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
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
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.
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
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)
My Last Duchess
Robert Browning
Last as in previous – one in a list
My Last Duchess
Implies that she is
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
Will't please you sit and look at her? I said
"Frà Pandolf" by design,
Bragging about the
Still sees her as a real
A stranger would
not be able to
‘read’ her
…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
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
People are often
afraid to ask
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
parenthesis suggests that he disagreed with
: perhaps
Fra Pandolf chanced to say ‘Her mantle laps
‘Over my lady’s wrist too much,’ or Paint personificaition
Out of
‘Must never hope to reproduce the faint
‘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
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
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
Again, this idea that she
had control over her
emotional reaction
Suggests jealousy
- all and each
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
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;
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,
She didn’t give in
easily to him
his level of
acceptance of her
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
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.
Ordered her
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
Again, likes to be in control.
Feigns politeness
Not all have been
privileged to view the
.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 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
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
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.