The Eve of St. Agnes

1108 Words5 Pages
‘The Eve of St. Agnes’ is widely considered to be amongst Keat’s finest poems and was influential in 19th century literature. This lengthy, 42-stanza poem is based on an old superstition that young virgins are able to discover the identity of their future husbands in a dream if they perform certain rituals on the eve of St. Agnes. The poem describes the experiences of a girl called Madaline who endeavours to see her husband by following the practice on the eve of St. Agnes. Keats’s work touches on the love between young men and women and attempts to decipher the difference between what is real and what and what features in Madaline’s dreams. The characters in ‘The eve of St. Agnes’ are typical of those in many classic fictitious romantic stories of the period. Using Vladimir Propp’s character theory we are able distinguish certain fairy tale characters: the princess (who marries the hero, often sought for during the narrative is much sought after during the narrative) is Madaline; the hero or victim (who reacts to the donor and weds the princess) is Porphyro; the donor (who prepares the hero or gives the hero a magical object) and the (magical) helper (who assists the hero in his quest) are both the Beadsman and Angela. There is also a possible villain (who attempts but fails to overcome the hero) which could either be Madaline’s drunken family or perhaps the giant hound they must face at the end of the poem. Overall, it is clear that Keats has been influenced by the typical pattern of a story, and each characters role fits perfectly with Propp’s theory. Although he is the hero of the piece, Prophyros character is deeply flawed, at least in the eyes of the church. As the poem suggests he consummates his love for Madaline before they are married. This aspect of was controversial at the time of its publication (1820) and there were calls for it to be censored.
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