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Analysis of Robert Browning’s My Last Duchess 

By NASRULLAH MAMBROL on March 30, 2021 • ( 0 )

My Last Duchess 

“My Last Duchess” appeared in Browning’s first collection of shorter poems, Dramatic Lyrics (1842). In the original edition, the poem is printed side-by-side with “Count Gismond” under the heading “Italy and France,” and the two poems share a similar concern with issues of aristocracy and honor. “My Last Duchess” is one of many poems by Browning that are founded, at least in part, upon historical fact. Extensive research lies behind much of Browning’s work, and “My Last Duchess” represents a confluence of two of Browning’s primary interests: the Italian Renaissance and visual art. Both the speaker of the poem and his “last Duchess” closely resemble historical figures. The poem’s duke is likely modeled upon Alfonso II, the last Duke of Ferrara, whose marriage to the teenaged Lucrezia de’ Medici ended mysteriously only three years after it began. The duke then negotiated through an agent to marry the niece of the Count of Tyrol.

True to the title of the volume in which the poem appears, “My Last Duchess” begins with a gesture performed before its first couplet—the dramatic drawing aside of a “curtain” in front of the painting. From its inception, the poem plays upon the notion of the theatrical, as the impresario duke delivers a monologue on a painting of his late wife to an envoy from a prospective duchess. That the poem constitutes, structurally, a monologue, bears significantly upon its meaning and effects. Browning himself summed up Dramatic Lyrics as a gathering of “so many utterances of so many imaginary persons, not mine,” and the sense of an authorial presence outside of “My Last Duchess” is indeed diminished in the wake of the control the duke seems to wield over the poem. The fact that the duke is the poem’s only voice opens his honesty to question, as the poem offers no other perspective with which to compare or contrast that of the duke. Dependence on the duke as the sole source of the poem invites in turn a temporary sympathy with him, in spite of his outrageous arrogance and doubtlessly criminal past. The poem’s single voice also works to focus attention on the duke’s character: past deeds pale as grounds for judgment, becoming just another index to the complex mind of the aristocrat.

In addition to foregrounding the monologic and theatrical nature of the poem, the poem’s first dozen lines also thematize notions of repetition and sequence, which are present throughout the poem. “That’s my last Duchess,” the duke begins, emphasizing her place in a series of attachments that presumably include a “first” and a “next.” The stagy gesture of drawing aside the curtain is also immanently repeatable: the duke has shown the painting before and will again. Similarly, the duke locates the envoy himself within a sequence of “strangers” who have “read” and been intrigued by the “pictured countenance” of the duchess. What emerges as the duke’s central concern—the duchess’s lack of discrimination—also relates to the idea of repetition, as the duke outlines a succession of gestures, events, and individuals who “all and each/Would draw from her alike the approving speech.” The duke’s very claim to aristocratic status rest upon a series—the repeated passing on of the “nine-hundred-years-old name” that he boasts. The closing lines of “My Last Duchess” again suggest the idea of repetition, as the duke directs the envoy to a statue of Neptune: “thought a rarity,” the piece represents one in a series of artworks that make up the duke’s collection. The recurrent ideas of repetition and sequence in the poem bind together several of the poem’s major elements—the duke’s interest in making a new woman his next duchess and the vexingly indiscriminate quality of his last one, the matter of his aristocratic self-importance and that of his repugnant acquisitiveness, each of which maps an aspect of the duke’s obsessive nature.

This obsessiveness also registers in the duke’s fussy attention to his own rhetoric, brought up throughout the poem in the form of interjections marked by dashes in the text. “She had/a heart—how shall I say—too soon made glad,” the duke says of his former duchess, and his indecision as to word choice betrays a tellingly careful attitude toward discourse. Other such self-interruptions in the poem describe the duke’s uncertainty as to the duchess’s too easily attained approval, as well as his sense of being an undiplomatic speaker. On the whole, these asides demonstrate the duke’s compulsive interest in the pretence of ceremony, which he manipulates masterfully in the poem. Shows of humility strengthen a sense of the duke’s sincerity and frank nature, helping him build a rapport with his audience. The development of an ostensibly candid persona works to cloak the duke’s true “object”—the dowry of his next duchess.

research paper on my last duchess

Lucrezia de’ Medici by Bronzino, generally believed to be the subject of the poem/Wikimedia

Why the duke broaches the painful matter of his sordid past in the first place is well worth considering and yields a rich vein of psychological speculation. Such inquiry should be tempered, however, by an awareness of the duke’s overt designs in recounting his past. On the surface, for instance, the poem constitutes a thinly veiled warning: the duke makes a show of his authority even as he lets out some of the rather embarrassing details surrounding his failed marriage. The development of the duchess’s seeming disrespect is cut short by the duke’s “commands”—almost certainly orders to have her quietly murdered. In the context of a meeting with the envoy of a prospective duchess, the duke’s confession cannot but convey a threat, a firm declaration of his intolerance toward all but the most respectful behavior.

