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Narcissism in My Last Duchess

Robert Browning’s poem “My last Duchess'; is spoken from the perspective of the Duke and conveys the Dukes personality through the literary form of a dramatic monologue. It involves a fictional account of the Duke addressing an envoy from the Count to talk of details for the hopeful marriage to the Count’s daughter. The subtitle of this monologue is “Ferrara,'; which suggests an historical reference to Alfonso II, the fifth Duke of Ferrara in Italy in the mid-sixteenth century. The objective of the Duke is to attempt to sway the envoy’s opinion of himself to obtain the maximum dowry possible in pursuit of this marriage.

The reader is directed to imagine the Duke walking with the envoy through his art gallery and the Duke stops to show him a painting of his last Duchess that is presently covered by a curtain. “Since none puts by / the curtain I have drawn for you, but I'; (9-10). This curtain is the first reference to the Dukes selfish, jealous, and protective traits. The Duke uses the curtain as a method of controlling his wife, even after her death. Other men admiring her beauty was unacceptable, so by hiding the painting behind a curtain, he controls who is allowed to gaze upon her. “Sir, ‘twas not / her husband’s presence only, called that spot / of joy into the Duchess’ cheek'; (13-15). The Duke mentions the blush on the cheek that the duchess has in the painting and assumes that Frà Pandolf, the painter, was attracted to the Duchess and possibly paid her a compliment.

“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.'; (16-19)

The Duke assumes that Frà Pandolf was most likely flirting with the Duchess and that she was flirting back with him. This demonstrates that the Duke was extremely jealous and could not stand to have his wife admired by other men.

The Duke is not happy with the manner in which his wife portrayed herself around others. He could not accept her civility towards those of unimportance and “a heart…how shall I say? …too soon made glad, / too easily impressed'; (22-23). The Duke states that the Duchess was easily pleased by a compliment and through small favors from a servant or other insignificant people, a quality that the Duke could not tolerate.

“The dropping of the daylight in the West,

The bough of cherries some officious fool...

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... Duke himself; known to be a controlling man. This is a hint that the Duke will control his wife just as Neptune controls the sea horse.

This monologue as spoken by the Duke represents many definitive traits that the Duke encompasses in his character. The manner in which he views his deceased Duchess demonstrates his egotistical view of himself. His selfish, jealous, protective, greedy, paranoid persona is displayed by his act of killing his wife. He could not control his Duchess as he wanted so his arrogance and his shallowness got the better of him until he could no longer do anything except kill her. The painting represents a wife that he can control until the day he died. His repeated manipulative habits continued as he influences the envoy to view the circumstances of this future marriage as being solely for the purposes of companionship. This is not the case; the Dukes greed is his only concern, a wife to dominate as he wishes and sufficient dowry to amplify his wealth. The character of the Duke is established as one of a man who believes he is the center of the universe. This man does not accept anything less than being seen as exactly that, the center of the universe.
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