which inverts gender roles to celebrate female characters and display the injustice of men’s generalizations. This poem inverts the gender roles in the biblical story of the arrival of the Magi for Jesus’s birth and the Massacre of the Innocents ordered by King Herod. Through this transposition, Duffy presents the men’s atrocities originally, but then indicates that women can also act forcefully and compellingly to fight for strong beliefs.

Duffy displays women as cunning and deceptive as they hold a quiet agenda against men, and uses the generalization against men to demonstrate the injustice of the original stories. In the poem, the “Three Queens” arrive to see Queen Herod’s daughter and give her qualities rather than material gifts—“Grace…Strength…Happiness.” These capitalized abstract nouns are juxtaposed with the seemingly useless and disregarded material (“Silver and gold, the loose change”) given to Jesus, referring to the gold, frankincense, and myrrh given in the Bible story. Duffy thus suggests that while men only desire limited material gifts, women desire useful, perennial qualities. Moreover, in Queen Herod the asyndeton of “with gifts…in exchange for...

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