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Robert Browning "My Last Duchess"

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Debra Brown

on 3 March 2015

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Transcript of Robert Browning "My Last Duchess"

(Born 7 May 1812 –died 12 December 1889). Britain.
Browning married the already famous poet Elizabeth Barrett and they had 1 child -they eloped against her father's wishes.
English poet, master of dramatic prose
Famous works: The Ring and the Book (Roman murder trial in 12 books), Pied Piper, Prophyria's Lover.
Author (Robert Browning)
Speaker or narrator-

Duke of Ferrara
The Count of Tyrol- father of the duke's bride-to-be
Daughter of the count of Tyrol- duke's bride-to-be
Representative of the Count who is arranging a marriage between the Count's daughter and the Duke
Fra Pandolf- artist who painted (no one has been able to identify him)
Setting & Background
- northern Italian palace of the duke in Oct 1564
The Duke of Ferrara was modeled after Alfonso II, the fifth and the last duke of the principality
The deceased duchess was his first wife, Lucrezia de Medici.
Woman as object
Type of Work
Dramatic Monologue
In literature, this is the occurrence of a single speaker saying something to a silent audience. It is a technique used in poetry, and many dramatic monologues use very clear rhyme, usually couplets, the poem uses caesuras, pauses, in the poem, where when read aloud, it sounds much more natural.
Browning first published this poem as"Italy" in 1842 in D
ramatic Lyrics,
a collection of 16 of his poems.
Browning then changed the title of the poem to "My Last Duchess" before republishing it in 1849 in another collection, D
ramatic Romances and Lyrics.
The poem is about the painting (the duchess) and their married life.
The Duke wanted to control her all her life
The Duke is interpreted as being insecure, jealous, egotistic, and controlling.
His presence should make her happier and
His heritage (family name) should be ranked the highest and she didn't do that
he wants himself to be valued more than anything else
The duke wanted to marry the count's daughter
He wanted to micromanage everybody (power is the central theme in this poem)
If this new/soon-to-be duchess does not behave, she will end up in a similar situation as the last duchess
Every line has 10 syllables
Caesura's are used in order to create a more natural flow when read aloud
the duke is controlling and possessive, as shown through his speech.

- Duke's possessiveness and controlling nature as she has become an art object which he owns and controls
- He won’t lower himself to someone; high social class; doesn't want to talk anyone lower than him
Duchess' smile (spot on her face)
- duke thinks of the spot as her tainted nature
Bronze statue of Neptune

Symbolizes the brutal male domination of the feminine, of the beautiful, the natural and the frail.
It is a statue of Neptune taming a sea horse cast specifically for the duke.
It is the only other piece of art in his gallery besides the portrait of the duchess.
It sends a very clear message to the counts daughter, she should be submissive or she might become the duke's new "last duchess".
Involuntarily and unconsciously, the duke reveals himself for what he is; an aggressive and violent egomaniac obsessed by obedience and control.
The duchess was likely murdered not because of infidelity, but because she wasn't able to distinguish between different social classes.
The duchess is reduced to an object of art in the dukes collection of paintings.
He wanted her to behave like a duchess, but wouldn't tell her because it would be 'stooping' which was beneath him and what hurt his pride.
lines 3-5

'that piece a wonder, now: Fra Pandolf's hands
worked busily a day and there she stands
will't please you sit and look at her? I said'

The Duke mentions his superior status as an aristocrat who is able to command an artist to work all day so that the portrait is finished.
The Duke asks the listener to sit and examine the portrait
politeness is somewhat fake--the question seems more like a command. The listener could not refuse
Lines 47-48

'Will't please you rise? We'll meet
The company below, then. I repeat'

The Duke invites the listener to get up and go back down to the rest of the party
Again it sounds like a polite invitation- it's not
Lines 53-54

'Nay, we'll go
Together down, sir.'

The listener seems to try to get away
The Duke stops him and insists they stay together as they go back downstairs

Lines 45-46

'This grew, I gave commands;
The all smiles stopped together.

The Duke gave the commands to possibly have her killed

Lines 43-45
'Oh sir, she smiled, no doubt
Whene'er I passed her, but who passed without
Much the same smile'

The Duchess did smile at the Duke, but it wasn't that special because she smiled at everyone in the same way

Lines 23-24

'Too easily impressed: she liked whate're
She looked on, and her looks went everywhere'

She likes everything she sees, and she sees everything
The Duke is jealous that she does not save her 'spot of joy' for him alone
The Duke, for instance, may have murdered his wife on more than a whim, perhaps being obsessed by sexual jealousy
Colossal ego
- Duke attempts to acquire another Duchess who will respond solely to him, and to that end he tells his last Duchess's story
Discussion Questions
1. Why would a man so obviously desiring marriage to the count’s daughter reveal himself in such negative terms?
2. Why would a man who has had so much trouble with his first duchess want a second wife?
"My Last Duchess" by Robert Browning
Robert Browning
Robert Browning is one of the most famous poets known for his use of the dramatic monlogue. Robert Browning's "My Last Duchess" is an example wherein the duke, speaking to a non-responding representative of the family of a prospective new duchess, reveals not only the reasons for his disapproval of the behavior of his former duchess, but aspects of his own personality as well.
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