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Transcript of Pilate's wife
Roman governor of Judea
The Judge at Jesus' trial
He did not find Jesus guilty of any crime but allowed Jesus to be crucified Form Structure Language Feminist Interpretations 1st person narrative
A dramatic monologue (there is no dialogue and Duffy takes a fictional identity- Pilate's wife)
We are encouraged to identify with the narrator and to trust her account.
The lacking dialogue perhaps indicates that she is oppressed or unheard- Pontius is indifferent to her warning. She is simply another member of the crowd, rather than his wife and, forced to communicate only in writing. Chronological order:
The narrator's attempt to order and rationalise events. Perhaps she does not understand why her husband committed such an atrocity or rather why she disagrees with this act so strongly. - She seems to be undecided on whether Jesus was the Messiah. She refers to Him only with a lowercase 'h'. (God is traditionally referred to as 'Him' rather than 'him' to reflect His otherness)
Simulating a witness account of events?
Reflecting the inevitability of Pilate's act- it was attached to prior events i.e. his tradition of being eager to please
It seems more accurate of a telling, thus, persuading the reader to trust and sympathise with Pilate's wife.
Staccato, overly punctuated:
Drawing upon the abruptness of Jesus' hearing?
Or perhaps indicating that she too is indifferent towards the case
The Hands as a motif
Placing further emphasis on Pilate's mindless obedience?- our hands respond to neural processes in the brain. They blindly follow instruction.
Or highlighting Pilate's indifference, reiterating his ability to wash his hands of the situation.
Biblically '6' is associated with murder (the 6th commandment) and the crafty serpent whom was created on the sixth day. The number of stanzas could indicate recognition that Pilate's act was a mortal sin. Pilate is portrayed to be helpless and easily influenced
"with pearly nails like shells from Galilee" Shells are dainty, fragile and not particularly masculine a comparison. What's more, like a shell he is swept up and carried by the tide- he is subject to the influence of others.
This simile could also imply that Pilate is 'washing his hands' of the issue. (Shells are washed by the tide). He tries to remain cold and indifferent so he may escape from the consequences of his act and the judgment of the public.
"Their pale, mothy touch made me flinch"
Connotes fragility and perhaps functions as a metaphor for his gratuitous behaviour. Similar to a moth blindly flying toward light, he undergoes a mindless phototaxis towards crucifying Jesus as he is compelled to follow the trending belief. Perhaps in the same way that contact with a light source can often trigger a moth's demise, Pilate is foolish and ultimately leading himself to an unknown danger.
This metaphor could also highlight his weakness. Although Moths are destructive infofar that they devour clothing , they are delicate nonthreatening creatures, inferior to far more potent species. Thus, his authority is simply relative to the situation. In the presence of something far greater he could not take control.
Contrasting language to describe Pilate and Jesus:
Jesus is described to have 'brown hands', marking a macho contrast to those of Pilate. Their colouring would imply that they are the hands of a labourer. They are experienced and dirtied in that He takes responsibility for his actions. Unlike Pilate, it would seem that he is unafraid of making mistakes and unafraid of the judgmental eye of the public. A swap of Gender Roles?
Pilate is portrayed as 'helpless and renouncing all ambition and desire' (H. Bertens noted this was a typical portrayal of a woman in literature)
He doesn't follow his gut instinct but, is swayed by the public
"Was he God? Of course not. Pilate believed he was."
" His hands a woman's. Softer than mine." This would seem to be a satire of traditional gender roles. Duffy employs womanly helplessness to emphasize Pilate's weak will.
Pilate as authority figure?
However, he is an authority figure; he possesses the power to order Jesus' death. Whilst his wife can only go as far as issuing a warning note. This would comply with Berten's claim that traditionally literature presents the 'social and cultural domination of men'
Yet, his authority would seem to be artificial; in condemning Jesus to crucifixion, he simply follows popular belief
There is also a notable contrast between Pilate and Jesus, emphasising Pilate's weakness