essay about my last duchess

My Last Duchess Summary & Analysis by Robert Browning

  • Line-by-Line Explanation & Analysis
  • Poetic Devices
  • Vocabulary & References
  • Form, Meter, & Rhyme Scheme
  • Line-by-Line Explanations

essay about my last duchess

“My Last Duchess” is a dramatic monologue written by Victorian poet Robert Browning in 1842. In the poem, the Duke of Ferrara uses a painting of his former wife as a conversation piece. The Duke speaks about his former wife's perceived inadequacies to a representative of the family of his bride-to-be, revealing his obsession with controlling others in the process. Browning uses this compelling psychological portrait of a despicable character to critique the objectification of women and abuses of power.

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essay about my last duchess

The Full Text of “My Last Duchess”

      FERRARA

1 That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall, 

2 Looking as if she were alive. I call 

3 That piece a wonder, now; Fra Pandolf’s hands 

4 Worked busily a day, and there she stands. 

5 Will’t please you sit and look at her? I said 

6 “Fra Pandolf” by design, for never read 

7 Strangers like you that pictured countenance, 

8 The depth and passion of its earnest glance, 

9 But to myself they turned (since none puts by 

10 The curtain I have drawn for you, but I) 

11 And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst, 

12 How such a glance came there; so, not the first 

13 Are you to turn and ask thus. Sir, ’twas not 

14 Her husband’s presence only, called that spot 

15 Of joy into the Duchess’ cheek; perhaps 

16 Fra Pandolf chanced to say, “Her mantle laps 

17 Over my lady’s wrist too much,” or “Paint 

18 Must never hope to reproduce the faint 

19 Half-flush that dies along her throat.” Such stuff 

20 Was courtesy, she thought, and cause enough 

21 For calling up that spot of joy. She had 

22 A heart—how shall I say?— too soon made glad, 

23 Too easily impressed; she liked whate’er 

24 She looked on, and her looks went everywhere. 

25 Sir, ’twas all one! My favour at her breast, 

26 The dropping of the daylight in the West, 

27 The bough of cherries some officious fool 

28 Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule 

29 She rode with round the terrace—all and each 

30 Would draw from her alike the approving speech, 

31 Or blush, at least. She thanked men—good! but thanked 

32 Somehow—I know not how—as if she ranked 

33 My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name 

34 With anybody’s gift. Who’d stoop to blame 

35 This sort of trifling? Even had you skill 

36 In speech—which I have not—to make your will 

37 Quite clear to such an one, and say, “Just this 

38 Or that in you disgusts me; here you miss, 

39 Or there exceed the mark”—and if she let 

40 Herself be lessoned so, nor plainly set 

41 Her wits to yours, forsooth, and made excuse— 

42 E’en then would be some stooping; and I choose 

43 Never to stoop. Oh, sir, she smiled, no doubt, 

44 Whene’er I passed her; but who passed without 

45 Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands; 

46 Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands 

47 As if alive. Will’t please you rise? We’ll meet 

48 The company below, then. I repeat, 

49 The Count your master’s known munificence 

50 Is ample warrant that no just pretense 

51 Of mine for dowry will be disallowed; 

52 Though his fair daughter’s self, as I avowed 

53 At starting, is my object. Nay, we’ll go 

54 Together down, sir. Notice Neptune, though, 

55 Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity, 

56 Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me!

“My Last Duchess” Summary

“my last duchess” themes.

Theme The Objectification of Women

The Objectification of Women

  • See where this theme is active in the poem.

Theme Social Status, Art, and Elitism

Social Status, Art, and Elitism

Theme Control and Manipulation

Control and Manipulation

Line-by-line explanation & analysis of “my last duchess”.

That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall,  Looking as if she were alive. I call  That piece a wonder, now; Fra Pandolf’s hands  Worked busily a day, and there she stands.  Will’t please you sit and look at her?

essay about my last duchess

I said  “Fra Pandolf” by design, for never read  Strangers like you that pictured countenance,  The depth and passion of its earnest glance,  But to myself they turned (since none puts by  The curtain I have drawn for you, but I)  And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst,  How such a glance came there; so, not the first  Are you to turn and ask thus.

Lines 13-19

Sir, ’twas not  Her husband’s presence only, called that spot  Of joy into the Duchess’ cheek; perhaps  Fra Pandolf chanced to say, “Her mantle laps  Over my lady’s wrist too much,” or “Paint  Must never hope to reproduce the faint  Half-flush that dies along her throat.”

Lines 19-24

Such stuff  Was courtesy, she thought, and cause enough  For calling up that spot of joy. She had  A heart—how shall I say?— too soon made glad,  Too easily impressed; she liked whate’er  She looked on, and her looks went everywhere.

Lines 25-31

Sir, ’twas all one! My favour at her breast,  The dropping of the daylight in the West,  The bough of cherries some officious fool  Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule  She rode with round the terrace—all and each  Would draw from her alike the approving speech,  Or blush, at least.

Lines 31-34

She thanked men—good! but thanked  Somehow—I know not how—as if she ranked  My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name  With anybody’s gift.

Lines 34-43

Who’d stoop to blame  This sort of trifling? Even had you skill  In speech—which I have not—to make your will  Quite clear to such an one, and say, “Just this  Or that in you disgusts me; here you miss,  Or there exceed the mark”—and if she let  Herself be lessoned so, nor plainly set  Her wits to yours, forsooth, and made excuse—  E’en then would be some stooping; and I choose  Never to stoop.

Lines 43-47

Oh, sir, she smiled, no doubt,  Whene’er I passed her; but who passed without  Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands;  Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands  As if alive.

Lines 47-53

Will’t please you rise? We’ll meet  The company below, then. I repeat,  The Count your master’s known munificence  Is ample warrant that no just pretense  Of mine for dowry will be disallowed;  Though his fair daughter’s self, as I avowed  At starting, is my object.

Lines 53-56

Nay, we’ll go  Together down, sir. Notice Neptune, though,  Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity,  Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me!

“My Last Duchess” Symbols

Symbol The Painting

The Painting

  • See where this symbol appears in the poem.

Symbol The Statue of Neptune

The Statue of Neptune

“my last duchess” poetic devices & figurative language.

  • See where this poetic device appears in the poem.

Personification

“my last duchess” vocabulary.

Select any word below to get its definition in the context of the poem. The words are listed in the order in which they appear in the poem.

  • Fra Pandolf
  • Countenance
  • Munificence
  • See where this vocabulary word appears in the poem.

Form, Meter, & Rhyme Scheme of “My Last Duchess”

Rhyme scheme, “my last duchess” speaker, “my last duchess” setting, literary and historical context of “my last duchess”, more “my last duchess” resources, external resources.

Robert Browning's Answers to Some Questions, 1914 — In March of 1914, Cornhill Magazine interviewed Robert Browning about some of his poems, including "My Last Duchess." He briefly explains his thoughts on the duchess.

Chris de Burgh, "The Painter" (1976) — Chris de Burgh (a Northern Irish singer-songwriter, best known for "Lady in Red") wrote a song from the perspective of the Duke of Ferrara about his former wife, in which the duchess was having an affair with Fra Pandolf.

My Last Duchess Glass Window — The Armstrong Browning Library and Museum at Baylor University has a stained glass window inspired by "My Last Duchess."

Julian Glover performs "My Last Duchess" — Actor Julian Glover performs "My Last Duchess" with a suitably dramatic tone of voice. Note how he emphasizes the conversational quality of the poem.

Nikolaus Mardruz to his Master Ferdinand, Count of Tyrol, 1565 by Richard Howard, 1929 — This poem by American poet Richard Howard provides the Ferrara's guest's perspective on the meeting between himself and the duke.

LitCharts on Other Poems by Robert Browning

A Light Woman

Among the Rocks

A Toccata of Galuppi's

A Woman's Last Word

Confessions

Home-Thoughts, from Abroad

How they Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix

Life in a Love

Love Among the Ruins

Love in a Life

Meeting at Night

Pictor Ignotus

Porphyria's Lover

Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister

The Bishop Orders His Tomb at Saint Praxed's Church

The Laboratory

The Last Ride Together

The Lost Leader

The Lost Mistress

The Patriot

The Pied Piper of Hamelin

Women and Roses

Everything you need for every book you read.

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Interesting Literature

A Summary and Analysis of Robert Browning’s ‘My Last Duchess’

By Dr Oliver Tearle (Loughborough University)

Probably Robert Browning’s most famous (and widely studied) dramatic monologue, ‘My Last Duchess’ is spoken by the Duke of Ferrara, chatting away to an acquaintance (for whom we, the reader, are the stand-in) and revealing a sinister back-story lurking behind the portrait of his late wife, the Duchess, that adorns the wall.

It’s easy enough to summarise ‘My Last Duchess’ in a one-sentence synopsis like this, but how Browning unnerves us with the Duke’s account of the portrait, and his relationship with his wife, lies in what he hints or reveals as much as in what he simply states. So a few words of analysis would perhaps help elucidate how Browning uses the dramatic monologue form to such great effect here.

Let’s go through the poem, stopping to summarise and analyse what’s going on, stage by stage.

My Last Duchess

That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall, Looking as if she were alive. I call That piece a wonder, now; Fra Pandolf’s hands Worked busily a day, and there she stands.

We’re given the location first of all: Ferrara, a city in northern Italy. Given the words ‘my last Duchess’, the first line immediately reveals to us that this is the Duke of Ferrara speaking to us.

Because of the performative gesture implicit within that opening line (‘That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall’ being almost accompanied by an imagined flourish, as the Duke’s finger points at the portrait hanging on the wall), we can say we’re in dramatic monologue territory: the speaker of the poem is addressing us as his audience (a man, whom the Duke addresses as ‘Sir’ at several points), in a specific setting.

Thereafter, we learn that the Duke’s wife is dead: again, this is implied by the use of the subjunctive mood in the second line (‘Looking as if she were alive’: i.e., she isn’t any more). Fra Pandolf, we deduce, is the artist who painted the Duchess’s portrait. He worked hard at the painting for a day and this portrait, which the Duke considers ‘a wonder’, is the result.

Will’t please you sit and look at her? I said ‘Fra Pandolf’ by design, for never read Strangers like you that pictured countenance, The depth and passion of its earnest glance, But to myself they turned (since none puts by The curtain I have drawn for you, but I) And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst, How such a glance came there; so, not the first Are you to turn and ask thus.

More performance and posturing that show we’re in the realm of the dramatic monologue: the Duke encourages his audience, this other man, to sit there and admire the portrait of his ‘last Duchess’. (We’ve glossed over the sinister implication in the phrase ‘ last Duchess’: i.e., his dead wife was not his first wife, and he seems to be in the habit of losing them. What happens to all of them? How come they die so soon after marrying him?)

The Duke admits, in a sort of humblebrag, that he name-dropped the artist, Fra Pandolf, on purpose, because it took a brilliant painter to capture the distinctive expression or ‘glance’ in the Duchess’s face. How did she come to have such an expression?

Many other guests of the Duke’s, before his present guest, have asked him, and he usually keeps the painting concealed behind a curtain; but when people enquire about his wife, he will pull aside the curtain and show her to them.

Note also the continual conflation of the Duchess herself (now dead) with her portrait: she has become art, and an object, embodied by Fra Pandolf’s painting of her on canvas. But was the real duchess similarly viewed as an object by her husband?

Sir, ’twas not Her husband’s presence only, called that spot Of joy into the Duchess’ cheek; perhaps Fra Pandolf chanced to say, ‘Her mantle laps Over my lady’s wrist too much,’ or ‘Paint Must never hope to reproduce the faint Half-flush that dies along her throat.’ Such stuff Was courtesy, she thought, and cause enough For calling up that spot of joy. She had A heart—how shall I say?— too soon made glad, Too easily impressed; she liked whate’er She looked on, and her looks went everywhere.