But the presence of an underlying threat cannot fully account for the duke’s rhetorical exuberance, and the speech the poem embodies must depend for its impetus largely upon the complex of emotional tensions that the memory calls up for the duke. As critic W. David Shaw remarks, the portrait of the last duchess represents both a literal and a figurative “hang-up” for the duke, who cannot resist returning to it repeatedly to contemplate its significance. So eager is the duke to enlarge upon the painting and its poignance that he anticipates and thus helps create the envoy’s interest in it, assuming in him a curiousity as to “how such a glance came” to the countenance of the duchess. The duke then indulges in obsessive speculation on the “spot of joy” on the “Duchess’ cheek,” elaborating different versions of its genesis. Similarly, the duke masochistically catalogues the various occasions the duchess found to “blush” or give praise: love, sunsets, cherries, and even “the white mule/She rode with round the terrace.”

Language itself occupies a particularly troubled place in the duke’s complex response to his last duchess and her memory. The duke’s modesty in declaiming his “skill/In speech” is surely false, as the rhetorical virtuosity of his speech attests. Yet he is manifestly averse to resolving the issue through discussion. In the duke’s view, “to be lessoned” or lectured is to be “lessened” or reduced, as his word choice phonetically implies. Rather than belittle himself or his spouse through the lowly practice of negotiation, the duke sacrifices the marriage altogether, treating the duchess’s “trifling” as a capital offense. The change the duke undergoes in the wake of disposing of his last duchess is in large part a rhetorical one, as he “now” handles discursively what he once handled with set imperatives.

The last lines of the poem abound in irony. As they rise to “meet/The company below,” the duke ominously reminds the envoy that he expects an ample dowry by way of complimenting the “munificence” of the Count. The duke then tells the envoy that not money but the Count’s daughter herself remains his true “object,” suggesting the idea that the duke’s aim is precisely the contrary. The duke’s intention to “go/Together down” with the envoy, meant on the surface as a kind of fraternal gesture, ironically underscores the very distinction in social status that it seems to erase. “Innsbruck” is the seat of the Count of Tyrol whose daughter the duke means to marry, and he mentions the bronze statue with a pride that is supposed to flatter the Count. But the lines can also be interpreted as an instance of self-flattery, as Neptune, who stands for the duke, is portrayed in the sculpture as an authorial figure, “taming a sea-horse.”

“My Last Duchess” marks an early apex of Browning’s art, and some of the elements of the poem—such as the monologue form, the discussion of visual art, and the Renaissance setting—were to become staples of Browning’s aesthetic. “My Last Duchess” also inaugurates Browning’s use of the lyric to explore the psychology of the individual. As many critics have suggested, character for Browning is always represented as a process, and the attitudes of his characters are typically shown in flux. The duke of “My Last Duchess” stands as a testimony to Browning’s ability to use monologue to frame an internal dialogue: the duke talks to the envoy but in effect talks to himself as he compulsively confronts the enigmas of his past.

Further Reading Bloom, Harold, ed. Robert Browning. New York: Chelsea House, 1985. Bloom, Harold, and Adrienne Munich, eds. Robert Browning: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1979. Chesterton, G. K. Robert Browning. London: Macmillan, 1903. Cook, Eleanor. Browning’s Lyrics: An Exploration. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1974. Crowell, Norton B. The Convex Glass: The Mind of Robert Browning. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1968. De Vane, William Clyde, and Kenneth Leslie Knickerbocker, eds. New Letters. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1950. De Vane, William Clyde. A Browning Handbook. New York: F. S. Crofts and Co., 1935. Drew, Philip. The Poetry of Robert Browning: A Critical Introduction. London: Methuen, 1970. Jack, Ian. Browning’s Major Poetry. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1973. Jack, Ian, and Margaret Smith, eds. The Poetical Works of Robert Browning. New York: Oxford University Press, 1983. Wagner-Lawlor, Jennifer A. “The Pragmatics of Silence, and the Figuration of the Reader in Browning’s Dramatic Monologues.” Victorian Poetry 35, no. 3 (1997): 287–302. Source: Bloom, H., 2001. Broomall, PA: Chelsea House Publishers.

