Robert Browning published "My Last Duchess" in 1842 in a book of poems titled Dramatic Lyrics . As the title suggests, in these poems Browning experiments with form, combining some aspects of stage plays and some aspects of Romantic verse to create a new type of poetry for his own Victorian age. The Victorians are the poor unfortunates who come between the Romantics and the Modernists. In other words, authors in this period got sandwiched between two great movements that majorly influenced Western Culture, and so readers sometimes forget about the Victorian age writers.
It’s important to notice that "My Last Duchess" is one of the poems that falls into this somewhat problematic in-between age. (For reference, you can think of the Victorian era as stretching from 1837-1901. At least, those are the years when Victoria was Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. You might know her better by the shorter title of Queen of England. Keep in mind that literary movements only correspond roughly with her reign.)
For the most part, poetry didn’t do so well in the Victorian period – it was the age of the novel, and everyone was reading Charles Dickens. George Eliot. or "penny dreadfuls," which were the Victorian version of the sensationalist paperbacks sold in your local grocery store today. Most Victorian poets were highly experimental and, with the exception of Alfred, Lord Tennyson. not so highly popular; people kept reading the now-classic Romantic poets, like William Wordsworth and Lord Byron. instead of tuning in to the new developments in poetry.
Robert Browning alarmed his Victorian readers with psychological – and sometimes psychopathic – realism, wild formal experiments, and harsh-sounding language. These qualities, however, are what make poems like "My Last Duchess" so attractive to today’s readers, who value the raw power of Browning’s writing more than some of the feel-good flowery Romantic poems.
Browning’s inspiration for "My Last Duchess" was the history of a Renaissance duke, Alfonso II of Ferrara, whose young wife Lucrezia died in suspicious circumstances in 1561. Lucrezia was a Medici – part of a family that was becoming one of the most powerful and wealthy in Europe at the time. During Lucrezia’s lifetime, however, the Medici were just beginning to build their power base and were still considered upstarts by the other nobility. Lucrezia herself never got to enjoy riches and status; she was married at 14 and dead by 17. After her death, Alfonso courted (and eventually married) the niece of the Count of Tyrol.
Robert Browning takes this brief anecdote out of the history books and turns it into an opportunity for readers to peek inside the head of a psychopath. Although Browning hints at the real-life Renaissance back-story by putting the word "Ferrara" under the title of the poem as an epigraph, he removes the situation from most of its historical details. It’s important to notice that the Duke, his previous wife, and the woman he’s courting aren’t named in the poem at all. Even though there were historical events that inspired the poem, the text itself has a more generalized, universal, nameless feel.Why Should I Care?
We can understand why you might have trouble caring about "My Last Duchess" at first. After all, it’s a fictional speech by a Renaissance duke who’s conducting a marriage negotiation. But the themes in play here are way more interesting than the basic setup. Jealousy, sadism, murder, manipulation, a sinister atmosphere, and the inner thoughts of a psychopath – it’s practically The Silence of the Lambs in poem form.
If the macabre sensationalism isn’t enough to draw you in, consider this: the Duke’s overreaction to the Duchess’s genial nature pretty much makes him a textbook example of a controlling, abusive husband who demands absolute subservience from his wife. The only difference is that he’s crazy enough to think that even ordering her not to be nice to people is beneath him. In his mind, killing her is the only way to deal with the fact that she smiled at the sunset. And that reminds us of another movie from the early 90s – Sleeping With the Enemy .
So you can visualize the Duchess as Jodie Foster or as Julia Roberts. if you like. But the point is that this poem has several different attractions: a "true crime" feel (the real-life Duchess of Ferrara did die under suspicious circumstances) and a chilling depiction of the psychology of a man obsessed with power. If you ever wondered what was going through the head of someone on the edge, Browning’s poetry is for you.People who Shmooped this also Shmooped.
Published: 23rd March, 2015 Last Edited: 23rd March, 2015
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The narration of the Duke is accompanied by a unique speech pattern. Browning uses enjambment or sentences which do not conclude at the end of the line. For example in the first two lines of the poem, the sentence ends after "alive," but the line ends with "call" - rhyming the couplet but not finishing the thought. Instead of the rhyme creating a sense of closure and balance in the poem it does exactly the opposite. The lines are not smooth and they shadow the personality of the obsessive and rambling Duke.