The Duke uses the look on his dead wife’s face as a way into discussing her character, and telling his guests about her personality.

It wasn’t simply the Duke’s presence in the room as she sat for the portrait that caused her to look so pleased; indeed, even the most neutral and professional requests and pleasantries from the painter would have made her blush with delight, because she was easily flattered when people praised her beauty.

What’s more, she had a roving eye (‘her looks went everywhere’), so even though she was married to the Duke, she sought out praise and flattery from other people (especially men).

Sir, ’twas all one! My favour at her breast, The dropping of the daylight in the West, The bough of cherries some officious fool Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule She rode with round the terrace—all and each Would draw from her alike the approving speech, Or blush, at least.

All of the trivial gifts and tokens people brought the Duchess were greeted with the same blush of joy, whether it was a ‘favour’ (e.g. a flower) the Duke himself brought to her for her to wear on her dress, or even the beautiful sunset (and the coming of night – when people’s thoughts might turn in an amorous direction), some cherries from the orchard someone who worked for the Duke had brought for her to eat, or a mule (‘white’ suggesting purity, but the sterility of the mule – which cannot breed – perhaps hinting that the Duke himself, when the Duchess ‘rode’ him, was too old to get her pregnant).

In short, the Duchess was easily pleased – too easily pleased for the Duke’s liking.

She thanked men—good! but thanked Somehow—I know not how—as if she ranked My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name With anybody’s gift.

Now we get to the thrust of the Duke’s grievance with his dead wife. He reveals perhaps more than he intends to with this remark, showing that he was proud, haughty, perhaps even slightly insecure and jealous (that potential sexual impotence or sterility again), and didn’t like the fact that his wife, who had married a Duke with a noble lineage stretching back almost a millennium, treated his gifts the same as those from ‘anybody’.

And by these ‘anybodies’ the Duke really means, nobodies , for that is what he considers them to be next to him. He is a Duke; who are they? Yet their gifts inspire the same response from the Duchess as the Duke’s lavish gifts.

Who’d stoop to blame This sort of trifling? Even had you skill In speech—which I have not—to make your will Quite clear to such an one, and say, ‘Just this Or that in you disgusts me; here you miss, Or there exceed the mark’—and if she let Herself be lessoned so, nor plainly set Her wits to yours, forsooth, and made excuse— E’en then would be some stooping; and I choose Never to stoop.

The Duke (rhetorically) addresses his guest. He asks him: which nobleman should lower himself by seeking to instruct his wife about how she should behave? As a duke, you shouldn’t have to deal with such petty trivialities (‘trifling’).

Oh, sir, she smiled, no doubt, Whene’er I passed her; but who passed without Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands; Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands As if alive.

The Duchess smiled whenever she saw her husband, but she smiled at everyone else, too. It got worse, so he ‘gave commands’. This is a stroke of real skill from Browning: at first, we might deduce that he ‘gave commands’ to her to stop smiling at everyone who looked at her.

But hang about, wouldn’t that go against his previous statement that he refused to ‘stoop’, to debase himself by addressing such matters with her? No: we realise that there is something more sinister going on: the commands the Duke gave were orders to others, perhaps hired henchmen or assassins, who killed the Duchess and thus ‘stopped’ ‘all smiles’ (both those from her admirers, and from her in return).

Will’t please you rise? We’ll meet The company below, then. I repeat, The Count your master’s known munificence Is ample warrant that no just pretence Of mine for dowry will be disallowed;

And then, presumably as calm and collected as can be as though he hasn’t just confessed to organising his wife’s murder, the Duke calls for his guest to stand up so they can both go downstairs to meet the rest of their companions.

We then realise that the Duke is already arranging for his next marriage: indeed, the Duke’s guest is a representative of another nobleman, a Count, whose daughter the Duke is planning to make his next duchess (with the Count paying a handsome dowry to the Duke for marrying her: this is a marriage for money, of course, and given how many duchesses the Duke has married and disposed of, we deduce that he is quite advanced in years). Poor girl doesn’t know what she’s letting herself in for …

Though his fair daughter’s self, as I avowed At starting, is my object.

This declaration now rings with a menacing overtone: his ‘object’ for what? He’s saying he wants to marry the Count’s daughter for her, not for her big dowry that will bring him lots of land or cash. But ‘object’ suggests a trinket to be shown off and then, perhaps, discarded when the Duke starts to feel another pang of jealousy about how many young men are admiring his young, pretty wife.

Nay, we’ll go Together down, sir. Notice Neptune, though, Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity, Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me!

The Duke’s final words to his listener are about a bronze sculpture which another artist made for him. The symbolism of this sculpture is obvious: the depiction of Neptune the Roman sea god using his divine force to tame or subdue a wild seahorse obviously mirrors the Duke’s own attitudes and temperament. He uses his power and might to crush those who oppose or displease him. The beautiful seahorse is being destroyed by the much more powerful god, much as the Duke’s young, beautiful wife was crushed by him.

‘My Last Duchess’ is a masterpiece because it does what Browning’s dramatic monologues do best: invites us into the confidence of a speaker whose conversation reveals more about their personality and actions than they realise. The poem is not a narrative poem because it has a speaker rather than a narrator, but it nevertheless tells a story of a doomed marriage, a man capable only of irrational jealousy and possessive force, and male pride (indeed, arrogance and privilege too) that barely conceals the fragile masculinity just lurking beneath.

We should feel thoroughly uncomfortable when we finish reading the poem for the first time, because we have just heard a man confessing to the murder of his wife – and, perhaps, other wives – without actually confessing. Compare, here, the calm, even proud tone of the speaker of another of Browning’s great dramatic monologues, ‘ Porphyria’s Lover ’.

Finally, it’s worth mentioning, as a sort of footnote to this analysis, the form Browning employs. He uses iambic pentameter , which is handy for conveying the rhythms of ordinary English speech, but he doesn’t deploy blank verse .

Instead, he offers us the more stately and grand rhyming couplets or ‘heroic couplets’ associated with grander themes. These heroic couplets convey the Duke’s need for order in his life, his possessive control over everything around him (especially his wife), but also his self-importance.

8 thoughts on “A Summary and Analysis of Robert Browning’s ‘My Last Duchess’”

Two additions to an otherwise helpful analysis: First, a duke is higher than a count, so if the count could marry his daughter to a duke, he would be raising his own status and that of his whole family very considerably. The hierarchy from high to low is as follows: duke, marquis, count and earl (equal), viscount and baron.

The girl is question is thus seen as nothing more than a commodity from both sides of the equation, not merely from the Duke’s side!

Second, attention must be paid to a few crucial words that the analysis leaves out of consideration: “Nay, we’ll go / Together down, Sir!” What is being implied here? Namely that the count’s emissary has understood from the whole monolgue what we also understand, that the Duke is a monster and the count’s daughter would be greatly endangered if she married him! He tries to go downstairs immediately to warn the Count himself or his high-ranking officials (“the company below”) about what he has just heard, but is prevented from doing so by the Duke, who is too fast for him!

The fate of the next “my last Duchess” is already sealed!

By placing the poem in Ferrara Browning is pretty well identifying his speaker with Alfonso II d’Este, the fifth Duke of Ferrara, who did marry a young, and if her portrait can be trusted, beautiful girl. He left her after one year of marriage, and she died 2 years later, at only 17. He was 25 when he married, so he was neither elderly, nor (presumably) impotent, nor had he had a string of wives before her, (the word ‘last’ can indicate ‘previous’), although he did marry twice more – he was 63 when he died, which gave him plenty of time. Popular gossip did ascribe his first wife’s death to poison, although TB seems to have been a more likely cause. However, the fact that his grandmother was Lucrezia Borgia probably didn’t help his reputation.

I have taught this poem as a work of mystery, asking my students to form a defensible thesis of the duchess’s fate based on evidence found in the poem.

One of my ‘party pieces’! Gains much from being ‘acted’.

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Literary Theory and Criticism

Home › Literature › Analysis of Robert Browning’s My Last Duchess 

Analysis of Robert Browning’s My Last Duchess 

By NASRULLAH MAMBROL on March 30, 2021 • ( 0 )

My Last Duchess 

“My Last Duchess” appeared in Browning’s first collection of shorter poems, Dramatic Lyrics (1842). In the original edition, the poem is printed side-by-side with “Count Gismond” under the heading “Italy and France,” and the two poems share a similar concern with issues of aristocracy and honor. “My Last Duchess” is one of many poems by Browning that are founded, at least in part, upon historical fact. Extensive research lies behind much of Browning’s work, and “My Last Duchess” represents a confluence of two of Browning’s primary interests: the Italian Renaissance and visual art. Both the speaker of the poem and his “last Duchess” closely resemble historical figures. The poem’s duke is likely modeled upon Alfonso II, the last Duke of Ferrara, whose marriage to the teenaged Lucrezia de’ Medici ended mysteriously only three years after it began. The duke then negotiated through an agent to marry the niece of the Count of Tyrol.

True to the title of the volume in which the poem appears, “My Last Duchess” begins with a gesture performed before its first couplet—the dramatic drawing aside of a “curtain” in front of the painting. From its inception, the poem plays upon the notion of the theatrical, as the impresario duke delivers a monologue on a painting of his late wife to an envoy from a prospective duchess. That the poem constitutes, structurally, a monologue, bears significantly upon its meaning and effects. Browning himself summed up Dramatic Lyrics as a gathering of “so many utterances of so many imaginary persons, not mine,” and the sense of an authorial presence outside of “My Last Duchess” is indeed diminished in the wake of the control the duke seems to wield over the poem. The fact that the duke is the poem’s only voice opens his honesty to question, as the poem offers no other perspective with which to compare or contrast that of the duke. Dependence on the duke as the sole source of the poem invites in turn a temporary sympathy with him, in spite of his outrageous arrogance and doubtlessly criminal past. The poem’s single voice also works to focus attention on the duke’s character: past deeds pale as grounds for judgment, becoming just another index to the complex mind of the aristocrat.

In addition to foregrounding the monologic and theatrical nature of the poem, the poem’s first dozen lines also thematize notions of repetition and sequence, which are present throughout the poem. “That’s my last Duchess,” the duke begins, emphasizing her place in a series of attachments that presumably include a “first” and a “next.” The stagy gesture of drawing aside the curtain is also immanently repeatable: the duke has shown the painting before and will again. Similarly, the duke locates the envoy himself within a sequence of “strangers” who have “read” and been intrigued by the “pictured countenance” of the duchess. What emerges as the duke’s central concern—the duchess’s lack of discrimination—also relates to the idea of repetition, as the duke outlines a succession of gestures, events, and individuals who “all and each/Would draw from her alike the approving speech.” The duke’s very claim to aristocratic status rest upon a series—the repeated passing on of the “nine-hundred-years-old name” that he boasts. The closing lines of “My Last Duchess” again suggest the idea of repetition, as the duke directs the envoy to a statue of Neptune: “thought a rarity,” the piece represents one in a series of artworks that make up the duke’s collection. The recurrent ideas of repetition and sequence in the poem bind together several of the poem’s major elements—the duke’s interest in making a new woman his next duchess and the vexingly indiscriminate quality of his last one, the matter of his aristocratic self-importance and that of his repugnant acquisitiveness, each of which maps an aspect of the duke’s obsessive nature.

