My Last Duchess

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Through “My Last Duchess”, Browning exposes the innermost characteristics of the Duke of Ferrara. The Duke is the speaker of the poem and is hashing out the details of another marriage with an emissary from a Count when he draws a curtain to reveal a magnificent fresco of the Duke’s Last Duchess. The emissary voices a question about the expression on her face, an “earnest glance” of “depth and passion” (line 8), prompting the Duke’s monologue. Looking upon the artwork, the Duke praises “Fra Pandolf’s hands” which worked “busily a day” (lines 3-4) to create the masterpiece. Then he tells the emissary, every stranger whom he honors with showing the painting “seemed as they would ask me, if they durst, / how such a glance came there” (lines 11-12). Through the Duke’s monologue, Browning pairs dramatic monologue with irony to reveal the Duke’s possessiveness, huge ego and hubris and how it led to the downfall of his duchess.

The poem begins with the Duke speaking in a nostalgic tone about the painting of his duchess. The first four lines of the poem introduce the duchess to the reader. Her painting becomes a representation of her as a character. The Duke gives the first glimpse of his hubris when he says ““Fra Pandolf” by design” (line 6). He is dropping Fra Pandolf’s name to impress his audience of both the quality of the painting and how important he is to attract such a talented painter for his picture. In line ten, Browning further reveals the Duke’s desire for control when he tells the emissary “none puts by / the curtain … but I.” (lines 9-10) He has complete control over who sees the painting. He also mentions the friar’s courtesies to the duchess and how it brought on a “spot of joy” to the duchess’ cheek. The tone shifts to one of bitter jealousy as “’twas not / her husband’s presence only, called that spot / of joy into the Duchess’ cheek” (lines 13-14). The Duke insinuates the blush must be from being in the presence of a lover. Until this point, the...
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