Written in 1842 by Robert Browning, "My Last Duchess" is the dramatic monologue of the duke of Ferrara who is negotiating his second marriage through an agent of the count of Tyrol on the grand staircase of the ducal palace at Ferrara in northern Italy. Executing the elements of a dramatic monologue, the duke reveals his situation and much more than he intends to the both the agent and the reader. Using iambic pentameter AABB couplets Robert Browning reveals the horrifying story of the murder of the duke's previous wife through the duke's conversation with the agent. As the duke attempts to paint an inaccurate picture of himself to the agent, desiring to appear as a nobel, but abused and caring, loving husband who had no choice but to murder his prideful, disrespectful wife, the duke's true controlling, manipulative, jealous nature is revealed. The duke's desire for control is made evident by the structure of the poem, through his appreciation of art, and his response to the trivial incidences that led to the death of his wife. The frequent use of caesura throughout the poem emphasize the duke's control over the conversation. The duke's appreciation of art reveals the control he has over the artists that produce his works of art; the portrait of his last duchess and the statue of Neptune. Although the duke was unable to control the duchess when she was alive, after her death he is in complete control of her. The duke says "none puts by the curtain I have drawn for you, but I," revealing that now he is able to control both the duchess's countenance and who views the portrait by a curtain covering the portrait (10). The duke's loss of control is also depicted through the rhythm of the poem. The run over lines in the poem, or enjambment in the poem, reveal the duke's nervous uneasiness over his wife's murder. For example, near the end of the poem, the duke loses control. The reader can only imagine the horrified agent rising to go down the staircase, the duke's uneasiness as he loses control, and his desire to regain control of the situation as he says, "Nay we'll go down together, sir"(53). The duke wants to appear as a hurt and abused husband whose disrespectful wife left him no alternative but to kill her. However his appreciation of art reveals that he values things that he can control and is contrasted with the
images of nature that surround the duchess. The "daylight in the West.....the bough of cherries," and "the white mule," all natural objects that are associated with the duchess' happiness. These images of nature are a sharp contrast to the artificial objects the duke values. His unhappiness over the duchess' association with nature is revealed in the line "I know not how--as if she ranked my gift of a nine-hundred-years-old-name with anybody's gift"(34). It is clear that the duke believes that his name, something artificial, is of greater value than the natural objects that cause the duchess joy. In the end it is the duke's loss of control that causes him to kill her. His inability to control the live duchess herself, resulted in her death, and now all that remains is another valued object, which he is in complete control of.
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Reader view:(1) This poem isn't about his love for his wife; his poem's meaning is that the Duke is in love with power and control; but what I believe to be the greatest factor in this poem at all is the irony that on a metaphysical level, the Duke is in fact being controlled by the poet. This gives the poem even more depth, and perhaps a strange insight into Robert Browning (Could this be a manifestation of the power craving he has on the inside?). But, let's keep it simple, and look at it as just the Duke. Throughout the poem, we the reader, view this poem through the eyes of the Count's Envoy. As the Duke explains about his wife, he does reveal too much, (His references to his wife made in the semantic field of archery, [Sport which...