This obsessiveness also registers in the duke’s fussy attention to his own rhetoric, brought up throughout the poem in the form of interjections marked by dashes in the text. “She had/a heart—how shall I say—too soon made glad,” the duke says of his former duchess, and his indecision as to word choice betrays a tellingly careful attitude toward discourse. Other such self-interruptions in the poem describe the duke’s uncertainty as to the duchess’s too easily attained approval, as well as his sense of being an undiplomatic speaker. On the whole, these asides demonstrate the duke’s compulsive interest in the pretence of ceremony, which he manipulates masterfully in the poem. Shows of humility strengthen a sense of the duke’s sincerity and frank nature, helping him build a rapport with his audience. The development of an ostensibly candid persona works to cloak the duke’s true “object”—the dowry of his next duchess.

essay about my last duchess

Lucrezia de’ Medici by Bronzino, generally believed to be the subject of the poem/Wikimedia

Why the duke broaches the painful matter of his sordid past in the first place is well worth considering and yields a rich vein of psychological speculation. Such inquiry should be tempered, however, by an awareness of the duke’s overt designs in recounting his past. On the surface, for instance, the poem constitutes a thinly veiled warning: the duke makes a show of his authority even as he lets out some of the rather embarrassing details surrounding his failed marriage. The development of the duchess’s seeming disrespect is cut short by the duke’s “commands”—almost certainly orders to have her quietly murdered. In the context of a meeting with the envoy of a prospective duchess, the duke’s confession cannot but convey a threat, a firm declaration of his intolerance toward all but the most respectful behavior.

But the presence of an underlying threat cannot fully account for the duke’s rhetorical exuberance, and the speech the poem embodies must depend for its impetus largely upon the complex of emotional tensions that the memory calls up for the duke. As critic W. David Shaw remarks, the portrait of the last duchess represents both a literal and a figurative “hang-up” for the duke, who cannot resist returning to it repeatedly to contemplate its significance. So eager is the duke to enlarge upon the painting and its poignance that he anticipates and thus helps create the envoy’s interest in it, assuming in him a curiousity as to “how such a glance came” to the countenance of the duchess. The duke then indulges in obsessive speculation on the “spot of joy” on the “Duchess’ cheek,” elaborating different versions of its genesis. Similarly, the duke masochistically catalogues the various occasions the duchess found to “blush” or give praise: love, sunsets, cherries, and even “the white mule/She rode with round the terrace.”

Language itself occupies a particularly troubled place in the duke’s complex response to his last duchess and her memory. The duke’s modesty in declaiming his “skill/In speech” is surely false, as the rhetorical virtuosity of his speech attests. Yet he is manifestly averse to resolving the issue through discussion. In the duke’s view, “to be lessoned” or lectured is to be “lessened” or reduced, as his word choice phonetically implies. Rather than belittle himself or his spouse through the lowly practice of negotiation, the duke sacrifices the marriage altogether, treating the duchess’s “trifling” as a capital offense. The change the duke undergoes in the wake of disposing of his last duchess is in large part a rhetorical one, as he “now” handles discursively what he once handled with set imperatives.

The last lines of the poem abound in irony. As they rise to “meet/The company below,” the duke ominously reminds the envoy that he expects an ample dowry by way of complimenting the “munificence” of the Count. The duke then tells the envoy that not money but the Count’s daughter herself remains his true “object,” suggesting the idea that the duke’s aim is precisely the contrary. The duke’s intention to “go/Together down” with the envoy, meant on the surface as a kind of fraternal gesture, ironically underscores the very distinction in social status that it seems to erase. “Innsbruck” is the seat of the Count of Tyrol whose daughter the duke means to marry, and he mentions the bronze statue with a pride that is supposed to flatter the Count. But the lines can also be interpreted as an instance of self-flattery, as Neptune, who stands for the duke, is portrayed in the sculpture as an authorial figure, “taming a sea-horse.”

“My Last Duchess” marks an early apex of Browning’s art, and some of the elements of the poem—such as the monologue form, the discussion of visual art, and the Renaissance setting—were to become staples of Browning’s aesthetic. “My Last Duchess” also inaugurates Browning’s use of the lyric to explore the psychology of the individual. As many critics have suggested, character for Browning is always represented as a process, and the attitudes of his characters are typically shown in flux. The duke of “My Last Duchess” stands as a testimony to Browning’s ability to use monologue to frame an internal dialogue: the duke talks to the envoy but in effect talks to himself as he compulsively confronts the enigmas of his past.

Further Reading Bloom, Harold, ed. Robert Browning. New York: Chelsea House, 1985. Bloom, Harold, and Adrienne Munich, eds. Robert Browning: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1979. Chesterton, G. K. Robert Browning. London: Macmillan, 1903. Cook, Eleanor. Browning’s Lyrics: An Exploration. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1974. Crowell, Norton B. The Convex Glass: The Mind of Robert Browning. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1968. De Vane, William Clyde, and Kenneth Leslie Knickerbocker, eds. New Letters. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1950. De Vane, William Clyde. A Browning Handbook. New York: F. S. Crofts and Co., 1935. Drew, Philip. The Poetry of Robert Browning: A Critical Introduction. London: Methuen, 1970. Jack, Ian. Browning’s Major Poetry. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1973. Jack, Ian, and Margaret Smith, eds. The Poetical Works of Robert Browning. New York: Oxford University Press, 1983. Wagner-Lawlor, Jennifer A. “The Pragmatics of Silence, and the Figuration of the Reader in Browning’s Dramatic Monologues.” Victorian Poetry 35, no. 3 (1997): 287–302. Source: Bloom, H., 2001. Broomall, PA: Chelsea House Publishers.

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Analysis of the Robert Browning's Poem 'My Last Duchess'

A Dramatic Monologue

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Robert Browning was a prolific poet and at times his poetry drew a stark contrast to that of his famous wife Elizabeth Barrett Browning, who was a rather gentle poet. A perfect example is his dramatic monologue, "My Last Duchess," which is a dark and daring portrait of a domineering man.

The misogynistic character of the poem is a severe contrast to Browning himself who—while writing in the persona of men like the duke, who dominated (and barely loved) their wives—penned endearing love poems to his own Elizabeth.

Browning exercises what John Keats referred to as negative capability: an artist's capacity to lose himself in his characters, revealing nothing of his own personality, political views, or philosophies. 

Though written in 1842, " My Last Duchess " is set in the 16th century. And yet, it speaks volumes of the treatment of women in the Victorian time of the Brownings . To critique the oppressive, male-dominated society of his age, Browning often gave voice to villainous characters, each representing the antithesis of his worldview.

Dramatic Monologue

What sets this poem apart from many others is that it is a dramatic monologue —a type of poem in which a character distinctly different from that of the poet is speaking to someone else.

Actually, some dramatic monologues feature speakers who talk to themselves, but the monologues with "silent characters," such as “My Last Duchess,” display more artistry, more theatrics in storytelling because they are not mere confessions (as is Browning’s "Porphyria's Lover"). Instead, readers can imagine a specific setting and detect action and reaction based on the hints given within the verse.

In "My Last Duchess," the dramatic monologue is directed at a courtier of a wealthy count, presumably one whose daughter the Duke is trying to marry. Before the poem even begins, the courtier has been escorted through the Duke's palace—probably through an art gallery filled with paintings and sculptures. The courtier has noticed the curtain which conceals a painting, and the Duke decides to treat his guest to a viewing of this very special portrait of his late wife.

The courtier is impressed, perhaps even mesmerized by the smile of the woman in the painting. Based on the Duke’s words, we can infer that the courtier asked what produced such an expression. That's when the dramatic monologue begins:

That's my last Duchess painted on the wall, Looking as if she were alive. I call That piece a wonder, now: Fra Pandolf's hands Worked busily a day, and there she stands. Will't please you sit and look at her? (lines 1-5)

The Duke behaves cordially enough, asking his guest if he would like to gaze at the painting—we are witnessing the speaker's public persona.

As the monologue continues, the Duke boasts about the fame of the painter: Fra Pandolf. "Fra" is a shortened version of friar, a holy member of the church, which might be an unusual first occupation for a painter.

The Duchess's Character

What the painting captures appears to be a watered-down version of the Duchess's joyfulness. While it is clear that the Duke doesn't approve of the "spot of joy" (lines 15-16) on her cheek, we aren't sure whether it is an addition fabricated by the friar or whether the Duchess did indeed blush during the painting session.

It is clear, however, that the Duke is pleased that his wife's smile has been preserved within the artwork. Yet, the painting appears to be the only place where the Duchess’ smile is allowed.

The Duke explains to his visitor that she would offer that beautiful smile to everyone, instead of reserving it exclusively for her husband. She appreciated nature, the kindness of others, animals, and the simple pleasures of everyday life, and this disgusts the Duke.

It seems the Duchess cared about her husband and often showed him that look of joy and love, but he feels that she "ranked / [his] gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name / With anybody's gift" (lines 32-34). She failed to sufficiently revere the name and family she married into.

The Duke might not reveal his explosive emotions to the courtier as they sit and look at the painting, but the reader can deduce that the Duchess's lack of worshipfulness infuriated her husband. He wanted to be the only person, the only object of her affection.

The Duke self-righteously continues his explanation of events, rationalizing that despite his disappointment it would have been beneath him to talk openly with his wife about his feelings of jealousy. He does not request, nor even demand that she alter her behavior because he finds that degrading: "E'en then would be some stooping; and I choose / Never to stoop" (lines 42-43).

He feels that communication with his own wife is beneath his class. Instead, he gives commands and "all smiles stopped together" (line 46). The reader can assume, however, that the duke does not give commands to her directly; to him, any instruction would be "stooping." 

The poem ends with the Duke leading the courtier to the rest of his party, reiterating that the Duke’s interest in the new lady is not only for her inheritance but also her own “self”—a great nod to the question of the speaker's reliability.

The final lines of the poem display the Duke showing off another of his artistic acquisitions.

Analysis of 'My Last Duchess'

“My Last Duchess” is a dramatic monologue presented in a single stanza. It is compiled predominantly of iambic pentameter and contains a lot of enjambment (sentences that don’t end at the end of the lines). As a result, the Duke’s speech seems always flowing, never inviting a space for any response; he is the one in complete charge.

Additionally, Browning uses heroic couplet as a rhyming scheme, yet the real hero of the poem is silenced. Similarly, the title and the Duchess' "spot of joy" seem to be the only places where the Duchess is entitled to some power.

Obsession with Control and Jealousy

The predominant theme of "My Last Duchess" is the speaker’s obsession with control. The Duke exhibits an arrogance rooted in an audacious sense of male superiority. He is stuck on himself—full of narcissism and misogyny .

As suggested by the character heading at the beginning of the speech, the speaker's name is Ferrara. Most scholars agree that Browning derived his character from a 16th-century Duke of the same title: Alfonso II d'Este, a renowned patron of the arts who was also rumored to have poisoned his first wife.

Being of a higher society, the speaker automatically possesses a large amount of authority and power. This is reinforced by the structure of the poem itself—in the monologue, with no response from the courtier, let alone the Duchess , the Duke is allowed to present himself and the story in whichever way suits him best.

His need for control, along with his jealousy, are also perceptible when the Duke decides to uncover the painting for the courtier. By being the only one with the power to reveal his wife’s portrait, constantly hidden behind a curtain, the Duke obtained the final and absolute power over his wife.

It is also interesting to note that the Duke chose a holy member of the church as part of his plan to capture and control his wife's image. On one hand, it is a twisted plan, coupling evil and holy together. And on the other hand, one could also speculate that someone as committed to God as a friar would be the smallest temptation for the Duchess’ smiles and thus Duke’s jealousy.

It has become clear that the Duke didn’t like his wife to smile at anyone else but him and required her to elevate him above everyone else. As a result, he “gave commands; / Then all smiles stopped together.” The Duke couldn’t bear not being the only one for Duchess’ smiles, and thus, presumably, had her killed.

