The text I have selected to discuss is ‘My Last Duchess’ by Robert Browning, which was written in 1842. "My Last Duchess" is a dramatic monologue of one side of a conversation between a Duke and a Count’s messenger who are negotiating a marriage to the Count’s daughter. The Duke’s speech about his ‘Last Duchess’ reveals perhaps more than he first intended to. The Duke shows the Count’s envoy a painting of his ‘Last Duchess,’ he talks fondly of the painting and goes on to describe the Duchess. He describes her as beautiful, easily pleased and flirtatious. The setting of this poem is the 16th century, where women were considered mere possessions, objects, child bearers, --not people-- and taught to obey orders without contradiction, which could be punishable by death. In this essay I intend to discuss what I consider to be the poem’s purpose and meaning.
In “My Last Duchess” the Duke appears to be a very proud, jealous, and well educated man. He complains that the Duchess treats his gift to her of a 900 year old name as if it were of the same value as the bough of cherries and the white mule given to her by some ‘officious’ fool. He is possessive and controlling, and it is his jealous nature that causes the duchess’s death. It would not be fair to say that the Duke ordered for the Duchess to be disposed of, simply because she flirted with other men, he gave her warning and she disobeyed him. In the 16th century this would have been considered a great insult. Women were treated as slaves, and if they disobeyed their husbands or male members of their family then they would be known as an embarrassment to their family and their husbands, who would have nothing more to do with them. The duchess insults the duke, who is already jealous of her ‘relationships’ with other men, who has given her warning, and who she has insulted and become an embarrassment to, the Duke feels he has no other choice but to dispose of her. The Duke chooses his words very carefully when discussing the death of the duchess with the envoy, dropping only small hints, but giving enough evidence to lead us to believe that did indeed ‘get rid of her’. Her death would have been quiet and discreet; which I believe would have been the Duke’s style, no fuss and no inconvenience for the duke. Due to the title of the poem, and how the duke describes the duchess as merely his ‘last’, making it appear as though there has been many duchesses before her. She was his trophy wife, and he prided himself on having a beautiful, young wife, but was unable to control his jealousy over those who also appreciated her beauty. I think the duke has married many times to secure land, money and more importantly, power. The Duke craved power, money and wanted the perfect wife, who was beautiful and followed his every command. The Duke is jealous of the way the Duchess treats other people, not because he loves her and wants all her love for himself, but because he wants her to acknowledge his power over her.
The ‘Last Duchess’ was a young girl when she married the Duke, she could have been around thirteen or fourteen years old. At this age, although she is old enough to know right from wrong, and will not be as immature as a ten or twelve year old, it is doubtful that she is old enough to cope with so much responsibility, to be married to the duke for the rest of her life and to avoid becoming an embarrassment to her family. To the reader, she may appear as if she is merely smiling at other men, thanking them for their gifts and blushing at compliments. Though, to the duke she is smiling at other men, the same way she smiles at him, this causes him to worry that she is being unfaithful. She also rates his gift of a nine-hundred-year old name the same as any other old gift, not truly understanding the value and importance that he believes his name to be. She blushes and smiles, when paid compliments, calling that “spot of joy” into her cheek, of which the Duke is so possessive...
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