My Last Duchess

Starter – Discuss the following questions with a partner:
What makes the ideal ‘trophy wife’ or WAG?
How is their lifestyle portrayed?
Why do so many people envy their lifestyle?
Should men have all the power in a relationship?
What happens at the end of such a relationship?
Seven of you are going to hold up statements.
As a class, I’d like you to decide who is most guilty and most
importantly why?
-) A man who murders his wife.
-) A man who gives orders for his wife to be killed but doesn’t actually
carry it out himself.
-) A woman who flirts with another man although she is married.
-) A man who suspects that another man has murdered his wife yet does
nothing about it.
-) A man who treats his wife as a possession.
-) A father who allows his daughter to marry a man who is suspected of
murdering a previous wife.
My Last Duchess
Task – Working in pairs,
predict what the poem is
going to be about …
What do the words ‘my’
and ‘last’ imply?
What or who is a Duchess?
Key Words …
A piece of spoken verse in which a
speaker reveals his or her character, often
in relation to a critical situation.
A person who is dispatched upon an
errand or mission, a messenger.
(Note – they usually work for the
Government. However, in this poem, the
envoy is a man who has come to negotiate
the Duke’s marriage to the daughter of
another powerful family)
Imagine this …
A stately home.
A rich, handsome Duke with flowing dark hair and
bright blue eyes. He is wearing a velvet jacket
with an embroidered waistcoat with gold buttons,
holding a walking cane adorned with jewels.
He is talking to an envoy – a man sent to meet the
Duke. The envoy is considered a lesser man than
the Duke, although he is smartly dressed he does
not have the Duke’s money or charisma and has
been sent by a very wealthy family to negotiate
their daughter’s marriage to the Duke.
The Duke takes the envoy around his home to
show off his art collection, including a portrait of
his late wife, the last Duchess.
That’s my last duchess painted on the wall,
Looking as if she were alive. I call
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
‘Fra Pandolf’ by design, for never read
Strangers like you that pictured countenance,
The depth and passion of its earnest glance,
But to myself they turned (since none puts by
The curtain I have drawn for you, but I)
And summed as they would ask me, if they durst
How such a glance came there; so, not the first
Are you to turn and ask thus. Sit, ‘twas not
Her husband’s presence only, called that spot
Of joy into the Duchess’ cheek: perhaps
Fra Pandolf chanced to say ‘Her mantle laps
Over my lady’s wrist too much’, or ‘Paint
Must never hope to reproduce the faint
Half-flush that dies along her throat:’ such stuff
Was courtesy, she thought, and cause enough
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! May 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
Would draw from her alike the approving speech,
Or blush, at least. She thanked men, - good! but thanked –
Somehow – I know not how – as if she ranked
My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name
With anybody’s gift. Who’d stoop to blame
This sort of trifling? Even had you skill
In speech - (which I have not) – to make your will
Quite clear to such a one, and say, ‘Just this
‘Or that in you disgusts me; here you miss,
‘Or there exceed the mark’ – and if she let
Herself be lessoned so, nor plainly set
Her wits to yours, forsooth and made excuse,
-E’en then would be some stooping; and I choose
Never to stoop. Oh sir, she smiled, no doubt,
Whene’er I passed her; but who passed without
Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands;
Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands
As if alive. Will’t please you rise? We’ll meet
The company below, then. I repeat,
The Count your master’s known munificence
Is ample warrant that just no pretence
Of mine for dowry will be disallowed;
Through his fair daughter’s self, as I avowed
As starting, is my object. Nay we’ll go
Together down, sir. Notice Neptune, though,
Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity,
Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me.
The characters mentioned in this poem are based on real life, historical
figures. The narrator is Duke Alfonso II who ruled a place in northern
Italy called Ferrara between 1559 and 1597.
The Duchess of whom he speaks was his first wife, Lucrezia de' Medici
who died in 1561 aged 17, only two years after he married her. In real
life, Lucrezia died in suspicious circumstances and might have been
The poem is set in 1564, three years after the death of the Duchess. An
envoy (messenger or representative) has been sent to see the Duke from
the Count of Tyrol.
The Count is the father of the Duke's next wife (he married three times
in all). The Duke shows the envoy a picture of his late wife and remarks
on her character, suggesting that she was unfaithful to him - and hinting
that he might have killed her because of it.
Task: First read through the list of themes below and give each one a score to reflect the
importance you think it has in the poem.
0 = No significance
5 = The theme features in a minor way
10 = The theme features in a major way
15 = It is the poem’s central, most important theme.
Power & Status
Theme 1
Theme 2
Theme 3
You are now going to work in groups to explore the poem
further …
Group 1 – The Duchess’ beauty:
There is considerable evidence within the poem to suggest
that the Duchess was beautiful, and that the Duke loved
and admired her for this.
Look for descriptions of her physical appearance.
Identify the one aspect of her physical appearance that
causes his annoyance.
Group 2 – The Duchess – Alive or dead?
The poem is extremely ambiguous about the Duchess’
Is she alive or dead?
Consider the tense of verbs at certain points in the
Did the Duke have her murdered?
Group 3 – The Duchess as art – is/was the Duchess
just a possessed ‘object’?
Look for the words associated with:
looking – there are many references to, or
words associated with looking.
uncertainty – The Duke reveals uncertainty –
with regard to himself and his wife – on a number
of occasions within the monologue.
‘In narratives, what we are not told is just as important as
what we are told.’
Write about the significance of the gaps or of the untold
stories in the narratives of the three writers you have
studied (42 marks).
Porphyria’s Lover
My Last Duchess