Finally, at the end of the monologue, there is a reference to another of the Duke’s acquisitions— Neptune taming a sea-horse—which he points out is a rarity, cast in bronze specifically for him. As it is rarely random for elements like this to be without significance, we can draw a metaphor between the portrait and the statue. Just like the sea-horse, the Duchess was a rarity to the Duke, and just like with the statue, he desired to “tame” her and have her all for himself.

Is the Duchess so Innocent?

Some readers believe that the Duchess isn't as innocent and that her "smiles" are really a code word for promiscuous behavior . To what degree, we will never know. It is, however, possible that when the friar paints her, she blushes out of pleasure to be near him. And, it is similarly possible that when she “thanked men” in her multitude of ways, it went beyond the traditional boundaries.

One of the powerful aspects of this poem is indeed this uncertainty created for the reader—did the Duke execute a guilty wife or did he end the life of an innocent, kind-hearted woman?

Women in the Victorian Age

Certainly, women were oppressed during the 1500s, the era in which "My Last Duchess" takes place. Yet, the poem is less of a critique of the feudalistic ways of medieval Europe and more of an attack on the biased, overbearing views and rules of Victorian society .

Literature of the era, in circles both journalistic and literary, portrayed women as fragile creatures in need of a husband. For a Victorian woman to be morally good, she must embody "sensitivity, self-sacrifice, innate purity." All of these traits are exhibited by the Duchess, if we assume that her marriage was an act of self-sacrifice.

While many Victorian husbands desired a pure, virginal bride, they also desired physical, mental, and sexual conquest. If a man was not satisfied with his wife, a woman who was his legal subordinate in the eyes of the law, he might not kill her off as the Duke so cavalierly does in Browning's poem. However, the husband might very well patronize one of London's many prostitutes, thereby obliterating the sanctity of the marriage and endangering his innocent wife otherwise.

Robert and Elizabeth Browning

There is a possibility that the poem was somewhat inspired by the Brownings' own history. Robert and Elizabeth Browning got married despite Elizabeth’s father’s will. Although not a murderous lord from the 16th century, Barrett's father was a controlling patriarch who demanded that his daughters stay faithful to him, that they never move out of the home, not even to marry.

Like the Duke who coveted his precious artwork, Barrett's father wanted to keep hold of his children as if they were inanimate figures in a gallery. When she defied her father's demands and married Robert Browning, Elizabeth became dead to her father and he never saw her again…unless, of course, he kept a picture of Elizabeth on his wall.

  • Kersten, Andrew Edmund, and Joyce E. Salisbury.  The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Daily Life, a Tour through History from Ancient Times to the Present . Greenwood Press, 2004.
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  • “Poets Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning Elope.” History.com , A&E Television Networks, 13 Nov. 2009.
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Robert Browning: Poems

By robert browning, robert browning: poems summary and analysis of "my last duchess".

"My Last Duchess" is narrated by the duke of Ferrara to an envoy (representative) of another nobleman, whose daughter the duke is soon to marry. These details are revealed throughout the poem, but understanding them from the opening helps to illustrate the irony that Browning employs.

At the poem's opening, the duke has just pulled back a curtain to reveal to the envoy a portrait of his previous duchess. The portrait was painted by Fra Pandolf, a monk and painter whom the duke believes captured the singularity of the duchess's glance. However, the duke insists to the envoy that his former wife’s deep, passionate glance was not reserved solely for her husband. As he puts it, she was "too easily impressed" into sharing her affable nature.

His tone grows harsh as he recollects how both human and nature could impress her, which insulted him since she did not give special favor to the "gift" of his "nine-hundred-years-old" family name and lineage. Refusing to deign to "lesson" her on her unacceptable love of everything, he instead "gave commands" to have her killed.

The duke then ends his story and asks the envoy to rise and accompany him back to the count, the father of the duke's impending bride and the envoy's employer. He mentions that he expects a high dowry, though he is happy enough with the daughter herself. He insists that the envoy walk with him "together" – a lapse of the usual social expectation, where the higher ranked person would walk separately – and on their descent he points out a bronze bust of the god Neptune in his collection.

"My Last Duchess," published in 1842, is arguably Browning's most famous dramatic monologue, with good reason. It engages the reader on a number of levels – historical, psychological, ironic, theatrical, and more.

The most engaging element of the poem is probably the speaker himself, the duke. Objectively, it's easy to identify him as a monster, since he had his wife murdered for what comes across as fairly innocuous crimes. And yet he is impressively charming, both in his use of language and his affable address. The ironic disconnect that colors most of Browning's monologues is particularly strong here. A remarkably amoral man nevertheless has a lovely sense of beauty and of how to engage his listener.

In fact, the duke's excessive demand for control ultimately comes across as his most defining characteristic. The obvious manifestation of this is the murder of his wife. Her crime is barely presented as sexual; even though he does admit that other men could draw her "blush," he also mentions several natural phenomena that inspired her favor. And yet he was driven to murder by her refusal to save her happy glances solely for him. This demand for control is also reflected in his relationship with the envoy. The entire poem has a precisely controlled theatrical flair, from the unveiling of the curtain that is implied to precede the opening, to the way he slowly reveals the details of his tale, to his assuming of the envoy's interest in the tale ("strangers like you….would ask me, if they durst, How such a glance came there"), to his final shift in subject back to the issue of the impending marriage. He pretends to denigrate his speaking ability – "even had you skill in speech – (which I have not),” later revealing that he believes the opposite to be true, even at one point explicitly acknowledging how controlled his story is when he admits he "said 'Fra Pandolf' by design" to peak the envoy's interest. The envoy is his audience much as we are Browning's, and the duke exerts a similar control over his story that Browning uses in crafting the ironic disconnect.

In terms of meter, Browning represents the duke's incessant control of story by using a regular meter but also enjambment (where the phrases do not end at the close of a line). The enjambment works against the otherwise orderly meter to remind us that the duke will control his world, including the rhyme scheme of his monologue.

To some extent, the duke's amorality can be understood in terms of aristocracy. The poem was originally published with a companion poem under the title "Italy and France," and both attempted to explore the ironies of aristocratic honor. In this poem, loosely inspired by real events set in Renaissance Italy, the duke reveals himself not only as a model of culture but also as a monster of morality. His inability to see his moral ugliness could be attributed to having been ruined by worship of a "nine-hundred-years-old name.” He is so entitled that when his wife upset him by too loosely bestowing her favor to others, he refused to speak to her about it. Such a move is out of the question – "who'd stoop to blame this kind of trifling?" He will not "stoop" to such ordinary domestic tasks as compromise or discussion. Instead, when she transgresses his sense of entitlement, he gives commands and she is dead.

Another element of the aristocratic life that Browning approaches in the poem is that of repetition. The duke's life seems to be made of repeated gestures. The most obvious is his marriage – the use of the word "last" in the title implies that there are several others, perhaps with curtain-covered paintings along the same hallway where this one stands. In the same way that the age of his name gives it credence, so does he seem fit with a life of repeated gestures, one of which he is ready to make again with the count's daughter.

And indeed, the question of money is revealed at the end in a way that colors the entire poem. The duke almost employs his own sense of irony when he brings up a "dowry" to the envoy. This final stanza suggests that his story of murder is meant to give proactive warning to the woman he is soon to marry, but to give it through a backdoor channel, through the envoy who would pass it along to the count who might then pass it to the girl. After all, the duke has no interest in talking to her himself, as we have learned! His irony goes even further when he reminds the envoy that he truly wants only the woman herself, even as he is clearly stressing the importance of a large dowry tinged with a threat of his vindictive side.

But the lens of aristocracy undercuts the wonderful psychological nature of the poem, which is overall more concerned with human contradictions than with social or economic criticism. The first contradiction to consider is how charming the duke actually is. It would be tempting to suggest Browning wants to paint him as a weasel, but knowing the poet's love of language, it's clear that he wants us to admire a character who can manipulate language so masterfully. Further, the duke shows an interesting complication in his attitudes on class when he suggests to the envoy that they "go Together down," an action not expected in such a hierarchical society. By no means can we justify the idea that the duke is willing to transcend class, but at the same time he does allow a transgression of the very hierarchy that had previously led him to have his wife murdered rather than discuss his problems with her.

Also at play psychologically is the human ability to rationalize our hang-ups. The duke seems controlled by certain forces: his own aristocratic bearing; his relationship to women; and lastly, this particular duchess who confounded him. One can argue that the duke, who was in love with his "last duchess,” is himself controlled by his social expectations, and that his inability to bear perceived insult to his aristocratic name makes him a victim of the same social forces that he represents. Likewise, what he expects of his wives, particularly of this woman whose portrait continues to provide him with fodder for performance, suggests a deeper psychology than one meant solely for criticism.

The last thing to point out in the duke's language is his use of euphemism. The way he explains that he had the duchess killed – "I gave commands; Then all smiles stopped together" – shows a facility for avoiding the truth through choice of language. What this could suggest is that the duchess was in fact guilty of greater transgression than he claims, that instead of flirtation, she might have physically or sexually betrayed him. There's certainly no explicit evidence of this, but at the same time, it's plausible that a man as arrogant as the duke, especially one so equipped with the power of euphemism, would avoid spelling out his disgrace to a lowly envoy and instead would speak around the issue.

Finally, one can also understand this poem as a commentary on art. The duke remains enamored with the woman he has had killed, though his affection now rests on a representation of her. In other words, he has chosen to love the ideal image of her rather than the reality, similar to how the narrator of " Porphyria's Lover " chose a static, dead love than one destined to change in the throes of life. In many ways, this is the artist's dilemma, which Browning explores in all of his work. As poet, he attempts to capture contradiction and movement, psychological complexity that cannot be pinned down into one object, and yet in the end all he can create is a collection of static lines. The duke attempts to be an artist in his life, turning a walk down the hallway into a performance, but he is always hampered by the fact that the ideal that inspires his performance cannot change.

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Robert Browning: Poems Questions and Answers

The Question and Answer section for Robert Browning: Poems is a great resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.

In Browning's "My Last Duchess" what is a euphemism?

"I gave commands; Then all smiles stopped together"

My Last Duchess

The Duke shows us a portait of his late wife.

My Last Duchess is narrated by the Duke of Ferrara.

Study Guide for Robert Browning: Poems

Robert Browning: Poems study guide contains a biography of poet Robert Browning, literature essays, a complete e-text, quiz questions, major themes, characters, and a full summary and analysis of his major poems.

  • About Robert Browning: Poems
  • Robert Browning: Poems Summary
  • My Last Duchess Video
  • Character List

Essays for Robert Browning: Poems

Robert Browning: Poems essays are academic essays for citation. These papers were written primarily by students and provide critical analysis of poems by Robert Browning.

  • Shelter From the Storm
  • Hatred in Robert Browning's Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister
  • The Insanity of Blindness: The Narrators in Browning's "Porphyria's Lover" and "Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister"
  • Where Are the Women?
  • Robert Browning and the Representation of Desire

E-Text of Robert Browning: Poems

Robert Browning: Poems e-text contains the full texts of select poems by Robert Browning.

  • Chronological List of Browning's Works
  • Introduction: Life Of Browning
  • Introduction: Browning As Poet
  • Introduction: Appreciations
  • Introduction: Bibliography

Wikipedia Entries for Robert Browning: Poems

  • Introduction
  • History of sound recording
  • Cultural references

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  • My Last Duchess

Read below our complete notes on the poem “My Last Duchess” by Robert Browning. Our notes cover My Last Duchess summary, themes, and literary analysis.

