Analysis of My Last Duchess by Robert Browning


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A dramatic monologue is a poem in which a single speaker who is not
the poet recites the entire poem at a critical moment. The speaker
has a listener within the poem, but the reader of the poem is also one
of the speakers listeners. In a dramatic monologue, the reader learns
about the speaker's character from what the speaker says. Robert
Browning is said to have perfected this form of writing. One of his
most famous dramatic monologues is "My Last Duchess."

The speaker in the poem is an Italian duke who ordered the murder of
his wife and is at the offset of the poem showing off the portrait to
his future son-in-law. Browning lets the reader know in a roundabout
way that the duke only shows the portrait of his late wife to select
strangers. In doing this, the speaker is able to show off his wealth to
the stranger and he seems to enjoy telling these people the story of
how he ordered her to death. The speaker tries to convey to the
people that he shows the portrait to that he is in control of
everything that takes place in his household. In lines 8-9, the speaker
interjects "since none puts by The curtain I have drawn for you…" In
this line, the speaker is saying that he doesn't draw the curtain for
just anyone. He has drawn the curtain particularly for his future
son-in-law and he should feel privileged because the portrait can only
be seen under the speaker's complete control.

The Duke believes that he should be shown complete respect and be
the center of attention while in his home. The Duke thought his wife
should be for him and his pleasures only. He did not like it when Fra
Pandolf, the artist who painted the portrait said:

"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."

to the duchess in lines 16-18. And then again in lines 27-28, the duke
tells about how some "officious fool" brought her cherries from the
orchard.

The duke also could not stand the fact that the duchess treated
everyone and every gift equally; "all and each / Would draw from her
alike the approving speech, / Or blush, at least" (lines 29-31). The
duke thought of his wife as one of his possessions and she could
never be treated as his equal; "E'en then would be some stooping;
and I choose / Never to stoop" (lines 42-43).

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Now her portrait is
behind a curtain and he has absolute power over it, just like he
thought he should have had over his wife while she was alive. In lines
54-56, Browning alludes to Greek mythology while making the
comparison of how the duke tamed his wife like Neptune and the
sea-horse; "Notice Neptune, though / Taming a sea-horse, thought a
rarity, / Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me!"

The duke tried to have control over his household at all times and it
seems like he is trying to convey that to his future son-in-law. He is
also talking to a servant as the reader finds out at the end of the
poem. The reader could take that as the duke trying to tell the people
in his household that he is the ultimate power of the house as well the
people that live in it.


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