20 February 2012
Villain or Aesthete-Judgment or Sympathy
The speaker can be seen as both a villain and lover of great art, but which is his true identity? In “My Last Duchess”, the duke’s deplorable wickedness makes the split between moral judgment and our actual feeling for him especially apparent. The effect created by the tension between sympathy and judgment is a striking characteristic of dramatic monologues. Throughout the poem, the Duke’s poise and wonderful taste for art makes the reader take on a sympathetic attitude toward the Duke. When the Duke shows his power and desire to control, however, we begin to question the Duke’s character and judge his motives. The way the reader perceives the Duke changes the reader’s perspective on the poem and situation of the Duke, yet Browning’s reasoning for doing this is inconclusive. Upon first reading, the poem struck us as if we should have some sort of sympathy for the Duke due to his truly genuine admiration towards his pieces of art, “I call/That piece a wonder, now: Fr Pandolf's hands/Worked busily a day, and there she stands” (lines 2-4). We see how insanely egotistical the Duke is in lines 32-35, “as if she ranked/My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name/With anybody's gift. Who'd stoop to blame/This sort of trifling?”, yet we cannot help but admire him. His flawless manner, impeccable taste, and admiration for the arts come together to astound both the envoy and us. The Duke describes the portrait in great detail and emphasizes the ease and intensity in which it was painted, “depth and passion of its earnest glance” (line 8). Only someone who sincerely admires such great work would be able to tell the nuances in stroke of the painting itself. As the poem progresses, we increasingly learn more about the Duke. We begin to understand the thoughts, feelings, and potential motives of the Duke which give the reader a sense of sympathy for him, “Oh sir, she smiled, no...