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My Last Duchess Summary & Analysis by Robert Browning

  • Line-by-Line Explanation & Analysis
  • Poetic Devices
  • Vocabulary & References
  • Form, Meter, & Rhyme Scheme
  • Line-by-Line Explanations

research paper on my last duchess

“My Last Duchess” is a dramatic monologue written by Victorian poet Robert Browning in 1842. In the poem, the Duke of Ferrara uses a painting of his former wife as a conversation piece. The Duke speaks about his former wife's perceived inadequacies to a representative of the family of his bride-to-be, revealing his obsession with controlling others in the process. Browning uses this compelling psychological portrait of a despicable character to critique the objectification of women and abuses of power.

  • Read the full text of “My Last Duchess”

research paper on my last duchess

The Full Text of “My Last Duchess”

      FERRARA

1 That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall, 

2 Looking as if she were alive. I call 

3 That piece a wonder, now; Fra Pandolf’s hands 

4 Worked busily a day, and there she stands. 

5 Will’t please you sit and look at her? I said 

6 “Fra Pandolf” by design, for never read 

7 Strangers like you that pictured countenance, 

8 The depth and passion of its earnest glance, 

9 But to myself they turned (since none puts by 

10 The curtain I have drawn for you, but I) 

11 And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst, 

12 How such a glance came there; so, not the first 

13 Are you to turn and ask thus. Sir, ’twas not 

14 Her husband’s presence only, called that spot 

15 Of joy into the Duchess’ cheek; perhaps 

16 Fra Pandolf chanced to say, “Her mantle laps 

17 Over my lady’s wrist too much,” or “Paint 

18 Must never hope to reproduce the faint 

19 Half-flush that dies along her throat.” Such stuff 

20 Was courtesy, she thought, and cause enough 

21 For calling up that spot of joy. She had 

22 A heart—how shall I say?— too soon made glad, 

23 Too easily impressed; she liked whate’er 

24 She looked on, and her looks went everywhere. 

25 Sir, ’twas all one! My favour at her breast, 

26 The dropping of the daylight in the West, 

27 The bough of cherries some officious fool 

28 Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule 

29 She rode with round the terrace—all and each 

30 Would draw from her alike the approving speech, 

31 Or blush, at least. She thanked men—good! but thanked 

32 Somehow—I know not how—as if she ranked 

33 My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name 

34 With anybody’s gift. Who’d stoop to blame 

35 This sort of trifling? Even had you skill 

36 In speech—which I have not—to make your will 

37 Quite clear to such an one, and say, “Just this 

38 Or that in you disgusts me; here you miss, 

39 Or there exceed the mark”—and if she let 

40 Herself be lessoned so, nor plainly set 

41 Her wits to yours, forsooth, and made excuse— 

42 E’en then would be some stooping; and I choose 

43 Never to stoop. Oh, sir, she smiled, no doubt, 

44 Whene’er I passed her; but who passed without 

45 Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands; 

46 Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands 

47 As if alive. Will’t please you rise? We’ll meet 

48 The company below, then. I repeat, 

49 The Count your master’s known munificence 

50 Is ample warrant that no just pretense 

51 Of mine for dowry will be disallowed; 

52 Though his fair daughter’s self, as I avowed 

53 At starting, is my object. Nay, we’ll go 

54 Together down, sir. Notice Neptune, though, 

55 Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity, 

56 Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me!

“My Last Duchess” Summary

“my last duchess” themes.

Theme The Objectification of Women

The Objectification of Women

  • See where this theme is active in the poem.

Theme Social Status, Art, and Elitism

Social Status, Art, and Elitism

Theme Control and Manipulation

Control and Manipulation

Line-by-line explanation & analysis of “my last duchess”.

