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My Last Duchess

My Last Duchess Analysis
by

Yuri Lee

on 7 March 2014

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Transcript of My Last Duchess

Summary
The speaker, the Duke of Ferrara, speaks about his last duchess to the steward of his next duchess-to-be. He tells the tale of how he ordered his last duchess to be killed because she would smile the same way at everyone.
Significance of Title
My Last Duchess

The title of this poem is important, for the speaker describes his last mistress, and how she ended up, due to his possessive nature.
In "My Last Duchess," Robert Browning portrays a childishly arrogant and possessive Duke of Ferrara, who speaks of his late duchess that he commanded to death; his style of speech and selfish nature aid in expressing that one's greed and possessiveness may make one commit cruel deeds and crimes. Browning utilizes hyperbole as one way of showing this; the duke claims that the duchess' "looks went everywhere," and from the way she smiles at everyone, he expresses his disdain at her seeming infidelity. To be jealous even at how she smiles at the "dropping of the daylight" is ridiculous to the point of humorous, and it shows the over exaggeration on the duke's part on his perception of the duchess' infidelity. Another aspect is the irony involved in the duke's speech, for he claims that he "never to stoop[ed]" to her level of weakness and actions, but his entire purpose of the killing of his wife was due to his weakness, jealousy, and his childish cupidity; his greed and selfishness grew as the duchess' smile "grew," and the inability of the duke to let go of his ego led to "all smiles stopp[ing] together."
Theme
The theme of the poem is that one's greed and possessiveness may make one commit cruel deeds and crimes.
Tone
The tone of this poem is arrogant and possessive, with nonchalance at the death of the duchess.
Speaker & Situation
The speaker in this poem talks in 1st person about his jealousy and contempt toward his last duchess due to how she shared her smile with all other men, regardless of their age or status, and how he therefore killed her. He talks about all this as kind of a warning to the steward of the duchess-to-be.
Figurative Language
hyperbole-lines 20-45; "Was courtesy... I gave commands"
~the duke over-exaggerates the weakness of the duchess' heart and how she easily succumbed to men around her
symbolism- lines 14,22&33; "spot of joy," "heart," "gift"
~these words represent the infidelity of the last duchess and how the last duchess had an unfaithful heart and blushed at all men; the duke's gift of his name and status does not place him above all men to her(or at least this is how the duke perceives her actions)
irony-lines 42&43; "-E'en then.../...no doubt"
~ the entirety of the poem is about how the duke felt jealous of all the men she smiled at, and made it seem like the duchess' weakness is at fault, and claims he will never stoop to her level, even though he is the one who is weaker (for feeling jealous)
By: Robert Browning
Shifts
Thematic Statement
Sound Devices
Paragraph
alliteration- line 26; "dropping of the daylight"
~ this aids in the odd possessiveness that the duke has of the duchess, for he complains that she smiled the same at the sunset as she had done to him, and therefore he was angered
There is a shift on line 15 when the duke begins to speak about the duchess' actions and personality, and there is another shift at line 47, when the duke seems to speak more at the steward and stops talking about the duchess
In "My Last Duchess," Robert Browning portrays a childishly arrogant and possessive Duke of Ferrara, who speaks of his late duchess that he commanded to death; his style of speech and selfish nature aid in expressing that one's greed and possessiveness may make one commit cruel deeds and crimes.
Full transcript