My Last Duchess In this poem, Browning creates a character of chilling coldness and cruelty. The speaker is a Duke who is conducting negotiations for a bride, a new duchess. He is talking with the representatives of potential father in law. Almost casually, he shows them the picture of the ‘last’ duchess whom he had killed because he could not dominate her. Imagine this scene… A stately home A rich, devastatingly handsome Duke, flowing dark hair, bright blue eyes, a velvet jacket, an ornately embroidered waistcoat with gold buttons, a walking cane adorned with jewels. An envoy – a man sent to meet the Duke – a lesser man, smartly dressed but does not have the Duke’s money or charisma and the Duke knows it. The Duke takes the envoy around his home to show off his art collection, including a portrait of his late wife, the Last Duchess. Questions How will the Duke speak to the envoy? Consider not only what he says but how he will say it. How does the Duke move around the home? How does the Duke look at the envoy? How will the Duke describe the portrait of the Last Duchess? Poetry glossary Iambic pentametre 1. Metre = measurement of the beats in a line of poetry (to create rhythm) 2. Iamb = a metrical foot of 2 beats with the stress on the second beat (tee –tum) 3. Pentameter = 5 pairs of iambs (typical of Shakespearean sonnets) listen My Last Duchess Robert Browning Last as in previous – one in a list My Last Duchess Ferrara Implies that she is dead That's my last Duchess painted on the wall, Looking as if she were alive. I call That piece a wonder, now: Frà Pandolf's hands Worked busily a day, and there she stands. An object / work of art Always there forever Will't please you sit and look at her? I said "Frà Pandolf" by design, Bragging about the artist Still sees her as a real person. A stranger would not be able to ‘read’ her Facial expression …for never read Strangers like you that pictured countenance, The depth and passion of its earnest glance Makes her sound like a woman of mystery - secrets He has But to myself they turned (since none puts by complete The curtain I have drawn for you, but I) And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst, control How such a glance came there; so, not the first Are you to turn and ask thus. A certain look on her face People are often afraid to ask him Hint of his jealousy and suspicions …Sir, 'twas not Her husband's presence only, called that spot Of joy into the Duchess' cheek: Something appears to have made her blush and look happy parenthesis suggests that he disagreed with her cloak 15 : perhaps Fra Pandolf chanced to say ‘Her mantle laps ‘Over my lady’s wrist too much,’ or Paint personificaition Out of place/ ‘Must never hope to reproduce the faint suspicious ‘Half-flush that dies along her throat:’ such stuff 20 Was courtesy, she thought, and cause enough For calling up that spot of joy. Repeated metaphor Good manners He felt she controlled her reaction to others’ compliments Punctuation suggests he’s trying to sound polite/ struggles to express irritation Exclamation suggests this annoyed him Natural objects associated with the Duchess’ happiness. Contrasts with the artificial objects the Duke values. she had A heart – how shall I say? – too soon made glad, Too easily impressed; she liked whate’er flirtatious She looked on, and her looks went everywhere. Sir, ‘twas all one! My favour at her breast, Using authority in a The dropping of the daylight in the West, bossy way The bough of cherries some officious fool Broke in the orchard for her, the while mule She rode with round the terrace Iambic pentameter effective here as no punctuation aids the rhythm reinforces his irritation Again, this idea that she had control over her emotional reaction Suggests jealousy Contrived - all and each 30 Would draw from her alike the approving speech, Or blush, at least. She thanked men, - good! But thankedSomehow – I know not how – as if she ranked Punctuation suggests he tries to find the right words – not to sound trivial Uses three ways of saying she was easily impressed suggests he can’t quite put his finger on why … 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! He is annoyed that she responded the same way to all things – was impressed by everything equally My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name With anybody's gift. He thinks that the ‘gift’ of his name should be something she valued above all else. … Who'd stoop to blame This sort of trifling? Even had you skill In speech -- (which I have not) -- … Claims he has trouble expressing himself – so how could he get his point across to her? Harsh, blunt tone; critical 35 40 He struggled to communicate with her - 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, indeed She didn’t give in easily to him his level of acceptance of her behaviour. E'en then would be some stooping, and I choose Never to stoop. He would see it as weakness to lower his standards to tolerate her attitude. Flirted with other men … 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. Dead! Ordered her death? Reminder that what he looks at now is a picture. He did not manage to control the real Duchess, but has some control over this one. …There she stands As if alive. … Further hint that she is dead. Again, likes to be in control. Feigns politeness Not all have been privileged to view the portrait .Will’t please you rise? We’ll meet The company below, then. I repeat, generosity The Count your master’s known munificence Is ample warrant that no just pretence Frequent ceasura throughout poem emphasise his control over the conversation Caesura – a grammatical pause or break in a line of poetry Reminds envoy of his lowly status Of mine for dowry will be disallowed; Though his fair daughter's self, as I avowed At starting is my object. Plans to take another wife Words to describe the Duke: Jealous – ‘a heart how shall I say…’ Ruthless – ‘I gave commands…’ Paranoid/psychotic – ‘half flush…’ Aloof- refused to ‘stoop’ Vain – 900 year old name Calculatingly intelligent – hired a murderer God of the sea. Nay, we’ll go Down together, Sir. Notice Neptune, though, Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity, Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me! Sees himself as wanting to be like Neptune, in control of his creatures. Another piece of artwork. This is how he wants his possessions to be – beautiful but lifeless so that he can control them Questions Who is the Duke of Ferrara talking to in the poem? Why is his guest visiting the Duke of Ferrara? Who painted the picture of the Duke’s late wife? The Duke was not entirely pleased with his late wife, the Last Duchess. Explain why and what he did about it. What impression of the Last Duchess do you get from the poem? Write about her as you imagine she might have been. Write about the character of the Duke and compare it with the character of the poisoner in ‘The Laboratory’. Then compare these two characters with the characters in ‘Hitcher’ by Simon Armitage and Education for Leisure by Carol Ann Duffy.