Refusing to deign to "lesson" her on her unacceptable love of everything, he instead "gave commands" to have her killed. The duke then ends his story and asks the envoy to rise and accompany him back to the count, the father of the duke's impending bride and the envoy's employer. He mentions that he expects a high dowry, though he is happy enough with the daughter herself. He insists that the envoy walk with him "together" — a lapse of the usual social expectation, where the higher ranked person would walk separately — and on their descent he points out a bronze bust of the god Neptune in his collection.
It engages the reader on a number of levels — historical, psychological, ironic, theatrical, and more.
The most engaging element of the poem is probably the speaker himself, the duke. Objectively, it's easy to identify him as a monster, since he had his wife murdered for what comes across as fairly innocuous crimes. And yet he is impressively charming, both in his use of language and his affable address. The ironic disconnect that colors most of Browning's monologues is particularly strong here. A remarkably amoral man nevertheless has a lovely sense of beauty and of how to engage his listener. In fact, the duke's excessive demand for control ultimately comes across as his most defining characteristic.
The obvious manifestation of this is the murder of his wife. Her crime is barely presented as sexual; even though he does admit that other men could draw her "blush," he also mentions several natural phenomena that inspired her favor.
The Power of the Duke in "My Last Duchess"
And yet he was driven to murder by her refusal to save her happy glances solely for him. This demand for control is also reflected in his relationship with the envoy. The entire poem has a precisely controlled theatrical flair, from the unveiling of the curtain that is implied to precede the opening, to the way he slowly reveals the details of his tale, to his assuming of the envoy's interest in the tale "strangers like you…. The envoy is his audience much as we are Browning's, and the duke exerts a similar control over his story that Browning uses in crafting the ironic disconnect.
In terms of meter, Browning represents the duke's incessant control of story by using a regular meter but also enjambment where the phrases do not end at the close of a line.
The Power of the Duke in "My Last Duchess"
The enjambment works against the otherwise orderly meter to remind us that the duke will control his world, including the rhyme scheme of his monologue. To some extent, the duke's amorality can be understood in terms of aristocracy. The poem was originally published with a companion poem under the title "Italy and France," and both attempted to explore the ironies of aristocratic honor.
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In this poem, loosely inspired by real events set in Renaissance Italy, the duke reveals himself not only as a model of culture but also as a monster of morality. Esther Lombardi is a veteran journalist who has written about literature, education, and technology. Updated March 25, Can you determine what the Duke is really saying to his future father-in-law? What do we learn about the personality of the Duchess?
Is the Duke a reliable narrator? Why or why not? If you were going to describe the Duke, what adjectives would you use? What are some symbols in "My Last Duchess"? The Duchess is physically attached to the wall as a portrait, and cannot interact with those around her.
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She is a strict observer, watching others interact as she merely looks on. She is isolated behind a curtain, and cannot control the amount she is hidden or shown. Though there are some select few that are shown her portrait, she cannot speak for herself. They supposedly have questions about her, but the Duke answers all questions himself. Even while the Duchess was alive, the Duke does not express that she had a voice.
The Duke describes her physical presence, but does not speak about her oral communication. Although it goes without saying that she did indeed vocalise her feelings while she was alive, the fact that the Duke never makes reference to her speaking supports the idea of silence and isolation forced upon the woman.
Her words did not seem to matter before her death, nor do they matter now. Because she is never described as having a voice, she is almost forced into being a mere inanimate object even while alive, as opposed to a living, opinionated, or interactive human being. Every representation of her is linked to the actions or perceptions of a man, and never about her as a human being.
'My Last Duchess' Questions for Study and Discussion
The men in her life overshadow any of her interests, thoughts, or accomplishments. By only expressing that the Duchess smiled often, the Duke portrays her in a trivial manner. He removes any of her strong expressions of feeling, and describes her as flirtatious and trivial. The Duchess who is still unnamed does not have a voice, and cannot control the way that she is spoken of. The Duke spares no words in describing her through his perception, demonstrating the powerlessness she possesses.
While living, she was expected to act with strict virtue and naivety, exactly as the Duke expected of her. Once dead, all memories of her are determined by the man in her life.
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She did not have a voice when she was living, nor does she have a voice now that she is dead. This poem is written as a monologue through the voice of the Duke of Ferrara, which signifies that every idea revealed throughout this poem belongs to the Duke himself. In essence, it is one long, uninterrupted ramble of the Italian Duke. Due to this demonstration towards another male, it is entirely possible to consider the idea that he treated his Duchess in the same-and perhaps even worse-manner. The rhymes are formed in couplets, a very structured and concise form of communicating ideas.
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They appear very controlled, just as the Duke appears through his described mannerisms. He speaks so eloquently about his dead wife and his home, and it is almost easy to forget the fact that he killed his wife. Though the words he says are aurally pleasing, the message he portrays is controlling and manipulative.
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