My Last Duchess

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Setting and Background The setting of "My Last Duchess," a highly acclaimed 1842 poem by Robert Browning, is the palace of the Duke of Ferrara on a day in October 1564. Ferrara is in northern Italy, between Bologna and Padua, on a branch of the Po River. The city was the seat of an important principality ruled by the House of Este from 1208 to 1598. The Este family constructed an imposing castle in Ferrara beginning in 1385 and, over the years, made Ferrara an important center of arts and learning. Two members of the family, Beatrice and Isabella, supported the work of such painters as Leonardo da Vinci and Raphael. In Browning's poem, the Duke of Ferrara is modeled after Alfonso II, the fifth and last duke of the principality, who ruled Ferrara from 1559 to 1597 but in three marriages fathered no heir to succeed him. The deceased duchess in the poem was his first wife, Lucrezia de' Medici, a daughter of Cosimo de' Medici (1519-1574), Duke of Florence from 1537 to 1574 and Grand Duke of Tuscany from 1569 to 1574. Lucrezia died in 1561 at age 17. In 1598, Ferrara became part of the Papal States. Characters Speaker (or Narrator): The speaker is the Duke of Ferrara. Browning appears to have modeled him after Alfonso II, who ruled Ferrara from 1559 to 1597. Alfonso was married three times but had no children. The poem reveals him as a proud, possessive, and selfish man and a lover of the arts. He regarded his late wife as a mere object who existed only to please him and do his bidding. He likes the portrait of her (the subject of his monologue) because, unlike the duchess when she was alive, it reveals only her beauty and none of the qualities in her that annoyed the duke when she was alive. Morever, he now has complete control of the portrait as a pretty art object that he can show to visitors. Duchess: The late wife of the duke. Browning appears to have modeled her after Lucrezia de' Medici, a daughter of Cosimo de' Medici (1519-1574), Duke of Florence from...
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