La Belle Dame sans Merci

A Feminist Reading of John Keats’ “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” College

“La Belle Dame Sans Merci”, or in translation, “the beautiful lady without pity” is a phrase appropriated by John Keats as the title of his 1820 poem depicting the story of a seductive and deceitful woman who tempts men away from the world of masculinity and then leaves them with a life in ruin. It has been argued that the poem is anti—feminist, reflecting the concept of femme fetale. Feminist critics question how the “faery child” is represented to the reader, focusing on power relations and why this is significant when considering the social context of the 19th Century. While it can be argued that a feminist reading is extremely useful in portraying the allegorical meaning of the character’s representation as a woman, recent criticism has questioned the extent to which this allegory holds truth.

Keats’ La Belle takes the form of a traditional medieval ballad with 12 quatrains alternating in iambic tetrameter and trimeter lines and a rhyme scheme written in ABCB. This form, having been revived by Romantic poets, creates a haunting, portentous effect throughout the poem, foreshadowing the “woe” that is to follow. Feminist critics have argued that in addition to the form, Keats uses of the motif of supernatural imagery to warn...

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