Introduction

“My Last Duchess” is a famous poem written by Robert Browning.  It was published in a book of poems named “Dramatic Lyrics” in 1842. As the name “Dramatic Lyrics” suggests, Browning tried to produce new trends in poetry after some experiments. He tried to combine some features of stage plays with some Romantic verses to produce the new type of poetry in the Victorian era. 

Robert Browning alarmed his readers with his unique characteristic of adding psychological and psychopathic realism and use of harsh language in his poetry. These traits can also be observed in the poem “My Last Duchess”. He got inspired to write this poem by the history of Alfonso II of Ferrara, who was a Renaissance duke, whose young wife died mysteriously in 1561 under suspicious circumstances. After her death, the duke got married to the niece of the Count of Tyrol.

Historical Background

In the Victorian era, women were not given equal rights as men. Even in their marital life, they were not given the place of a partner or not even thought to be worthy of love. Their identities were just like the objects that men could possess and control according to their wishes. Women were treated as a property in marriage and men were in charge in a relationship. When Browning wrote this poem, he had this thing in mind so, through this poem, he tried to explore the injustice of the male dominant society.

About the poem

This poem is a dramatic monologue. In a dramatic monologue, the speaker addresses alone at the stage in the presence of a silent listener. In “My Last Duchess”, the poet doesn’t address the readers himself. The scene unfolds through the monologue of the speaker who is the Duke of Ferrara. The Duke’s monologue shows his psychological state and his treatment with his former Duchess. 

As Robert Browning tried to introduce a new type of poetry combining the traits of stage plays and romantic verses, this poem also has the same setup. Unlike other poems, “My Last Duchess” has a specific physical and geographical setting like the plays. It is set in the private art gallery in the palace of the Duke of Ferrara.  The setting is the mid-sixteenth century in Renaissance Italy. 

My Last Duchess Summary

In this poem, the Duke of Ferrara talks to a silent listener who is one of his guests. He draws his attention towards the painting of his former Duchess who is now dead. The painting hangs on the wall of his private art gallery.  The Duke tells the listener that its artist “Fra pandolf” worked hard to make it a piece of wonder and now it is in front of them.it seems that it is not the painting but the Duchess herself, standing alive in front of them. The Dukes invites the listener to sit down and asks him to look at the painting and examine its art of wonder closely. 

The Duke tells the listener that he told him the name of its artist purposefully before he asks himself. He knows that the painting is a masterpiece. Whoever sees it, wishes to know about its artist. They want to know who filled this painting with depth and passion and gave it a lively look. The Duke also tells him that whoever sees this painting, turns towards him with surprise. They want to ask something but they dare not to speak in front of their Duke. So, as the Duke reads their faces and knows what they actually want, he himself explains the art of wonder to them. Moreover, he tells him that only he can draw back the curtains that hang over the painting and show it to anyone else if he wants.

The Duke then explains the painting of his Duchess. He tells the listener that the smile and the blush that he can see on the face of his duchess in the painting was not because of his presence. He guesses the reason behind her smile. He says that maybe she smiled when Fra Pandolf praised her beauty. Maybe, he told her that her shawl is covering too much of her beautiful wrist. Maybe, he admired her beauty by saying that he was unable to recreate the beauty. The beauty of her faint half_blush that he saw fading on her throat.

The Duke then criticizes his Duchess by saying that she always took all this stuff as a courtesy and she thought it was something enough to make her happy. He says that the heart of his Duchess could be easily won and it was very easy to impress her with anything. Wherever the Duchess looked, she liked and praised everything.

He further tells the listener about the nature of his former wife. Everything was equal for her. The gift of jewelry that he gave her to wear on her chest made her happy. In the same way, she became happy looking at the sunset in the West. Even the bough of cherries from the orchard brought to her by a fool inspired her. Moreover, the white mule on which she rode around the terrace made her happy in a similar way. She had no special liking for the things that Duke did for her. She treated everything equally and praised in the same way.

The Duke explains that she thanked men for whatever they did for her but he had no problem with it. The real problem is that she had no special appreciation for the gifts that Duke gave her. He gave her the nine hundred years old prestigious name of his family by marrying her but she treated this gift equally to anyone else’s.

The Duke then tells about his inability to explain anything to her. He tells the listener that though he is not skillful in speech or explaining anything to anyone yet if he had this ability to tell her that what things of her disgusted him or where she failed to meet his expectations, still he would never have talked to her about this. He had a fear that she could have made excuses or avoided him if he talked to her or didn’t agree to change herself showing her stubbornness. He says even if there were chances that she could change herself for him. Still he never dared to discuss this thing with her. He considers it equal to stoop. As a Duke he can never bend before anyone even in front of his own Duchess. So, he decided not to stoop and explain anything to her. 

The Duke admits it to the listener that his wife smiled whenever he crossed her but no one ever crossed her without receiving the same smile from her side. Her nice behavior with everyone grew day by day so he gave commands to kill her and as a result, all of her smiles stopped. He again points towards the painting and says now there she stands in the painting as if she is still alive.

After ending the story of his Duchess, the Duke invites the man to get up and follow him downstairs so that they can meet other guests too. The Duke talks about the generosity of the master of the listener. He finally reveals that the silent listener is the servant of the Count, whose daughter he is going to marry soon. The Duke tells the listener that he knows his master is generous. He doesn’t worry about the matter of dowry. He knows that the Count will not reject whatever he demands. However, as he mentioned in the beginning, the beautiful daughter of the Count is more important for him.

Then they go down and on their way back, the Duke again draws the attention of the servant towards another masterpiece that is kept in his gallery. He shows him a bronze statue of God Neptune taming the sea-horse that was a rare piece of the art and he tells the servant that Claus of Innsbruck made it especially for him.

Themes in My Last Duchess

This poem is all about power. The Duke of Ferrara is shown exercising his tyrannical power not only in his political and social affairs but also in his marital life. He rules with an iron fist. As he was a duke so he even wanted to control his wife’s smile and when he couldn’t, he gave orders to kill her.

A beautiful piece of art is presented in the poem. The Duke shows the portrait of her former Duchess to his guest that is so beautifully painted that the Duchess seems alive, smiling and standing in front of them. The Artist of the painting “Fra Pandolf” worked hard to put the depth and passion in the painting and he made it a masterpiece. Everyone gets surprised to see this art of wonder and admires it.

Apart from that painting, the Duke also draws the attention of his guest towards another beautiful art made by Claus of Innsbruck. It was a statue of God Neptune taming his sea-horse and it was cast in Bronze. The Duke shows his beautiful art gallery to the people whom he wants to impress. It shows that the poem “My Last Duchess” is a piece of art about another art.

Objectification of women   

Throughout the poem, the Duke praises the art and painting of his wife. He shows that he loves his Duchess more in painting as compared to when she was alive. He values the art more than his wife. His point of view shows that the women are the objects that are supposed to be controlled and possessed. 

It also reflects the thinking of Browning’s time when people used to treat women badly in the Victorian era. They were not considered equal as men and were not allowed to stand as independent beings and were controlled by men. Through this poem, the poet actually criticizes this type of viewpoint about women.

The Duke’s pride took the life of his Duchess. He wanted his wife to make him feel special but he never tried to talk to her about it. The Duke tells that he feels his insult in it to explain anything to anyone even to his own wife. He considers it equivalent to stooping and his pride never allowed him to stoop so, in his pride and power he gave commands to kill his Duchess. Moreover, his pride is also shown when he tells the servant that he gave his Duchess his nine hundred years old family name but she didn’t consider it superior to other trivial gifts of others. It shows that he is proud of his family name and social status.

Communication gap

The lack of communication between the Duke and Duchess become the reason behind their problems. In any relationship, communication gap is the main factor that gives rise to misunderstandings. In the poem, the Duke was reluctant to talk to his wife but if he somehow managed to talk to her and explain to her what exactly he wanted from her, then maybe she could have changed herself for him. He never tried to tell her about his feelings and his expectations from her and he ended up taking her life.

In the poem, the Duke tries to rule over his wife. He even tries to control her smiles and blushes. He hates when she smiles for others and thanks to them for their presents. He never even tries to tell her about this but he expects her to become as he wants. It clearly shows his madness. Without even talking to her, he decides to solve the matter by his power. In his madness, he takes the life of his innocent wife just to stop her smiles that are not for him but for others. Maybe, he considers these smiles and blushes equal to having an affair with someone and the insane Duke murders his wife to stop this.

One reason behind the Duke’s madness is his jealousy. Whenever he sees his Duchess smiling and thanking other people he gets jealous because he only wants to see her smiling for him. Many lines in the poem are the evidence of his jealousy as he himself says that his Duchess smiles whenever he crosses her but on the other hand he says no one crosses her without receiving the same smile. He becomes jealous of every smile and every blush of his wife if it is intentionally or unintentionally intended for someone else.

The nature of the Duke’s former Duchess was very kind and generous. She used to smile and show gratitude towards everyone for their presents, even the trivial ones but the Duke didn’t like it. He never wanted her to get frank with other people. He even became jealous seeing her smiling while watching the sunset or riding on her white mule. He didn’t even try to solve this issue by communication. The only solution that he came up with was taking her life. He murdered his own wife and proved himself a cruel Duke who could only exercise his power on the innocent people.

The theme of Greed is also found in the end of the poem when the Duke tells the servant of the Count that he is not worried about the dowry. As the Duke is going to marry the Count’s daughter, he tells the servant that he has heard much about his master’s generous nature so he is sure that whatever he demands from him in dowry, he will never reject it. It shows that the Duke is also greedy and concerned about the dowry though he tries to conceal his greediness by saying that the Count’s beautiful daughter will be his primary concern and priority.

Murder and Sadness

The character of Duchess is viewed as an innocent and kind soul who is killed by the cruel psychopath Duke. The Duke murdered her because of her nice behaviour to everyone. It makes the readers sad to see any good character suffering at the hands of cruel and haughty ones.

My Last Duchess Literary Analysis

In the opening lines of the poem, the speaker talks about “his last duchess”. It gives the idea that the speaker is a Duke and he is addressing an unknown or silent listener. The Duke points towards the painting of his Duchess on the wall who is dead now. The picture of the Duchess is so beautifully painted that the speaker says it seems that she is standing alive in front of him.

The Duke praises the painting and calls it a masterpiece. He also tells the mysterious listener about the artist or the painter who produced this amazing piece of wonder. He says that Fra Pandolf worked hard and it took him an entire day to complete it and give it a realist effect. The Duke then says ” there she stands” it gives the idea that the painting is not just a close up of the Duchess but her full body is visible in it, so it seems as if the Duchess is alive and standing in front of the Duke.

The Duke then invites the listener to sit down and focus on the beauty of the painting. He asks him to examine the painting and admire its art.

The Duke tells the listener that he told him the name of the painter deliberately because everyone who looks at this painting, wants to know about the person who produced this piece of art. The people or the strangers who see this painting, also want to question how the painter portrayed so much depth and passion on the face of the Duchess and gave her the expressions that look absolutely real. 

The Duke also tells the listener that only he is allowed to draw the curtain back that hangs over the painting. It means that only Duke can see this painting or show it to anyone else if he wants. It also gives the idea that the painting hangs on a wall in the Duke’s private gallery where no one can enter without his permission.  

He further tells the listener that he is not the first one who is surprised to see this beautiful art. Everyone who looks at it, turns to Duke as if they want to ask him how the painting of the Duchess looks so real but they never dare to ask it actually. As the Duke can read their face and he knows what they want to ask so he replies to everyone before they ask.