The diction throughout the poem, though changing towards the end, is indicative of the bewitching allure of the lady and her delicate fineness. For example, the speaker wonders at "the depth and passion of its earnest glance" and "the spot of joy" on her cheek, as well as how "she thanked/as if she ranked." The initial descriptions contain very intimate and attached reverence to the woman in the painting, but as the story progresses, the diction becomes more objectifying and detached, and the blush on her cheek is mentioned as a "spot," losing its luster and becoming an observable phenomenon. The way the duchess thanks as if ranking people is accusatory, yet bewilderment seems to justify this observation. In addition, the diction changes towards the end as the speaker continues his monologue; "Who'd stoop to blame this sort of trifling," or "that in you disgusts me" and "I gave commands." The diction is clearly showing some annoyance in the speakers tone. It seems that in an attempt to control the duchess from his suspicious tone, the speaker begins taking action and his anger shines its true colors from a moment's inattention. Therefore, the diction adjusts tactfully yet unknowingly with the details which the speaker shares with his guest revealing the speakers true emotions towards this girl.
There is a far greater use of detail in this poem then imagery; the duchess' odd behaviors are highlighted by the suspicious speaker as he recounts her tale. For example, "her husband's presence only, called that spot of joy on (her) cheek," and "She had a heart-how shall I say?- too soon made glad," and finally, "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." This final comment reminds me of the guilty confession of a murderer often fabricated in the works of Edgar Allen Poe. The sly interjection of "how shall I say," might imply that he is trying to outwit his guest by describing the free-loving spirit of the duchess, as with the other comment he makes. In addition, the speaker describes the painting "as if she were alive," then again towards the end, "There she stands as if alive," and quickly changes subjects, as they head towards the company below, to the Neptune statue cast in bronze.
This emphasis on the life of the painting can either explain the affair between the duchess and the painter, or the guilt the speaker might feel for having unjustly killed her. The ease in which the speaker is able to change subjects to his statue indicates that he has hidden something from his guest and he wishes to lesson any attention he may have brought. Throughout this poem, the many plots are equally plausible, though, through attention to the detail. There is no real basis to assume homicide; therefore the jealousy and astute observation lead the reader to believe that the duchess has not been loyal to him.
Finally, the point of view in this poem is highly successful in unveiling the plot, distancing the speaker far enough from the reader in order to follow his thoughts as they reveal his frustration. For example, "I said Fra Pandolf by design, for never read strangers like you that pictured countenance," and "Oh, sir, she smiled, no doubt," and finally, "We'll meet the company below." The exchange between the speaker and this guest, lacking input from the other person, makes the monologue all the more obscene, because the speaker is almost ranting to himself, and foolishly speaks too much. In this sense, the plot unfolds on one level, and we can see that he is not confessing anything to the audience, but rather mistakenly describes his most profound sentiments. In addition, the speaker talks to the other man and he describes the painting and the woman in depth -in casual conversation; "The Count your Master's known munificence is ample warrant." The effect of this conversation again helps unfold the plot and allows the reader to distance himself from the speaker. With each assertion from the speaker, the reader can verify that his words were not purposeful, and thus again aid in the plot development of this connection with his resentment and jealousy towards the duchess. Therefore, the point of view in the poem enforces the plot and provides a simple means of conveyance to the audience.
The macabre story of the Duke ends with the final three lines of "My Last Duchess" "Notice Neptune, though, Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity, which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me!"(Lines 54-56) These last three lines are important in that the statue of Neptune taming the wild sea-horse is most likely meant to symbolize the Duke's own tendencies for dominating and controlling those he has relations with.
The poem contains diction and detail, which aided the monologue that describes a painting of a loving woman, who by these elements, may have been having an affair with the painter of her portrait. The overall message seems to be a slander on women, as the duchess is given no individual rights, and is controlled by the speaker who is not very clear about his feelings towards her.
"My Last Duchess" is an intricately written piece of narration that creates a tone which draws together the skill of voiced inner dialogue and meter. The combination creates a piece of writing which reveals the mind of a murderer, dominating man, and a society in which women are mere possessions.
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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; 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
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
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.
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. 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!
This poem is set in 1564 and is based on the real-life Duke Alfonso II who ruled Ferrara, Italy in the latter half of the 16th century. In the poem, he’s talking about his first wife Lucrezia de’ Medici, 3 years after she died under suspicious circumstances shortly after marrying the Duke.
