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The Poem “My Last Duchess” by Robert Browning Research Paper

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Updated: Oct 23rd, 2021

Abstract

This research paper presents a literary analysis of the poem “My Last Duchess” by Robert Browning. The poem itself represents a separate story but it is only after its detailed analysis that one can realize its expressiveness and the whole essence.

Introduction

The poem was written in 1841 and is a monologue of the duke of Ferrara in Italy whose wife died in 1561. The overall impression the poem produces is positive though the desire of the writer to separate the speaker from himself makes it a little confusing. The dramatic monologue of the duke, and especially his manner of presenting the events, makes it possible for the reader to find out some facts from his life. Imparting his story with the presumed listeners the duke lets them decipher the meaning of what he is saying in his intricate expressions and word-combinations. Some readers keep to the point that numerous literary devices used in the poem make it very complicated to comprehend whereas others state that they make the duke’s speech even more expressive. There is a need to analyze literary devices the author of the poem uses to convey its meaning in order to find out their significance for this piece of writing.

Key points

The first four words of the poem can be used as key words for comprehending it as a whole. ‘That’s’ helps the reader understand that the style of the poem is conversational. ‘My’ tells the reader about the duke’s possession and that it was namely his duchess he is going to tell about. ‘Last’ suggests that this woman was not the first wife of duke’s which forms a certain idea about him and helps the reader acquire the first impression about the character. And finally, ‘Duchess’ presupposes that already reading this first line the reader must imagine what the duchess is supposed to look like and then compare this image to what will be described further.

Speaker and Tone

It can be noticed that the speaker of “My Last Duchess” is addressing another person and lets the reader watch this conversation. By removing himself as the center of attention, the poet allows us to replace him (Joseph A. Dupras 3) and to view the presented story from the perspective of observers. The speaker’s tone gives the reader the impression of an arrogant person who treats his property rather selfishly; the tone makes it clear that the speaker did not like his wife’s flirting with other man and shows what it led to “Whene’er I passed her; but who passed without/Much the same smile? / This grew; I gave commands; /Then all smiles stopped together” (Robert Browning, Eileen Gillooly and Joel Spector 21).

Stylistic Devices

Metaphors

The poem displays a frequent use of stylistic devices which make it more colorful and help the speaker express his emotion. Therefore, a number of simple cognitive metaphors is used: “spot of joy” which can be observed in lines fourteen and fifteen in order to turn attention to the beauty of the duchess’s cheeks which blushed easily; “depth and passion of its earnest glance” (Robert Browning, Eileen Gillooly and Joel Spector 20) is used to show that the painting indeed resembled the original and emphasizes the beauty of the duchess; “a heart […] too soon made glad, to easily impressed” (Robert Browning, Eileen Gillooly and Joel Spector 20) shows the duchess naivety and frivolity; “then all smiles stopped together” (Robert Browning, Eileen Gillooly and Joel Spector 21) is used by the author to show the abrupt change of the state of affairs.

Irony

The irony can be observed in duke’s describing the painting using personification and pointing at its “depth” and “passion” which clearly contradicts what he in fact says about the actual person. Another irony is realized in the lines where the duke speaks of his having no speech skills when indeed before that he was talking very eloquently and in rhymes. This is deliberately used by him in order to conceal his arrogance and selfishness. And, eventually, Browning uses a dramatic irony which completely reflects the callousness of the duke’s character when he is calling the girl “my object” which shows that he is treating her as another possession of his.

Other Stylistic Devices

As for other stylistic devices in the poem, simile can be observed in the line ““Looking as if she were alive” (Robert Browning, Eileen Gillooly and Joel Spector 20) which both lets the reader know that the duchess is already dead and shows that the painting was performed by a talented artist. Parenthesis in lines nine and ten is another reminding of a selfish character of the duke who is pointing out that it is only his permission that lets to draw the curtains.

Other Characteristics

Ultimately, it should be mentioned that the poem is written in AABB rhyme scheme and its syntax has a loose and relaxed manner. The emotional climax is achieved by the line “Then all the smiles stopped” (Robert Browning, Eileen Gillooly and Joel Spector 21) when the overall tone of the poem is changing from enthusiastic description of beauty to a sad and serious telling about duke’s ordering to murder his wife.

Conclusion

Taken into consideration everything mentioned above it can be stated that numerous literary devices the author uses in the poem make it even more comprehensive and facilitates understanding of the concealed ideas. Literary devices make the poem bright and fresh and if they were absent, the poem would miss emotional coloring and expressiveness.

Works Cited

Robert Browning, Eileen Gillooly, Joel Spector. Robert Browning: Robert Browning. Sterling Publishing Company, Inc., 2003

Dupras, Joseph A. “Browning’s “My Last Duchess”: Paragon and Parergon”. Papers on Language & Literature 32.1(1996): 3 Questia. 2009. Web.

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"The Poem “My Last Duchess” by Robert Browning." IvyPanda, 23 Oct. 2021, ivypanda.com/essays/the-poem-my-last-duchess-by-robert-browning/.

1. IvyPanda. "The Poem “My Last Duchess” by Robert Browning." October 23, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-poem-my-last-duchess-by-robert-browning/.


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IvyPanda. "The Poem “My Last Duchess” by Robert Browning." October 23, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-poem-my-last-duchess-by-robert-browning/.

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IvyPanda. 2021. "The Poem “My Last Duchess” by Robert Browning." October 23, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-poem-my-last-duchess-by-robert-browning/.

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IvyPanda. (2021) 'The Poem “My Last Duchess” by Robert Browning'. 23 October.

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