Lines 13-21

The Duke keeps on addressing his silent listener and this time he calls him “Sir”. He explains the expressions of the Duchess in the painting and tells the listener that the smile and the blush that he can see on her cheeks was not because of her husband’s presence. The Duchess was not happy because the Duke was around. It gives the idea that something else was the reason behind the Duchess’ joy and the Duke seems jealous of this thing because he always wanted her to have these expressions of joy on her face just for her husband.

In the next lines, the Duke starts guessing the reason behind the Duchess’ happiness or blush. He suggests that maybe she smiled because Fra Pandolf praised her beauty or he told her that the mantle or shawl is covering too much of her wrist or he complimented her by saying that he could never be able to paint the beauty of her faint half_blush that fades on her throat.

The Duke criticizes his Duchess saying that she thought that the courtesy or the polite comments like these are enough to make her happy. It shows that the Duke didn’t want her to be happy or blush on trivial compliments of everyone. He only wanted her to be happy in her husband’s presence or on his compliments.

Lines 21-24

The Duke further explains the nature of his late Duchess to the listener. He says that the Duchess had a gentle heart that could easily be made happy anytime. The Duchess liked and praised everything that she looked at. In short, it was very easy for everyone to make her happy or to impress her by anything.

In these lines, the Duke is not praising the Duchess but in reality, he is criticizing her. The above lines give the idea that the Duchess was very kind and down to earth but she was not the kind of person that the Duke wanted his wife to be.

Lines 25-31

In these lines, the Duke again calls his listener by saying “Sir” and tells him further about the behaviour of his Duchess. He tells him that her behaviour was the same towards everyone and everything made her equally happy. If he brought her any present, brooch or jewellery that she could wear on her chest, she used to smile or thanked him for the present but she became equally happy on the trivial things like watching the sun setting in the West, the branch of cherries that some random fool brings for her from the orchard or the white mule on which she rode around the terrace. 

He further tells him that she praised all these things equally or blushed in a similar way each time. It shows that though the Duke expected special response from his wife yet the Duchess treated everything equally. Now it is clear that the Duke wanted his Duchess to pay special attention to  him but she treated him equally and always responded to him just as she used to respond to any other common person or thing.

Lines 31-35

The Duke then says that she used to thank men. The Duke admits that it is good to thank someone if they present you any gift or do any favour to you. He had no problem with the Duchess thanking everyone but he didn’t like her way to do that. The Duke gave her his nine hundred years old family name and the prestige. He gave her a status by making her his Duchess that she never had before marrying the Duke but she didn’t even value this gift of his superior to any other minor thing done for her by any common person. 

The Duke then asks his listener who would lower himself to ask her about this strange behaviour or to have an argument with her over this matter? The Duke knows that the answer is “no one”. It also suggests that there was a communication gap in the relationship between  the Duke and the Duchess, that is the reason he never told her anything about her behaviour.

Lines 35-43

Now the Duke explains the obstacles that stopped him from complaining about the behaviour of his Duchess to her. He thinks she could make excuses or resist him, showing her stubbornness to change for him. 

He says that though he doesn’t have the skill in speech yet if he had and he tried to talk to her telling her about “the behaviour that disgusted him or where she did little or too much for him”, there was a possibility that she could have tried to change herself and made herself as he wanted but still the Duke says he would never try to talk to her.

The Duke didn’t want to talk to her because talking to her and explaining what was wrong, he considered it equivalent to stooping. As he is a Duke, so he considers it his insult to explain something to anyone even to his own Duchess. He didn’t want to bend but he wanted his wife to understand what he wanted, without saying anything.

Lines 43-47

The Duke tells the listener that he admits his Duchess was always nice to him. She treated him well and she always did smile whenever she saw him or he passed by her. Then the Duke again asks the question who passed her without receiving the same smile? There was nothing special in her smile for the Duke.

The Duke then tells the listener that “this grew”. He talks about her behaviour and her kindness towards everyone. He tells him that her kindness and love for everyone became more intense and she didn’t stop. The Duke admits that he couldn’t bear it more so he gave commands against his own Duchess and as a result, all her smiles stopped. It gives the idea that he gave the commands to end her life so that she could no longer be able to smile. 

The Duke then ends his story and again points towards the beautiful portrait saying that now there she stands and it looks like she is alive. The Duke then asks the listener in a gentle way to stand up.

Lines 47-53

Duke asks him to stand up and follow him so that they can go and meet other guests who are present downstairs. The Duke then starts talking about the listener’s master “Count”. It gives the idea that the silent listener is actually the servant of the Count.

He says to the servant that everyone knows about the generosity of his master so the Duke expects him to give the dowry of her daughter as much as he demands. It suggests that the Duke is now getting married again to the daughter of the Count and he talks to the servant to him about the matter of dowry. Here the greed of Duke is also shown. 

Moreover, he tells the servant that he is not worried about the dowry knowing the generous nature of the Count but instead of money, the fair nature of the Count’s daughter will be his utmost priority as he mentioned earlier at the beginning of their discussion.

Lines 53-56

The Duke ends his discussion and they start going down. While on their way, the Duke draws the attention of the servant towards another beautiful piece of art in his gallery. He points towards the statue of God Neptune who is shown taming his sea-horse. The Duke also tells the servant about the artist who made it. He tells him that Claus of Innsbruck made this statue with bronze especially  for him.

Analysis of Literary devices in the poem

The repetition of the same vowel sound in the same line is called assonance. In the poem, assonance is used in the following line “Her wits to your, forsooth, and made excuses”. In this line /o/ sound is repeated while the sound /o/ and /i/ are repeated in the following line “Of mine for dowry will be disallowed”.

The repetition of the same consonant sound in the same line is called consonance. In the poem, /t/ sound is repeated in the line “Together down, sir. Notice Neptune, though”. Consonance is also used in the line “The Count your master’s known munificence” because of the repetition of /n/ sound.

The explicit comparison between two things using the words “like” or “as” is called a simile. In the poem, the simile is used in the following line:

“That’s my last duchess painted on the wall, Looking as if she were alive.” In this line, the poet compares a dead person to her painting by using the word “as”.

When the intended meaning of the writer is different from the actual meaning of the words, it is known as irony. The title of this poem “My Last Duchess” is ironic because the dead Duchess of the Duke is not his last Duchess as he is going to marry the Count’s daughter now. 

The exaggeration of anything for the sake of emphasis, is known as Hyperbole. In this poem, hyperbole is used in the twenty-fourth line: “She looked on, and her looks went everywhere”.

The use of symbols to signify any object, idea or quality else than its literal meaning, is known as symbolism. In the poem, the painting of Duke’s last Duchess symbolizes how he uses his power to objectify human beings such as his own wife considering his own property or possession.

“The white mule” symbolizes the pure and gentle nature of the Duchess. It also symbolizes her innocence. Moreover, the statue of God Neptune taming his sea-horse symbolizes the cruel character of Duke taming his own Duchess.

The technique in which a sentence is carried over to the next line without any pause, is known as Enjambment.  In the poem, Enjambment is used in the following lines:

“The Count your master’s known munificence 

Is ample warrant that no just pretense

Of mine for dowry will be disallowed;”

Heroic Couplet

The rhyming pair of lines in the form of iambic pentameter, is known as the heroic couplet. In the poem, there are twenty-eight heroic couplets. One of them is given below:

“Strangers like you that pictured countenance.

The depth and passion of its earnest glance,”

The reference to any famous incident, person or work of art in history, is known as an allusion. The allusion is used at the end of the poem when the poet refers to the bronze statue of God Neptune taming his sea-horse.

Rhetoric question

The question asked in any piece of Literature specially poetry whose purpose is not to get an answer and is just used to lay emphasis, is known as a rhetoric question. 

In the poem, the poet has used rhetoric questions at the following points:

“Who’d stoop to blame

This sort of trifling?”

“but who passed without 

Much the same smile?”

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--> My Last Duchess Essay

Introduction.

Browning’s “My Last Duchess” is a poem about a Duke and his wife. The duchess has an outstanding personality that threatens the insecure duke. The Duke has his wife killed because he is not pleased with her, and he is afraid he will not be able to control her.

Suppression of women and male dominance

The relationship between the Duke and the Duchess illustrates how men are obsessed with dominating and controlling women. The poem shows that the power to control women is in the hands of men. The duke feels he had taken back his control over the duchess once he killed her, but the duke does not realize that he only portrays his imminent weakness. Browning’s poem shows that, men silence women so that only their point of view is heard, thus there is no competition or opposition for them. Men such as the Duke become dependent on women’s silence.

Because of his insecurity, the Duke feels he has more control over the Duchess because only a portrait of her is hung on the wall, and not her real self. “Man-made objects displace divinely constructed ones in terms of importance” (Mitchell 74). The manmade portrait puts out of place the beautifully created human being in terms of importance. This shows men in society do not respect life; men are ready to end the life of another human being just so that they may gain power and control.

Though men played an enormous role in suppressing women, women are also to blame for their bondage. In an attempt to please men and society, women do not seek to find their identity. They seem to enjoy the fact that, men are taking control over them. The duke speaks of the duchess and says, “She had a heart, how shall I say? Too soon made glad, too easily impressed” (Browning lines 21-23). The Duke refers to the Duchess as someone who could not differentiate between an ordinary event and an event that should evoke joy. The Duke’s statement symbolizes the child-like behavior of women which makes it easy for men to take advantage of their innocence. Browning’s poem, “My Last Duchess” shows women that there are consequences of behaving child-like and conforming to men’s will.

The Duke wanted to control the Duchess in every way when she was still alive. He wanted to ensure that her smiles and laughter were only directed to him. The Duchess’s sociable personality threatened the Duke and made him feel insecure. The Duke says that he was “disgust[ed]” by the Duchess’s interest in anybody else other than himself (Browning 39). The Duke was so insecure that he used his power to control the Duchess so that she could not see other people. He did not want the Duchess’s warmth to be directed to anyone else. Control over what the Duchess was exposed to was one of the Duke’s vital role. After the Duchess died, the Duke feels that he has recovered complete control over her. The Duke seems to be happier when the Duchess dies. This shows that he has a weak personality and is threatened by the existence of the Duchess.

The Duke says that,” her looks went everywhere” (Browning line 24). Since only her portrait remains now, the Duke can open and close the curtain whenever he wants, and he makes sure that only he can access that curtain. This way, he is sure that her looks will go nowhere, and she will always be there for him. “None puts by the curtain I have drawn for you, but I” (Browning line 9). This way the Duke has complete control over the Duchess and only he enjoy her smile on the painting.

The Duke was uncomfortable with the fact that the Duchess did not entirely depend on him. The Duchess treated everyone with respect, and this did not please the Duke. The Duke felt that the Duchess should give him her undivided attention and should place him above everything because of his status. He states that, “I know not how, as if she ranked my gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name with anybody’s gift” (Browning lines 32-34). The Duke feels that Duchess does not consider being married to him as the most valuable thing in her life. According to Dukes statement the Duchess is supposed to worship him like a god simply because he is the Duke. This is how society expects women to act as a commitment to their marital life.

The Duke felt that the Duchess no longer smiled at him. The Duke was irritated because he was unable to control the Duchess’s smile.  “I gave commands, then all smiles stopped together” (Browning line 45). The Duchess smile was a symbol of her connection to the outside world, outside her marriage. The Duchess was able to use her smile to bond and communicate with others. The Duke was not happy because the Duchess no longer reserved her “smiles” and attention for him. “My Last Duchess” reveals that women are expected to reserve all their lives and attention for their husbands.

Women will continue to be subjected to the urge of men until they stop worshiping them. The Duchess did not worship the Duke, for this reason the Duke had her murdered. The Duchess viewed her husband as a man and not a god. The Duke killing his wife is a threat to all women in society. He states that, if his future Duchess does not flatter him as he expects, she will lose what power she will achieve by getting married to him. Even after having his wife killed, the Duke does not make any attempt to conceal his possessiveness and jealousy that led to this murder. This is a threat to all future Duchesses and shows that men are not remorseful for subjecting women to suppression.