This poem is set in 1564 and is based on the real-life Duke Alfonso II who ruled Ferrara, Italy in the latter half of the 16th century. In the poem, he’s talking about his first wife Lucrezia de’ Medici, who died under suspicious circumstances shortly after marrying the Duke.
In the poem the Duke is speaking to an emissary who is negotiating the Duke’s next marriage to the daughter of another powerful family. He is showing his visitor around his palace and stops in front of a painting of his late wife.
The Duke then begins to reminisce about his late wife’s portrait sessions with the painter, and then about the Duchess herself. His reminiscing soon turns into a verbal onslaught of his late wife’s behaviour, where he abjectly accuses her of being overly flirtatious with everyone, and not appreciating his “gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name”. As his speech continues, the reader realises with ever more terrifying certainty that the Duke was responsible for the Duchess’s early demise, due to her worsening behaviour: “I gave commands; Then all smiles stopped together”. After making this declaration, the Duke returns back to the discussion of arranging his next marriage. As the Duke and emissary leave to return to the other guests, the Duke calls attention to his bronze statue of Neptune taming a seahorse.Structure and Language
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Born on 7 may 1812, Brownning's first poem was published in 1833 and this was followed by 'Bells and Poemgranates', 'Men and Women' etcetera. His longer poems show a strong interest in human emotions and motives and a tendency to use obscure language but his lyrical poems are known for their musical qualities. Robert Browning was known as the perfect practitioner of Dramatic Monologue in english language.
Among one of his best dramatic monologues is 'My Last Duchess'. Written in a colloquial style the poem is spoken by the Duke of Ferrara in conversation with the envoy of a count whose daughter he wishes to marry. While the duke talks to the envoy and shows him the portrait of his late wife a lot is revealed of his character and his wife's also.
Throughout the poem the Duke directs the envoys and the readers perception of the portrait. He is monitoring the gaze of his visitor. He starts by telling the envoy that a monk vowed to celibacy made the potrait.The friendly nature of his last wife disgusted the Duke. His problem was that she smiled too much. He complains that his wife ranked an expensive jewellery given by him or the gift of his ancient surname with the sunset or her pet mule and so on.
It gradually becomes clear that the speaker's perception of the reality is entirely different from the situation as it is, and it is this dichotomy that lends the ironical tone to the piece.The Duke says that it was beneath him to reprimand the Duchess for such frivolous behaviour. He simply tells the envoy that she continued to behave in the same manner and so he got her murdered.
The fact that he just confessed to the murder of the last Duchess to the envoy of the count whose daughter he wishes to marry does not bother him. Browning brings out the psychopathatic and ruthless nature of the Duke from his own speech. The Duke's complete lack of remorse id depicted by his open demand for dowry in the next few lines. The Duke concludes with an abrupt change of.
By: Fatih • Essay • 684 Words • March 19, 2009 • 464 ViewsEssay title: My Last Duchess - Robert Browning
My Last Duchess, by Robert Browning, is an example of a dramatic monologue. A dramatic monologue is a kind of narrative poem in which one character speaks to one or more listeners whose replies are not given in the poem. The Duke is speaking to an envoy about his fisrt wife who is apparently dead. From what he is telling him, one can conclude that he is arrogant, domineering, and very insecure about his relationship.
The Duke of Ferrara was a very arrogant man. He did not seem to care about the happiness of his wife, only his own. He did not like the fact that she found happiness in other places beside himself, as if he should be the only life in her life. He could not understand how she could rank his nine thousand year old name with more simpler things such as her white mule that she rode on the terrace, an act of kindness from an "officious fool" and the "drooping of the daylight in the west." His wife, no doubt, had no idea he felt that way but he could not discuss it with her, blaming it on the fact that he had no skill in speech. He let the problem persist until he no longer could stand it and finally "gave commands" that in one way or another caused her death.
Another problem that he had was that he was too domineering. This is evident in the fact that he went to the extreme and killed his wife just because she did not conform to his image of a perfect wife. He wanted things to be his way regardless of how she felt. He now talks about his last duchess as if she were simply a thing painted in a picture to be admired. Other evidence that supports the idea of him being domineering is shown when he told his envoy that no one but him could touch the curtain that covered the picture. It is almost as if he has marked his territory and if anyone crosses the line they would be "dealt with" accordingly. Lastly, on the way down to meet his company he proudly points out his bronze sculpture of Neptune taming a sea horse. This is probably the embodiment of his whole mentality. He wanted to tame his wives into perfect women.
Insecurity is something that we all feel at one point or another in our relationships.
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