Containment: Sexuality

734 Words2 Pages
In Robert Browning’s “My Last Duchess,” he creates a setting of Victorian-era England and captures key elements pertaining to familial relations. The Duke, recently widowed, is hosting an envoy of the future Duchess, his to-be wife. Through their unnerving discussion, we learn that the Duke actually murdered the Duchess for allegedly flirting with other men and tainting, or at least, not honoring, his family’s nine-hundred-years-old name. The choice of words by the Duke in describing the painting of the late Duchess suggests that he compares the beauty of the painting to the joy of conquering an intrinsic battle of controlling her sexuality.
To the Duke, the painting is a selfish corroboration that he conquered a disgraceful wife, forever controlling her presence on Earth. He even mocks the painting by saying “That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall, Looking as if she were alive” (1). His choice of words captures his evil satisfaction and putrid achievement. It is also interesting to note the manner in which he refers to the work, saying “Duchess painted on the wall” and not ‘painting of the Duchess;’ this not only gives credence to his (alleged) power and ownership, but also his laissez-faire approach, not even valuing that his women used to be his soul mate. Truly, the Duke treats the painting as the defeated Duchess and not just as painting of the Duchess, his beloved wife. He is satisfied from being able to stare at the her portrait whenever he so wishes, and realizing that he has won against his ‘enemy.’
It is clear that the Duke values the painting not only because of its aesthetic value but also because of its backstory. It is for this reason that the Duke insists on a dramatic monologue that allows him to mimic the wor...

... middle of paper ...

...ted thoughts, as he even recalls dialogues of others. He does not substantiate the claims that the late Duchess was unfaithful or just flirted with men, even the incident with his late Duchess riding a white mule, "…draw[ing] from her alike the approving speech” (30) is in his head. Like his war, his arguments exist only within him, but as his wife is now dead, no one can say otherwise.
The Duke’s resentment towards his late wife in committing grave crimes (to him) justifies her post-mortem punishment and even humiliation. As he could not force her to cede her sexuality in life, he had her killed in order to triumph. By merely displaying this painting to the envoy and retelling the story of “My Late Duchess,” the Duke finalizes his intentions to embark on yet another battle to control the sexuality of his future Duchess, and claim victory of that of his previous’.
Open Document