That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall,  Looking as if she were alive. I call  That piece a wonder, now; Fra Pandolf’s hands  Worked busily a day, and there she stands.  Will’t please you sit and look at her?

research paper on my last duchess

I said  “Fra Pandolf” by design, for never read  Strangers like you that pictured countenance,  The depth and passion of its earnest glance,  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,  How such a glance came there; so, not the first  Are you to turn and ask thus.

Lines 13-19

Sir, ’twas not  Her husband’s presence only, called that spot  Of joy into the Duchess’ cheek; perhaps  Fra Pandolf chanced to say, “Her mantle laps  Over my lady’s wrist too much,” or “Paint  Must never hope to reproduce the faint  Half-flush that dies along her throat.”

Lines 19-24

Such stuff  Was courtesy, she thought, and cause enough  For calling up that spot of joy. 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.

Lines 25-31

Sir, ’twas all one! My favour at her breast,  The dropping of the daylight in the West,  The bough of cherries some officious fool  Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule  She rode with round the terrace—all and each  Would draw from her alike the approving speech,  Or blush, at least.

Lines 31-34

She thanked men—good! but thanked  Somehow—I know not how—as if she ranked  My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name  With anybody’s gift.

Lines 34-43

Who’d stoop to blame  This sort of trifling? Even had you skill  In speech—which I have not—to make your will  Quite clear to such an 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—  E’en then would be some stooping; and I choose  Never to stoop.

Lines 43-47

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. There she stands  As if alive.

Lines 47-53

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 pretense  Of mine for dowry will be disallowed;  Though his fair daughter’s self, as I avowed  At starting, is my object.

Lines 53-56

Nay, we’ll go  Together down, sir. Notice Neptune, though,  Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity,  Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me!

“My Last Duchess” Symbols

Symbol The Painting

The Painting

  • See where this symbol appears in the poem.

Symbol The Statue of Neptune

The Statue of Neptune

“my last duchess” poetic devices & figurative language.

  • See where this poetic device appears in the poem.

Personification

“my last duchess” vocabulary.

Select any word below to get its definition in the context of the poem. The words are listed in the order in which they appear in the poem.

  • Fra Pandolf
  • Countenance
  • Munificence
  • See where this vocabulary word appears in the poem.

Form, Meter, & Rhyme Scheme of “My Last Duchess”

Rhyme scheme, “my last duchess” speaker, “my last duchess” setting, literary and historical context of “my last duchess”, more “my last duchess” resources, external resources.

Robert Browning's Answers to Some Questions, 1914 — In March of 1914, Cornhill Magazine interviewed Robert Browning about some of his poems, including "My Last Duchess." He briefly explains his thoughts on the duchess.

Chris de Burgh, "The Painter" (1976) — Chris de Burgh (a Northern Irish singer-songwriter, best known for "Lady in Red") wrote a song from the perspective of the Duke of Ferrara about his former wife, in which the duchess was having an affair with Fra Pandolf.

My Last Duchess Glass Window — The Armstrong Browning Library and Museum at Baylor University has a stained glass window inspired by "My Last Duchess."

Julian Glover performs "My Last Duchess" — Actor Julian Glover performs "My Last Duchess" with a suitably dramatic tone of voice. Note how he emphasizes the conversational quality of the poem.

Nikolaus Mardruz to his Master Ferdinand, Count of Tyrol, 1565 by Richard Howard, 1929 — This poem by American poet Richard Howard provides the Ferrara's guest's perspective on the meeting between himself and the duke.

LitCharts on Other Poems by Robert Browning

A Light Woman

Among the Rocks

A Toccata of Galuppi's

A Woman's Last Word

Confessions

Home-Thoughts, from Abroad

How they Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix

Life in a Love

Love Among the Ruins

Love in a Life

Meeting at Night

Pictor Ignotus

Porphyria's Lover

Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister

The Bishop Orders His Tomb at Saint Praxed's Church

The Laboratory

The Last Ride Together

The Lost Leader

The Lost Mistress

The Patriot

The Pied Piper of Hamelin

Women and Roses

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Psychoanalysis of Duke of Ferrara from ‘My Last Duchess’

() , , (), –

Robert Browning encapsulates the cosmos of a character within the microcosm of a moment. The dramatic monologue ‘My Last Duchess’ by the poet is a presentation of an egoistic, narcissistic and self centered duke. Throughout the poem there is a clear image of a psyche, overprotective, jealous and possessive personality who has executed his wife for his own narrow mentality. Browning has also portrayed the duke as someone extremely powerful who can change everything with a single command.

