My Last Duchess

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My Last Duchess
Annotating (lines 1-30)
• ‘My Last Duchess’ is a dramatic monologue by
Robert Browning. The speaker is the Duke of
Ferrara, who is showing a courier around the
art in his house. The Count’s courier is
meeting the Duke to discuss the Duke’s
proposed marriage to the Count’s daughter.
The Duke shows the emissary the portrait of
his last Duchess, making it quite clear how he
expects his next Duchess to behave.
• The poem is preceded by the word Ferrara:,
indicating that the speaker is most likely
Alfonso II d'Este, the fifth Duke of Ferrara
(1533–1598) who, at the age of 25, married
Lucrezia di Cosimo de' Medici, 14-year-old
daughter of Cosimo I de' Medici, Grand Duke
of Tuscany, and Eleonora di Toledo.
• Lucrezia was not well educated, and the Medicis'
status could be termed "nouveau riche" in
comparison with that of the venerable and
distinguished Este family. The Duke's remark
regarding his gift of a "nine-hundred-years-old
name" clearly indicates that he considered his
bride beneath him socially. She came, however,
with a sizeable dowry. The couple married in
1558. He then abandoned her for two years
before she died on April 21, 1561, at age 17.
There was a strong suspicion of poisoning.
• The Duke then sought the hand of Barbara, eighth
daughter of the Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand I and
Anna of Bohemia and Hungary and the sister of the
Count of Tyrol, Ferdinand II.[2] The count was in charge
of arranging the marriage; the chief of his entourage,
Nikolaus Madruz, a native of Innsbruck, was his courier.
Madruz is presumably the silent listener in the poem.
• The other characters named in the poem, painter Frà
Pandolf and sculptor Claus of Innsbruck, are fictional.
This is the first wife
of the Duke of
Ferrara – often
believed to be the
stimulus for
Browning’s ‘My
Last Duchess’.
First Section
• ‘That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall,
looking as if she were alive.’
The Duke shows no remorse or sadness about his
dead wife but is more interested in discussing the
life-like qualities of the painting. He appears more
interested in the painting than the person. This
implies that the Duke wanted the Duchess as
another beautiful object to add to his prestige.
• One of the ways the Duke tries to impress
people is by boasting about his possessions
and the famous artists who have worked for
him.
• ‘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’
• Notice how the Duke is encouraging the courier
to sit in his presence – ultimately placing himself,
physically, lower than the Duke.
• ‘For never read
Strangers like you that pictured countenance
The depth and passion of its earnest glance,
But to myself they turned’
- Speaking of the Duchess, he wants her to himself
The Duke keeps the portrait behind a curtain
The aside
‘since none puts by
The curtain I have drawn for you, but I) ‘
Shows his urge to have control over his wife. In
contrast to the Duchess’s behaviour, described later,
the Duke has now turned her into the beautiful
object he wanted her to be. The portrait (by the
famous painter) adds to his status and is totally
under his control. Only HE may look at her.
• Lines 11-15 the Duke is speaking to the courier
and pre-empting his question. Why is the
Duchess smiling like that?
• Shows the Duke is a bit touchy about this
question – while we can suppose the Duke
suspected something fishy going on between
the painter and his wife, we MUST consider
the most important point. The fact that the
Duchess, his wife, dared to take a compliment
from someone so far beneath her.
• ‘”such stuff
was courtesy, she thought, and cause enough
For calling up that spot of joy.”
The Duchess’s blush in the portrait was not as a
result of looking at her husband, as the Duke would
have expected, but from compliments given by the
painter.
Consider the word choice in line 19…how does this
create a negative feeling towards the Duke?
• The Duke is not impressed by the Duchess’s
behaviour to those inferior to her rank.
• ‘She had
A heart…how shall I say?...too soon made
glad,
Too easily impressed; she like whate’er
She looked on, and her looks went
everywhere’
While this could be considered to mean she was
unfaithful, remember this is from the egotistical,
rank obsessed Duke.
Analysing the points
• Ellipsis is used effectively to suggest pause in the
Duke’s thoughts. Due to the content we can
assume that he is pausing to make it seem that
this is just occurring to him when, in fact, this has
irritated him.
• He furthers this with the list of everything that
“impressed” her.
• Word choice “white mule” – suggesting her
stallion is not a quality beast/suggesting she is
inferior
• The Duke feels the Duchess should have devoted
herself entirely to him. Although she was pleasant to
him, this was not enough. His pride demanded that
she should constantly show gratitude to him for the
great honour he had bestowed on her through
marriage.
• ‘Twas all one! My favour at her breast,
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.’ What is the Duke saying here?
Lines 31-33
• “as if she ranked
my gift of a nine-hundred-years-old-name
with anybody’s gift.”
• Describing his marriage as a ‘gift’ to his wife –
how does he view himself?
• Distinction between himself and “anybody” –
how does he view himself?
• Detail of 900 years – sees his heritage as a
passport to superiority
• From lines 34-43, the Duke is asking if the Duchess is to
blame – if he had told her…perhaps she would have known
that she was irritating him. But he shouldn’t HAVE to tell
her.
• “I choose
Never to stoop.”
Enjambment used to great effect here – placing emphasis on
“choose” – it is all in the Duke’s hands, he has the power.
Word choice of “stoop” shows that he feels it would belittle
him to suggest improvements to his wife. He should HAVE to.
Assonance – repeated vowel sound – puts emphasis on the
words and allows the reader to imagine the ______ tone.
Look at the section in speech marks
• “Just this or that…the mark”
• Is there anything in this section that you could
analyse to suggest the Duke’s personality?
Suggest the central concern/theme?
Look at section from ‘This grew…as if
alive.’
• Note the structure of these lines – impact?
• Why has Browning chosen to repeat the
Duke’s line again of “as if alive”?
• Why didn’t the Duke say she was killed? Why
did he express her passing in such a polite
fashion?
How is the reader aware of the Duke’s
feelings towards his new wife?
• From the language of the final ten lines how is
this clarified to us?
What is the significance of the statue
at the end?
• What could it be seen to represent?
• How?
• Why has Browning chosen to end his poem
with this image?
• What is the significance of the final line? Why
has Browning used this to end his poem?
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