My Last Duchess

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"My Last Duchess" is a poem by Robert Browning, frequently anthologized as an example of the dramatic monologue. It first appeared in 1842 in Browning's Dramatic Lyrics. The poem is set during the late Italian Renaissance. The speaker (presumably the Duke of Ferrara) is giving the emissary of his prospective new wife (presumably a third or fourth since he Browning could have easily written 'second' but did not do so) a tour of the artworks in his home. He draws a curtain to reveal a painting of a woman, explaining that it is a portrait of his late wife; he invites his guest to sit and look at the painting. As they look at the portrait of the late Duchess, the Duke describes her happy, cheerful and flirtatious nature, which had displeased him. He says, "She had a heart -- how shall I say? -- too soon made glad..." He goes on to say that his complaint of her was that "'twas not her husband's presence only" that made her happy. Eventually, "I gave commands; then all smiles stopped together." He now keeps her painting hidden behind a curtain that only he is allowed to draw back, meaning that now she only smiles for him. The Duke then resumes an earlier conversation regarding wedding arrangements, and in passing points out another work of art, a bronze statue of Neptune taming a sea-horse. In an interview, Browning said, "I meant that the commands were that she should be put to death . . . Or he might have had her shut up in a convent." [3] "Imaginatively, she is of the highest importance, practically she is completely insignificant. She pervades poetry from cover to cover; she is all but absent from history." This forms the opening lines of Virginia Woolf "A Room of One's Own". The woman is portrayed on similar lines in Browning's monologue. "My Last Duchess" demonstrates Browning's philosophy and mastery of the dramatic monologue; and delineates the character of the Duke of Ferrara in the process. The Duke of Ferrara is based on Alfonso II, Duke of Ferrara in...
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