Keywords: Duke of Ferrara , Last Duchess’ , Psychoanalysis

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Rethinking ‘My Last Duchess’

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Stefan Hawlin, Rethinking ‘My Last Duchess’, Essays in Criticism , Volume 62, Issue 2, April 2012, Pages 139–159, https://doi.org/10.1093/escrit/cgs006

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THERE IS NO KNOWN SURVIVING AUTOGRAPH of ‘My Last Duchess’ so we cannot confirm what seems highly likely: that it was composed without any arresting title at the top of the page. When first published in the sixteen-poem pamphlet Dramatic Lyrics (1842) it was called simply ‘I. – Italy’ and paired with another poem ‘II. – France’, under the collective heading ‘Italy and France’. 1 It was part of a poem-pair, in other words, a favourite device of Browning's, especially in the 1840s, by which the interaction between two poems sets up a ‘dialectical argument… a progression of understanding, a creation of knowledge or awareness, which happens as a result of reading them together’. 2 Curiously, just at the point where they acquired their familiar titles, ‘My Last Duchess’ and ‘Count Gismond’, in Poems (1849), Browning broke their explicit bond. These new titles, and indeed the subtitles ‘Ferrara’ and ‘Aix in Provence’ (which replaced plain ‘Italy’ and ‘France’), were signposts to the so far unresponsive reading public, hints designed to close up the original gaps between the titles and the poems. Yet the decision not to maintain the linkage seems to anticipate the ways in which, in general terms, each poem has been treated separately from the other in twentieth century criticism.

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INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF SOCIAL AND EDUCATIONAL INNOVATION

“MY LAST DUCHESS”: AN EXPLICATION

  • Gassim H. DOHAL Independent Researcher

In his poem “My Last duchess,” Robert Browning uses the dramatic monologue to present the Duke to his readers. This monologue is about the Duke’s last wife, addressed to the expected new duchess. Apparently, the hero of this poem is using his experience to shape his future life; this is a good way to continue the life and at the same time to avoid one’s previous mistakes. Moreover, reflections on what has happened might be inspiring for an individual to model his/her future and to help others learn and manipulate their present for the sake of their future. This article will present the inspiring pictorial scene Browning has provided us with in this poem.

Author Biography

Gassim H. Dohal is an instructor of English from Saudi Arabia.  He holds a Ph. D. in English Literature. He has contributed research papers and articles in different academic journals. His works appeared in journals like Agathos journal, The IUP Journal of English Studies , Journal of Language Teaching and Research  (JLTR) , International Journal of Comparative Literature and Translation Studies (IJCLTS) , Revista de investigaciones Universidad del Quindio  (RIUQ) , and many others.

Email: [email protected]

ORCID ID: 0000-0003-3640-6216

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Read below our complete notes on the poem “My Last Duchess” by Robert Browning. Our notes cover My Last Duchess summary, themes, and literary analysis.

Introduction

“My Last Duchess” is a famous poem written by Robert Browning.  It was published in a book of poems named “Dramatic Lyrics” in 1842. As the name “Dramatic Lyrics” suggests, Browning tried to produce new trends in poetry after some experiments. He tried to combine some features of stage plays with some Romantic verses to produce the new type of poetry in the Victorian era. 

Robert Browning alarmed his readers with his unique characteristic of adding psychological and psychopathic realism and use of harsh language in his poetry. These traits can also be observed in the poem “My Last Duchess”. He got inspired to write this poem by the history of Alfonso II of Ferrara, who was a Renaissance duke, whose young wife died mysteriously in 1561 under suspicious circumstances. After her death, the duke got married to the niece of the Count of Tyrol.

Historical Background

In the Victorian era, women were not given equal rights as men. Even in their marital life, they were not given the place of a partner or not even thought to be worthy of love. Their identities were just like the objects that men could possess and control according to their wishes. Women were treated as a property in marriage and men were in charge in a relationship. When Browning wrote this poem, he had this thing in mind so, through this poem, he tried to explore the injustice of the male dominant society.

About the poem

This poem is a dramatic monologue. In a dramatic monologue, the speaker addresses alone at the stage in the presence of a silent listener. In “My Last Duchess”, the poet doesn’t address the readers himself. The scene unfolds through the monologue of the speaker who is the Duke of Ferrara. The Duke’s monologue shows his psychological state and his treatment with his former Duchess. 

