“My Last Duchess” is a poem loosely based on historic events and historic figures written by Robert Browning. We are to gather that the figure speaking in “My Last Duchess” is Alfonso, the Duke of Ferrara who lived in the 16th century. “My Last Duchess” is written as a dramatic lyric or monologue because the whole work involves fictional characters that act out a scene.
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The title “My Last Duchess” gives the reader a breadth of information to work with. We know that the poem will be in first person from the word “My”. We can also gather that the word, “Duchess” implies nobility which will be involved within the work. As the poem goes on we learn that the main character, the Duke is having a conversation with an emissary regarding his past wife. We come to discover that the Duke had a hand in the death of his wife for very egocentric reasons.
The manner in which he speaks about her shows his true character the words he utilizes makes sure to show his many faults, “Somehow—I know not how—as if she ranked / My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name” shows his arrogance that just because he comes from a well off family she should be worshiping him. He also expresses his pettiness through conveying his jealousy of her and everything she took part in: For calling up that spot of joy. She had
A heart—how shall I say?—too soon made glad,
Too easily impressed; she liked whate’er
She looked on, and her looks went everywhere.
Sir, ’twas all one! My favour at her breast,
The dropping of the daylight in the West,
The bough of cherries some officious fool
Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule
She rode with round the terrace—all and each
His ego is clearly shown, as well as the want for complete control. This theme is very similar to another work by Robert Browning, “Prophyria’s Lover” in which the speaker kills his lover in order to have control over her.
This need of having complete control shows through in “The Last Duchess” with,
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“But to myself they turned (since none puts by / The curtain I have drawn for you, but I)” showing that the Duke also shares these manipulative desires similar to “Prophyria’s Lover”. The Duke is now able to browse her beauty and control her as he pleases by simply removing the curtains from the painting. The Duke’s egocentric personality is repeatedly shown throughout the poem with possessive wording such as: I, my, and myself. The uses of such words also give the poem a more conversational feel to it. The casual atmosphere adds more to the dramatic quality of the work; showing that the Duke really sees nothing wrong with what he had done to his wife. This poem epitomizes that we are all susceptible to being blind to our own faults.See More on Drama