My Last Duchess is one of the most famous Brownings poems. It is believed that the poem is inspired by real historical events. The main character of the poem is the prototype of Alfonso II, who has been the duke of Ferrara from 1559 to 1597 (Allingham par.7).
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Moreover, the poem is considered to be one of the brightest examples of a dramatic monologue. From the opening scene of the poem, a reader is dipped into the atmosphere of the Italian Renaissance. The poem begins with a conversation between two interlocutors. One of them is the owner of the house, while another is his guest. They are watching the portrait of a woman painted by Pandolf. The monologue is constructed in such a way that all the personality traits of the speaker are gradually revealed.
In the poem, the names of the main characters are not mentioned. The guest plays the role of a voiceless listener. The story of the last duchess is rather enigmatical. It is possible to guess that the duke has been very cruel to his wife, and during her last days, she has been suffering a lot. Her demise has been sad. The main symbol, on which the contexture of the poem is based, is the portrait of the duchess.
The fact that the portrait is hidden with a curtain and the duke is the only person who has a right to uncover it makes a reader think that the duke venerates the memory of his former wife. It is possible to suggest that the duke feels his guilt because of his wife’s death. However, the closing of the poem is rather unexpected. The duchess is the last, not because of the fact that with her death, the duke has lost any hope for happiness. She is the last because the duke is going to marry. In such a way, the duchess is no more than one of the numerous victims of the duke.
This monologue, in a full manner, reveals the character of the duke. He is represented in the poem as a subtle connoisseur of art who admires the beauty of the portrait and “the depth and passion of its earnest glance” (Browning 1). At the same time, he is shown as a monster, as it is obvious that it is the duke who has killed his wife. This combination of an intellectual and a monster makes a poem sound ironically. Moreover, the dukes charming amenity and his use of language emphasize this contrast.
The dramatic character of the poem is reflected on different levels. They are the personal tragedy of the duke and his cruelty. The poem reveals the coxcombry of the main character, who is eager to subdue the surrounding world to his own wishes.
The duke is tyrannical, but at the same time, he is encumbered with doubts. Despite his imperiousness, he is unable to express his thoughts “even had you skill in speech – (which I have not)” (Browning 1). Moreover, he fears the duchesss enthusiasm for life. The joyfulness of the duchess is revealed in the poem by means of another symbol, which is “that spot of joy into the Duchess’ cheek (Browning 1). Suffering from jealousy, in order to subdue the joyfulness of his wife, the duke kills her.
At the same time, he has to bear the presence of the duchess on the portrait. Her innocent face painted on the portrait will always remind the duke of his deed. This visage of the young duchess is the everlasting admonishment of the Dukes unsuccessful attempt to domineer. At the same time, he is unlikely to feel regret. He appreciates the portrait of the duchess rather than the alive person. He has an opportunity to dominate over the portrait, while the joyfulness of his former wife has been making him suffer from jealousy.
Apart from the dukes mentioning of his future marriage, there is one more symbol that emphasizes the criticism of the situation. After the conversation about the portrait of his wife, the duke proposes his interlocutor to have a look at the sculpture of Neptune. “Notice Neptune, though, Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity” (Browning 1). The portrait of his former wife and the sculpture of Neptune are of equal value for him. He speaks about this statue in the same lofty strain as he has been speaking about his wife.
This sharp change in the topic of conversation emphasizes the cynicism of this situation. He appreciates the portrait of the duchess due to the fact that it has been pained by Pandolf, as well as the values the sculpture of Neptune because it has been cast by Claus of Innsbruck. Moreover, in the whole poem, there is no even the slightest hint that the duke loves his former wife. He describes her beauty in the way the beauty of a toy may be described. The duke feels nothing buy jealousy to his wife.
For instance, he argues that the duchess heart is “too easily impressed; she liked whate’er…and her looks went everywhere “ (Browning 1). At the same time, the duke is very proud of his nobility and his family name. Describing his last marriage, he points out, “my gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name” (Browning 1). My Last Duchess may serve as an example of the perfect Brownings style and his ability to write using conversational language staying at the same time within a framework of poetry.
Allingham, Phillip. Browning’s Portrait of a Renaissance Man: Alphonso II D’ este, Duke of Ferrara, in “My Last Duchess” (1842). 2004. Web.
Browning, Robert. My Last Duchess and Other Poems. Mineola, N.Y: Dover Publications, 1993. Print.