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My Last Duchess

by Robert Browning

That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall, Looking as if she were alive. I call That piece a wonder, now : Frà Pandolf’s hands Worked busily a day, and there she stands. Will’t please you sit and look at her? I said “Frà Pandolf” by design , for never read Strangers like you that pictured countenance, The depth and passion of its earnest glance, But to myself they turned (since none puts by The curtain I have drawn for you, but I) And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst, How such a glance came there; so, not the first Are you to turn and ask thus. Sir, ‘twas not Her husband’s presence only, called that spot Of joy into the Duchess’ cheek: perhaps Frà Pandolf chanced to say, “Her mantle laps Over my lady’s wrist too much,” or “Paint Must never hope to reproduce the faint Half-flush that dies along her throat.” Such stuff Was courtesy, she thought, and cause enough For calling up that spot of joy. She had A heart – how shall I say? – too soon made glad, Too easily impressed: she liked whate’er She looked on, and her looks went everywhere. Sir, ‘twas all one! My favor at her breast, The dropping of the daylight in the West, The bough of cherries some officious fool Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule She rode with round the terrace – all and each Would draw from her alike the approving speech, Or blush, at least. She thanked men, – good! but thanked Somehow – I know not how – as if she ranked My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name With anybody’s gift. Who’d stoop to blame This sort of trifling? Even had you skill In speech – (which I have not) – to make your will Quite clear to such an one, and say, “Just this Or that in you disgusts me; here you miss, Or there exceed the mark” – and if she let Herself be lessoned so, nor plainly set Her wits to yours, forsooth, and made excuse, – E’en then would be some stooping; and I choose Never to stoop. Oh sir, she smiled, no doubt, Whene’er I passed her; but who passed without Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands; Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands As if alive. Will’t please you rise? We’ll meet The company below, then. I repeat, The Count your master’s known munificence Is ample warrant that no just pretense Of mine for dowry will be disallowed; Though his fair daughter’s self, as I avowed At starting, is my object . Nay, we’ll go Together down, sir. Notice Neptune, though, Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity, Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me!

Summary of My Last Duchess

  • Popularity of “My Last Duchess”: Robert Browning , a famous English poet, and playwright, wrote ‘My Last Duchess’, a famous dramatic monologue of a duke about a heinous act of killing his former wife. It was first published in Browning’s Dramatic Lyrics in 1842 . The poem comprises the sentiment of the speaker whose mistress could not survive his severity. It also provides an insight into the psychological state of the speaker. However, its popularity lies in the presentation of a realistic picture of the Victorian era.
  • “My Last Duchess” As a Representative of Jealousy: The poem presents a monologue of a duke who is telling about the demise of his last duchess. At the outset, he displays the painting of his late wife and talks about her character traits. First, he acknowledges the mastery of the painter for painting a lifelike picture of his mistress. Then, accuses his mistress of having a heart that was “too soon made glad” and “too easily impressed.” He did not like her soft, impartial and polite manners. Therefore, he blames her for being so gentle and kind. Although her death is suspicious, the duke gets away with her murder on account of his status and power . Thus, the poem exhibits the vicious, psychotic and controlling mind of the duke, who hated his wife due to her positive nature.
  • Major Themes in “My Last Duchess”: Jealousy, hatred, and power are the major themes of this poem. Browning has presented the character of a duke who wants to rule his woman with an iron fist. He talks about his late wife and details the reasons why he did not like her. He could not tolerate the idea that his wife was easily attracted toward the strangers and responded them happily. It is due to this behavior his wife is not alive.   That is why he seems to be a psychopath, jealous and self-centered man who not only wishes to control his kingdom but also wants to govern the lives of his near and dear ones.

Analysis of Literary Devices in “My Last Duchess”

literary devices are tools the writers use to create meanings in their texts to enhance the poems or stories and connect the readers with the real message of the text.  The analysis of some of the literary devices used in this poem has been detailed below.

  • Assonance : Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in the same line such as the sound of /o/ in “Her wits to your, forsooth, and made excuses” and the sound of /i/ and /o/ in “Of mine for dowry will be disallowed”.
  • Symbolism : Symbolism is using symbols to signify ideas and qualities, giving them symbolic meanings different from literal meanings. The painting of the Duke’s last Duchess symbolizes how he objectifies women as property or possessions. “White mule” symbolizes her innocence and purity. “Taming a sea-horse” is a symbol of Duke taming his wife.
  • Enjambment : Enjambment refers to the continuation of a sentence without the pause beyond the end of a line, couplet or stanza such as:
“The Count your master’s known munificence Is ample warrant that no just pretense Of mine for dowry will be disallowed;”
  • Consonance : Consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line such as the sound of /t/ in “Together down, sir. Notice Neptune, though” and the sound of /n/ in “The Count your master’s known munificence.”
  • Irony : Irony   is a figure of speech in which words are used in such a way that their intended meaning is different from the actual meaning of the words. The title is ironic because the dead mistress is not his last lady, as he is going to marry again.
  • Simile : Simile is a device used to compare something with something else to make the meanings clear. There is only one simile used in this poem. For example,
“That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall, Looking as if she were alive.”
  • Hyperbole : Hyperbole is a device used to exaggerate a statement for the sake of emphasis. The poet has used hyperbole in the line twenty-four, “She looked on, and her looks went everywhere.”
  • Alliteration : Alliteration is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line such as the sound of /d/ in “The dropping of the daylight in the West” and the sound of /s/ in “Then all the smiles stopped together There she stands”.
  • Euphemism : A  euphemism is a polite expression used in place of words or phrases that might otherwise be considered harsh or unpleasant. For example,
“Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands; Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands.”

Analysis of Poetic Devices in “My Last Duchess”

Poetic and literary devices are the same, but a few are used only in poetry. Here is the analysis of some of the poetic devices used in this poem.

  • Stanza : A stanza is a poetic form of some lines. There is one long stanza in the poem having fifty-six lines in it.
  • Iambic Pentameter : It is a type of meter having five iambs per line. The poem follows iambic pentameter such as, “look ing as  if she  were a live I call”.
  • End Rhyme : End rhyme is used to make the stanza melodious. The examples of end rhyme in the poem are, “wall/call”, “hands/stands” and “meet/repeat”.
  • Heroic Couplet: Heroic couplet  is a pair of rhymed lines with iambic pentameter. The poem consists of twenty-eight heroic couplets. For example,
“Strangers like you that pictured countenance, The depth and passion of its earnest glance,”

Quotes to be Used

The lines stated below can be used when praising the artistic skills of a painter. These can also be used by a lover to praise the beauty and delicacy of his mistress.

“That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall, Looking as if she were alive. I call That piece a wonder, now; Fra Pandolf’s hands Worked busily a day, and there she stands.”

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“My Last Duchess” by Robert Browning

Introduction.

“My Last Duchess” is a beautiful poem written by Robert Browning and it also reveals the poet’s style of using dramatic monologue in writing his poems. The sixteenth century Italian background of the story adds richness to the theme, as Italy was the centre of arts. The attention of the readers has been taken away by the sentiments emerging from the story of the poem, ignoring the greatness of the portrait of the Duchess as a great piece of art. Though it is true that the portrait exposes the selfishness and the sexual greed of the Duke, the basic quality of the story and the poem is in the great skill of the poet in capturing the wicked nature of the Duke through the portrait of the Duchess. This brief paper takes a critical look at the poem.

The place is the palace of the Duke of Ferrara in the year 1564. The speaker in the poem is the Duke. He is talking to a representative of the Count of Tyrol, who has come to negotiate with the Duke about his next marriage to a daughter of another great family. This gentleman is shown the portrait of his last duchess and the way he narrates his relationship with her is the focus of the poem. The Duke says that she was looking as if she were alive. He tells his visitor that “That depth and passion of its earnest glance, /But to myself they turned” (Duchess). His emphasis on “myself” exposes his possessive nature. Like the inquisitive visitor the reader becomes anxious to know the Duke’s involvement in shaping the fate of the Duchess. “She had/ A heart – how shall I say? – too soon made glad”, says the Duke. What then went wrong is the obvious doubt hovering over the readers’ (or the visitor’s) mind. The Duke explains it: “her looks went everywhere”, something which, as her husband, the Duke could not bear. The character of he Duke becomes clear as the poem moves. He is possessive. He looks at his wife as a mere object, and not as person or individual.

The intensive emotion of the Duke comes to light as he narrates the event further. He says, “Oh sir, she smiled, no doubt, / Whene’er I passed her; but who passed without/ Much the same smile? “ The poet brings out the wicked nature of the Duke very slowly through his own words. She gives him her hearty smile whenever he passes, but he cannot bear to see her smile thrown to every passerby. These words of the Duke carry the existing nature of the Italian lovers in the sixteenth century. It is difficult for a modern woman to accept these words of the Duke. “This grew I gave commands”, tells the Duke. Though it is not made explicit what command he gave, it is obvious that he killed her. It is shocking to hear the Duke casually telling his visitor that “There she stands/ As if alive. Will ‘t please you rise?” At last the Duke takes him downstairs to negotiate for his next wife: “Nay, we’ll go/ Together down, sir”.

Browning’s superb ability in blending sex, violence, and art in this small poem is excellent. The way it is presented, using his usual style of dramatic monologue is what makes the poem unique. The pressure the poem puts on the reader to hate the Duke for his domineering nature gets nullified by his love of art. That he caught the most emotional moment of his last Duchess in the form of an artistic portrait with the help of a painter is what softens the readers’ dislike towards him. In other words, Browning has succeeded in taking a touching historical event to transform it into a beautiful piece of art. It is the captured moment in art which is lasting becomes the message of the poem.

The gripping quality of the poem has been highly praised by the scholars.

Browning, Robert. “My Last Duchess”.

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Duke of Ferrara in “My Last Duchess” Poem by Browning Essay

Introduction, character analysis, works cited.

A poet can reveal many details of a character’s life and personality in a short poem by letting him speak. A dramatic monologue is a representation of one’s beliefs and values that paint a clear picture of one’s true intentions and desires. Browning’s poem “My Last Duchess” is an example of such a monologue in which the reader can deduce how the character sees the world. The speaker – the Duke of Ferrara – talks about his late wife, whose portrait now hangs in his private gallery. In the poem “My Last Duchess,” the Duke shows that he values status and power, which drives his jealousy and makes him want to control every aspect of his former wife’s behavior.

Throughout the 56 lines of the poem, the Duke talks to a person who is negotiating the Duke’s future marriage to a daughter of a wealthy count. He shows the guest his private gallery, where the portrait of his late wife hangs behind the curtain. As the guest inquires about the painting, the Duke talks about the Duchess’ smile and character, describing her heart as “too soon made glad, / Too easily impressed” (Browning 22-23). He then criticizes her for always being courteous, open, and joyous, believing she was too approachable and did not appreciate his high status. The Duke says that he could never talk to her earnestly as it did not fit his high social standing. Finally, he recalls giving commands, which somehow stifled her smiles forever, and then quickly moves on from the painting to the next lavish piece in his collection.

Throughout the poem, the monologue reveals many details about the Duke’s personality. In the first lines, one sees that the man values his high position and the resources he has that would produce a beautiful painting. He mentions the painter’s name and adds, “I call / That piece a wonder, now; Fra Pandolf’s hands / Worked busily a day,” as if highlighting the mastery of the work (Browning 2-4). The end of the poem also reveals that the Duchess’ portrait is viewed as a part of his collection to him rather than a precious memory of his former wife. The Duke quickly moves on from discussing the painting – “There she stands / As if alive. Will’t please you rise?” (Browning 46-47). He then starts showing the next piece – “Notice Neptune, though, / Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity / Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me!” (Browning 54-56). Here, one can see that the Duke does not feel sorrow about his wife’s passing.

