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My Last Duchess, Essay Example

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Essay

 “My Last Duchess” by Robert Browning

Initially published in “Dramatic Lyrics” collection, poem “My Last Duchess” is a remarkable example of Robert Browning’s usage of a dramatic monologue. The psychological portrait of the poet’s Renaissance aristocrat is presented to readers as if they are “eavesdropping” on a casual conversation.

Consisting of 28 rhymed couplets in the iambic pentameter, the poem unfolds by allowing the reader to understand that the speaker, namely Duke Ferrara, is talking to the family representatives of his new fiancée. The name “Ferrara” most probably implies that the speaker in the poem is Alfonso II, 5th Duke of Ferrara who at 25 years got married with a young girl, Lucrezia di Cosimo de’ Medici.

In “My Last Duchess” Duke is standing in front of the portrait of his ex-wife, who passed away, and is talking about the imperfections and drawbacks of the woman. Ironically the reader understands that the failings of the woman were such lovely features as modesty, delight in simple things, compassions and so on. However, according to Duke her fault was that she did not reserve her attention to man’s rank or his power.

Along with his long list of complaints Duke states what behavior he will or will not tolerate in his new spouse. “I gave commands; smiles stopped together” is an intriguing line that directly or indirectly suggests to the reader that Duke is behind the death of his previous wife. In his dramatic monologue Duke also reveals his own imperfections and failings to the reader.

Poem “My Last Duchess” includes rhyming pentameter lines meaning that the lines do not have end-stops. Grammatical units and sentences do not conclude at the end of the lines. The rhymes remain a subtle force behind the speaker’s compulsive revelations, rather than creating a sense of some kind of a closure. In the poem reader finds Duke to be quite a performer. Not only he mimics the voices of others but also develops hypothetical settings and uses his personality force to picture terrible information in brighter colors.

The poem is a unique classic example of a dramatic monologue where audience is suggested but never appears in the text. Primary aim of “My Last Duchess” is to present the reader with Duke’s character revelations. The style of the poem is a little disjointed but contains lots of parts that rhyme. Initial two lines of the poem make reader ready for the style. Browning makes a great use of it by allowing readers through predictable rhymes to go deeper into the subject of the poem.

Duke’s wish to control everything is obvious in the structure of the poem, in his appreciation of art as well as his response to the incidences that resulted into the death of his previous spouse. Use of caesura in the poem emphasizes this point. Through Duke’s appreciation of art, we find out about his control over artists that created the masterpiece. No matter how hard he tried, Duke couldn’t totally control his wife while she was alive but now when she is dead, he has the power. Saying “none puts by the curtain I have drawn for you, but I” he shows the reader that he is controlling countenance of the duchess as well as those who see the portrait.

While Duke likes to see admiration about his wife’s portrait, he still keeps it closed with the curtain while he is gone. He is the only one who can admire the woman behind it. This point allows us to say that duchess probably was very unhappy living with such person. Duke reveals that woman was lovely by talking about how much other enjoyed being around her. He made efforts to correct her but he failed. He wanted her to be under his sole and total control but the woman did not obey.

One of the most noticeable things about the poem is the tone that Duke uses speaking to his audience. It is understandable that the man has great wealth and means. Duke is speaking with pride about his possessions. He wants to appear as a hurt husband whose wife left him no choice but to kill her. But talking about the painting, he reveals how much he appreciates things that he can control. By using images of nature in his speech such as “daylight in the West… the bough of cherries” he allows reader to see a strong contrast about the artificial things that Duke values.

He believes that his noble name, something artificial, has much greater value than any other natural objects that brought joy to duchess. Duke says that “she had a heart — how shall I say? — too soon made glad…” He is complaining that “’twas not her husband’s presence only” that made his wife happy and he couldn’t take it.

Poem “My Last Duchess” is a unique sample of the irony that poet is able to achieve within the dramatic monologue where there is just one speaker. Reader learns a great deal about Duke’s character through his speech about what he felt and thought of his wife. Being a manipulative person with a strong feeling of ownership over everything, even the memory of his former wife, he proves to be a low morale husband. By describing a portrait of his spouse, Duke allowed the reader to take a good look at his own egocentrism. He allowed us to see that money and power can but many things but they definitely cannot but love.

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