As Robert Browning tried to introduce a new type of poetry combining the traits of stage plays and romantic verses, this poem also has the same setup. Unlike other poems, “My Last Duchess” has a specific physical and geographical setting like the plays. It is set in the private art gallery in the palace of the Duke of Ferrara.  The setting is the mid-sixteenth century in Renaissance Italy. 

My Last Duchess Summary

In this poem, the Duke of Ferrara talks to a silent listener who is one of his guests. He draws his attention towards the painting of his former Duchess who is now dead. The painting hangs on the wall of his private art gallery.  The Duke tells the listener that its artist “Fra pandolf” worked hard to make it a piece of wonder and now it is in front of them.it seems that it is not the painting but the Duchess herself, standing alive in front of them. The Dukes invites the listener to sit down and asks him to look at the painting and examine its art of wonder closely. 

The Duke tells the listener that he told him the name of its artist purposefully before he asks himself. He knows that the painting is a masterpiece. Whoever sees it, wishes to know about its artist. They want to know who filled this painting with depth and passion and gave it a lively look. The Duke also tells him that whoever sees this painting, turns towards him with surprise. They want to ask something but they dare not to speak in front of their Duke. So, as the Duke reads their faces and knows what they actually want, he himself explains the art of wonder to them. Moreover, he tells him that only he can draw back the curtains that hang over the painting and show it to anyone else if he wants.

The Duke then explains the painting of his Duchess. He tells the listener that the smile and the blush that he can see on the face of his duchess in the painting was not because of his presence. He guesses the reason behind her smile. He says that maybe she smiled when Fra Pandolf praised her beauty. Maybe, he told her that her shawl is covering too much of her beautiful wrist. Maybe, he admired her beauty by saying that he was unable to recreate the beauty. The beauty of her faint half_blush that he saw fading on her throat.

The Duke then criticizes his Duchess by saying that she always took all this stuff as a courtesy and she thought it was something enough to make her happy. He says that the heart of his Duchess could be easily won and it was very easy to impress her with anything. Wherever the Duchess looked, she liked and praised everything.

He further tells the listener about the nature of his former wife. Everything was equal for her. The gift of jewelry that he gave her to wear on her chest made her happy. In the same way, she became happy looking at the sunset in the West. Even the bough of cherries from the orchard brought to her by a fool inspired her. Moreover, the white mule on which she rode around the terrace made her happy in a similar way. She had no special liking for the things that Duke did for her. She treated everything equally and praised in the same way.

The Duke explains that she thanked men for whatever they did for her but he had no problem with it. The real problem is that she had no special appreciation for the gifts that Duke gave her. He gave her the nine hundred years old prestigious name of his family by marrying her but she treated this gift equally to anyone else’s.

The Duke then tells about his inability to explain anything to her. He tells the listener that though he is not skillful in speech or explaining anything to anyone yet if he had this ability to tell her that what things of her disgusted him or where she failed to meet his expectations, still he would never have talked to her about this. He had a fear that she could have made excuses or avoided him if he talked to her or didn’t agree to change herself showing her stubbornness. He says even if there were chances that she could change herself for him. Still he never dared to discuss this thing with her. He considers it equal to stoop. As a Duke he can never bend before anyone even in front of his own Duchess. So, he decided not to stoop and explain anything to her. 

The Duke admits it to the listener that his wife smiled whenever he crossed her but no one ever crossed her without receiving the same smile from her side. Her nice behavior with everyone grew day by day so he gave commands to kill her and as a result, all of her smiles stopped. He again points towards the painting and says now there she stands in the painting as if she is still alive.

After ending the story of his Duchess, the Duke invites the man to get up and follow him downstairs so that they can meet other guests too. The Duke talks about the generosity of the master of the listener. He finally reveals that the silent listener is the servant of the Count, whose daughter he is going to marry soon. The Duke tells the listener that he knows his master is generous. He doesn’t worry about the matter of dowry. He knows that the Count will not reject whatever he demands. However, as he mentioned in the beginning, the beautiful daughter of the Count is more important for him.

Then they go down and on their way back, the Duke again draws the attention of the servant towards another masterpiece that is kept in his gallery. He shows him a bronze statue of God Neptune taming the sea-horse that was a rare piece of the art and he tells the servant that Claus of Innsbruck made it especially for him.