During their marriage, the Duke’s behavior appears similarly controlling and dismissive. He assumes the guest would ask about the wife’s beautiful smile and her blushing cheeks. The man is quick to complain that “’twas not / Her husband’s presence only, called that spot / Of joy into the Duchess’ cheek” (Browning 13-15). The Duke believes that everything made her smile and that she appreciated other people, nature, animals, and her husband equally, without reserving affection for him. This behavior seems to infuriate him, as he says, “she ranked / My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name / With anybody’s gift” (Browning 32-34). These lines also show that, as a man from a powerful family, he expects special treatment from his wife and possibly wishes that she would only smile for him.

However, he dismisses any opportunity to talk to his wife about this view. The Duke demonstrates his jealousy and the need for control rather than an honest conversation. He says, “Who’d stoop to blame / This sort of trifling,” showing that he would never talk to her about her behavior while also displaying his deep desire to control rather than understand her (Browning 34-35). Even if the man decided to express his emotions, they would reveal his misogynistic view of her. He imagines saying, “Just this / Or that in you disgusts me; here you miss, / Or there exceed the mark,” clearly presenting his need to exert power over the Duchess’ behavior (Browning 37-39). Instead, driven by his ideas of the wife’s submission to her husband, he gives “commands; Then all smiles stopped together” (Browning 45-46). An interpretation of these lines is that the Duke ordered his wife to be killed (Sasikala 2). Therefore, one can see that his value of personal status and desire for absolute control over the Duchess led to her death.

In conclusion, the monologue in the poem “My Last Duchess” by Browning reveals much about the speaker, the Duke of Ferrara. A selfish and controlling man, the Duke speaks about his former wife, complaining about his inability to control her behavior and emotions. The man demonstrates his belief in his own status and the special role his wife should have played, paying attention and expressing joy only to him. Unable to control her, the Duke presumably gives instructions to kill the Duchess, her portrait remaining as the last memory of her, one of the pieces in his art collection.

Browning, Robert. “ My Last Duchess .” Poetry Foundation , 1842, Web.

Sasikala, R. “The Power of the Duke in ‘My Last Duchess.’” Scholar: National School of Leadership , vol. 9, no. 1.0, 2020, pp. 1-5.

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By Maya Salam

The amount of true crime that Maya Salam has watched and listened to in her life might itself be a crime.

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Documentary film

“The Hatchet Wielding Hitchhiker”

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Quickly came a bonanza of memes and television appearances — including a segment on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” — as well as talks of his own reality show. But the good times didn’t last. A few months later, he was arrested on charges that he had killed a man in New Jersey.

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“Crime Analyst”: “The Murder of Gabby Petito”

Since April 2022, Laura Richards, a former New Scotland Yard criminal behavioral analyst and the host of the podcast “Crime Analyst,” has logged 22 episodes dedicated to the disappearance and murder of Gabby Petito , a 22-year-old #vanlife influencer who was on a cross-country summer road trip in 2021 with her fiancé, Brian Laundrie , when she disappeared.

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Documentary miniseries

“Crime Scene: Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel”

There couldn’t have been a more notorious setting for this story than the Cecil Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. Built in the 1920s, its checkered past has spawned urban myths and tales of paranormal activity, as well as claims that the serial killer Richard Ramirez stayed there during his killing spree in the mid-1980s.

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Compounding the speculation was Lam’s active social media presence, which included a blog and a Tumblr page, on which she would share details about her struggles with mental illness. After her disappearance, her pages amassed followers determined to unravel the mystery.

This four-part 2021 Netflix series is not only about what happened in the hotel, but also about what can happen when our collective imagination runs wild.

“Pepsi, Where’s My Jet?”

If you were even slightly plugged into the pop culture conversation in the mid-1990s, you probably remember hearing about the young man who was suing Pepsi for what could be described simply as false advertising.

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This lighthearted, four-part Netflix series from 2022 explores the legal battle, Leonard v. Pepsico, Inc., and the lengths that all sides went to make their cases. The tale is set against the backdrop of the era’s cola wars (even Cindy Crawford, whose 1992 Pepsi ad became legendary, appears in this documentary). It all may have happened a bit before the internet age, but this was as viral a story as any today, and one that forever altered advertising.

Maya Salam is an editor and reporter, focusing primarily on pop culture across genres. More about Maya Salam

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  1. My Last Duchess Poem Summary and Analysis

    "My Last Duchess" is a dramatic monologue written by Victorian poet Robert Browning in 1842. In the poem, the Duke of Ferrara uses a painting of his former wife as a conversation piece.

  2. A Summary and Analysis of Robert Browning's 'My Last Duchess'

    By Dr Oliver Tearle (Loughborough University) Probably Robert Browning's most famous (and widely studied) dramatic monologue, 'My Last Duchess' is spoken by the Duke of Ferrara, chatting away to an acquaintance (for whom we, the reader, are the stand-in) and revealing a sinister back-story lurking behind the portrait of his late wife, the Duchess, that…

  3. Analysis of Robert Browning's My Last Duchess

    By NASRULLAH MAMBROL on March 30, 2021 • ( 0 ) My Last Duchess FERRARA That's my last Duchess painted on the wall, Looking as if she were alive. I call That piece a wonder, now; Fra Pandolf's hands Worked busily a day, and there she stands. Will't please you sit and look at her? I said "Fra Pandolf" by design, for never read

  4. Analysis of the Robert Browning Poem 'My Last Duchess'

    Analysis of 'My Last Duchess'. "My Last Duchess" is a dramatic monologue presented in a single stanza. It is compiled predominantly of iambic pentameter and contains a lot of enjambment (sentences that don't end at the end of the lines). As a result, the Duke's speech seems always flowing, never inviting a space for any response; he is ...

  5. Robert Browning: Poems Summary and Analysis of "My Last Duchess"

    Analysis "My Last Duchess," published in 1842, is arguably Browning's most famous dramatic monologue, with good reason. It engages the reader on a number of levels - historical, psychological, ironic, theatrical, and more. The most engaging element of the poem is probably the speaker himself, the duke.

  6. My Last Duchess Summary

    In Robert Browning's poem "My Last Duchess," the duke of Ferrara addresses an emissary of the count whose daughter the duke intends to marry. The duke begins describing his deceased first wife...

  7. My Last Duchess Summary, Themes, and Literary Analysis

    Contents. "My Last Duchess" is a famous poem written by Robert Browning. It was published in a book of poems named "Dramatic Lyrics" in 1842. As the name "Dramatic Lyrics" suggests, Browning tried to produce new trends in poetry after some experiments. He tried to combine some features of stage plays with some Romantic verses to ...

  8. Robert Browning's Poetry "My Last Duchess" (1842 ...

    I call That piece a wonder, now: Fra Pandolf's hands Worked busily a day, and there she stands. Will't please you sit and look at her? I said "Fra Pandolf" by design, for never read Strangers like you that pictured countenance, The depth and passion of its earnest glance, But to myself they turned (since none puts by

  9. My Last Duchess Analysis

    Analysis. PDF Cite Share. "My Last Duchess" is a dramatic monologue by Robert Browning, first published in Browning's 1842 verse volume Dramatic Lyrics. This collection was part of his Bells ...

  10. My Last Duchess by Robert Browning

    By Robert Browning. FERRARA. That's my last Duchess painted on the wall, Looking as if she were alive. I call. That piece a wonder, now; Fra Pandolf's hands. Worked busily a day, and there she stands. Will't please you sit and look at her? I said.

  11. My Last Duchess Essays and Criticism

    Robert Browning's poem "My Last Duchess" is a splendid example of the irony that a poet can achieve within the format of the dramatic monologue, a poetic form in which there is only one...

  12. My Last Duchess by Robert Browning (Poem + Analysis)

    'My Last Duchess' by Robert Browning is a well-known dramatic monologue. It suggests that the speaker has killed his wife and will soon do the same to the next. Read Poem Poetry+ Guide Share Cite Robert Browning Nationality: English Poet Guide Robert Browning was an English poet born in 1812.

  13. My Last Duchess Essay

    Browning's "My Last Duchess" is a poem about a Duke and his wife. The duchess has an outstanding personality that threatens the insecure duke. The Duke has his wife killed because he is not pleased with her, and he is afraid he will not be able to control her. Type of assignment Type of service Writer level Urgency Number of pages Total price:

  14. "My Last Duchess" by Robert Browning Poem Analysis Essay

    My Last Duchess is one of the most famous Brownings poems. It is believed that the poem is inspired by real historical events. The main character of the poem is the prototype of Alfonso II, who has been the duke of Ferrara from 1559 to 1597 (Allingham par.7). We will write a custom essay on your topic 807 writers online Learn More

  15. "My Last Duchess" Poem by Robert Browning Essay (Critical Writing)

    Exclusively available on IvyPanda. 'My Last Duchess' by Robert Browning is one of the finest examples of dramatic monologues. Browning dramatizes the conflict between what the Duke actually says and what he really means to say. Throughout this poem, though the Duke speaks about his demised wife, it is his arrogant obsessive nature that is ...

  16. My Last Duchess Analysis

    Popularity of "My Last Duchess": Robert Browning, a famous English poet, and playwright, wrote 'My Last Duchess', a famous dramatic monologue of a duke about a heinous act of killing his former wife. It was first published in Browning's Dramatic Lyrics in 1842. The poem comprises the sentiment of the speaker whose mistress could not survive his severity.

  17. My Last Duchess, an analysis

    My Last Duchess dramatizes the internal conflict of the speaker, the Duke of Ferrara. He is conflicted with the faults of his last wife, and the desire for change in the upcoming marriage to his new fiancee. Ultimately, the struggle deals with power and jealousy.

  18. "My Last Duchess" by Robert Browning

    "My Last Duchess" is a beautiful poem written by Robert Browning and it also reveals the poet's style of using dramatic monologue in writing his poems. The sixteenth century Italian background of the story adds richness to the theme, as Italy was the centre of arts.

  19. My Last Duchess Historical and Social Context

    During the Renaissance, which is generally defined as the period 1350 to 1700, Europeans experienced the resurrection of classical Greek and Roman ideals that had remained dormant since the...

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    In 'My Last Duchess', Browning presents the power of humans as controlling as the Duke compares himself to a God: "Notice Neptune, though, taming a seahorse". Here, the speaker's boastful tone and obsession with power are highlighted through the noun "Neptune", as this god was one of the most

  21. My Last Duchess

    My Last Duchess is a dramatic monologue written by Victorian poet Robert Browning in 1842. The Duke of Ferrara is the speaker of the poem, who tells us that he is entertaining an emissary who has come to negotiate the Duke's marriage to the daughter of another powerful family.

  22. 77 My Last Duchess Essay Topic Ideas & Examples

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  23. My Last Duchess Themes

    The main themes in "My Last Duchess" are pride and jealousy, discernment and hierarchy, and art and truth. Pride and jealousy: The poem presents a portrait of the duke's pride and jealousy,...

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  25. Duke of Ferrara in "My Last Duchess" Poem by Browning Essay

    This essay, "Duke of Ferrara in "My Last Duchess" Poem by Browning" is published exclusively on IvyPanda's free essay examples database. You can use it for research and reference purposes to write your own paper. However, you must cite it accordingly. Donate a paper. Removal Request.

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    Emma, Duchess of Rutland, learned the art of running a castle on the job. Then she started interviewing other duchesses on how they make it work on her own podcast.