Keats’ Gender Ambivalence: Porphyro’s Dominance and Passivity in “The Eve of St. Agnes”

Song Cheng


This essay studies how the portrayal of characters in “The Eve of St. Agnes” relates to gender issues from the views of feminism. In this long poem, the reinforced patriarchal ideology presented through Porphyro’s dominance – his “stratagem”, his “male gaze” and his “hunting”, and the undermined and even reversed patriarchal ideology presented through Porphyro’s passivity – his “being gazed” and Madeline’s “resistance”, intermingle with each other. As a result, “The Eve of St. Agnes” is an ideologically conflicted text in that it both strengthens and weakens patriarchal ideology, which is largely due to Keats’ gender ambivalence. Porphyro’s dominance and passivity are externalized display of Keats’ inner conflicts caused by gender ambivalence. Eventually, Keats ends this conflict by offering a solution: to reach an androgynous equilibrium between the two ends of his internal gender tension, transcending traditional gender determinations. It is concluded that this solution allows Keats’ two selves to get reconciled and liberated in his poetry.

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