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Robert Browning frequently wrote dramatic monologues to enhance the dark and avaricious qualities in his works. Browning's use of this particular style is to "evoke the unconstrained reaction of a person in aparticular situation or crisis" (Napierkowski 170). A poem may say one thing, but when mixed with dramatic monologue, it may "present a meaning at odds with the speaker's intention"(Napierkowski 170). This change may show the reader more insight into the poem without directly stating the underlying facts. The reader is allowed to "isolate a single moment in which the character reveals himself more starkly" (Napierkowski 171). Browning's use of dramatic monologue "disposes the reader to suspend moral judgement" (Napierkowski 171) causing a haughtiness to hover over many of his works.
Browning uses irony in conjunction with dramatic monologue to produce a sinister and domineering effect. Irony, much like dramatic monologue, can make the reader question the true underlying meaning of the passage. This brief confusion causes an eeriness to be brought about in the work. In "My Last Duchess," verbal irony is demonstrated when the Duke says to his guests, "even had you skill in speech . . . which I have not"(35-36).
Throughout the poem the Duke proves that he is "quite a polished speaker"(Markley
172). The Duke is not a modest man, but him making this seemingly humble statement in the midst of all his power stricken remarks establishes situational irony. Dramatic monologue can make an unforseen ironic statement have an ominous surrounding that totally encompasses the reader's attention. An individual may initially become very disturbed if an unannounced late night visitor knocked on their door, just as the Duke's unanticipated remark brought a weary feeling to the reader.
Throughout "My Last Duchess," Browning uses diction to further increase the haunting effect of his dramatic monologue. His precise and scattered word choice is meant to make the reader recognize the underlying haughtiness in his speech to the Count's emissary. The Duke refers to his former wife's portraits "depth" and "passion" in order to place a cloudiness over the realism of the painting. This, along with the "faint" and "half-flush" appearance that "dies along her throat," brings about an overcast appearance to the poem. The Duke's "trifling" lack of "countenance" is evident in his jealousy of
the Duchess's kindness toward others. Her benevolence "disgusts" the Duke, and causes him to "stoop" down to spouting off "commands" in her direction.
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Browning's use of imagery escalates the haunting effect in "My Last Duchess." Throughout the poem the Duke proves to be the type of man that has to be in control. His need for control is displayed when he tells his guest that no one may draw "the curtain . . . but I"(10). A portrait of his previous wife is covered by this curtain. The Duke paints his own image of her through this dialogue. Everything the reader hears about the lady is "filtered through the mind and voice of the Duke"(Charles 278). He is obsessed with being in control. He didn't have full control over his previous wife, and that is why he refers to her as "looking as if she were alive"(2) in the portrait. The dominating
image the Duke paints of himself by describing his last wife creates an eerie effect.
The poem "My last Duchess" concludes with one distinct domineering image. The Duke draws his guest's attention to a statue of Neptune taming a seahorse in order to show that he will demand complete obedience from his future wife. "The Duke sees himself as a God" (Charles 279), who will not yield to a subordinate for any reason. The image of the powerful god, taking control of the seahorse demonstrates the Duke's desired relationship between him and any woman. Also, the Duke is showing the emissary that he will rule "his kingdom . . . with an iron fist"(Charles 279) just like Neptune. The
Duke's overbearing statements prove that he will put fear into his wife
through his haunting tactics.
Robert Browning presents a creepy feeling through his dramatic monologues. In "My Last Duchess," he shows the reader the Dukes overbearing need for control and power through imagery, and he causes a weariness to overcome the reader through irony. Browning's use of precise diction also contributes to the eerie developments throughout the poem. By
combining dramatic monologue, irony, precise diction, and imagery together, Browning is able to produce his desired haunting effect.