Use of language and Word Choice in My Last Duchess

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‘My Last Duchess’ by Robert Browning is a dramatic monologue in which

the Duke of Ferrara is discussing the matter of a dowry with an

emissary sent by a Count. The use of dramatic monologue allows the

poet to subtly reveal the personality of the persona to the reader.

The language used by the speaker allows the poet to evoke strong

emotions in the reader.

The reader is given an early insight into the personality of the Duke

in the very first line of the monologue:

‘That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall’

This early impression portrays the Duke as a very sophisticated man

with a wealth of knowledge in art. This impression is continued when

he mentions the very artist who painted the Duchess, ‘Fra Pandolf’.

However, even at this early stage there are some hints that the Duke

may not be all that he claims to be- the use of the word ‘My’ is very

possessive, perhaps suggesting that the duke sees the Duchess as no

more than an object. Furthermore the use of the word ‘Last’ implies

that there have been many Duchesses and that the eponymous individual

is just the most recent, suggesting that the Duke may be dishonest.

This aspect of the persona’s character is confirmed later in the

monologue, when the Duke says:

‘She liked whate’er she looked on

And her looks went everywhere’

Here the Duke is challenging the morality of the Duchess, clearly

suggesting that she has been unfaithful to him, showing his jealousy.

This jealousy is aimed principally at Fra Pandolf, who he thinks is

trying to seduce his fiancée. This seems quite absurd to the reader as

Fra Pandolf is a religious man and so this suggests that the Duke is a

deeply insecure and extremely jealous persona. Of course this

insecurity even...

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Then all smiles stopped together’

The use of the word ‘commands’ here yet again shows the possessive

nature of the Duke and the alliteration in the phrase ‘smiles stopped’

emphasises it, which makes the awfulness of the Duke’s actions clear

to the reader. Even the use of the personal pronoun ‘I’, something

which is used repeatedly towards the end of the poem, emphasises the

superficiality of the Duke and this leaves the reader feeling nothing

less than hatred for him.

In his dramatic monologue ‘My Last Duchess’, Robert Browning

successfully uses language, particularly word choice to gradually

reveal the character of the Duke of Ferrara. The reader starts off

being slightly unsure about the Duke but this quickly turns to hatred

as he describes the murder of the Duchess. This revelation of

character make the poem exciting and very enjoyable to read.
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