Themes in My Last Duchess

This poem is all about power. The Duke of Ferrara is shown exercising his tyrannical power not only in his political and social affairs but also in his marital life. He rules with an iron fist. As he was a duke so he even wanted to control his wife’s smile and when he couldn’t, he gave orders to kill her.

A beautiful piece of art is presented in the poem. The Duke shows the portrait of her former Duchess to his guest that is so beautifully painted that the Duchess seems alive, smiling and standing in front of them. The Artist of the painting “Fra Pandolf” worked hard to put the depth and passion in the painting and he made it a masterpiece. Everyone gets surprised to see this art of wonder and admires it.

Apart from that painting, the Duke also draws the attention of his guest towards another beautiful art made by Claus of Innsbruck. It was a statue of God Neptune taming his sea-horse and it was cast in Bronze. The Duke shows his beautiful art gallery to the people whom he wants to impress. It shows that the poem “My Last Duchess” is a piece of art about another art.

Objectification of women   

Throughout the poem, the Duke praises the art and painting of his wife. He shows that he loves his Duchess more in painting as compared to when she was alive. He values the art more than his wife. His point of view shows that the women are the objects that are supposed to be controlled and possessed. 

It also reflects the thinking of Browning’s time when people used to treat women badly in the Victorian era. They were not considered equal as men and were not allowed to stand as independent beings and were controlled by men. Through this poem, the poet actually criticizes this type of viewpoint about women.

The Duke’s pride took the life of his Duchess. He wanted his wife to make him feel special but he never tried to talk to her about it. The Duke tells that he feels his insult in it to explain anything to anyone even to his own wife. He considers it equivalent to stooping and his pride never allowed him to stoop so, in his pride and power he gave commands to kill his Duchess. Moreover, his pride is also shown when he tells the servant that he gave his Duchess his nine hundred years old family name but she didn’t consider it superior to other trivial gifts of others. It shows that he is proud of his family name and social status.

Communication gap

The lack of communication between the Duke and Duchess become the reason behind their problems. In any relationship, communication gap is the main factor that gives rise to misunderstandings. In the poem, the Duke was reluctant to talk to his wife but if he somehow managed to talk to her and explain to her what exactly he wanted from her, then maybe she could have changed herself for him. He never tried to tell her about his feelings and his expectations from her and he ended up taking her life.

In the poem, the Duke tries to rule over his wife. He even tries to control her smiles and blushes. He hates when she smiles for others and thanks to them for their presents. He never even tries to tell her about this but he expects her to become as he wants. It clearly shows his madness. Without even talking to her, he decides to solve the matter by his power. In his madness, he takes the life of his innocent wife just to stop her smiles that are not for him but for others. Maybe, he considers these smiles and blushes equal to having an affair with someone and the insane Duke murders his wife to stop this.

One reason behind the Duke’s madness is his jealousy. Whenever he sees his Duchess smiling and thanking other people he gets jealous because he only wants to see her smiling for him. Many lines in the poem are the evidence of his jealousy as he himself says that his Duchess smiles whenever he crosses her but on the other hand he says no one crosses her without receiving the same smile. He becomes jealous of every smile and every blush of his wife if it is intentionally or unintentionally intended for someone else.

The nature of the Duke’s former Duchess was very kind and generous. She used to smile and show gratitude towards everyone for their presents, even the trivial ones but the Duke didn’t like it. He never wanted her to get frank with other people. He even became jealous seeing her smiling while watching the sunset or riding on her white mule. He didn’t even try to solve this issue by communication. The only solution that he came up with was taking her life. He murdered his own wife and proved himself a cruel Duke who could only exercise his power on the innocent people.

The theme of Greed is also found in the end of the poem when the Duke tells the servant of the Count that he is not worried about the dowry. As the Duke is going to marry the Count’s daughter, he tells the servant that he has heard much about his master’s generous nature so he is sure that whatever he demands from him in dowry, he will never reject it. It shows that the Duke is also greedy and concerned about the dowry though he tries to conceal his greediness by saying that the Count’s beautiful daughter will be his primary concern and priority.

Murder and Sadness

The character of Duchess is viewed as an innocent and kind soul who is killed by the cruel psychopath Duke. The Duke murdered her because of her nice behaviour to everyone. It makes the readers sad to see any good character suffering at the hands of cruel and haughty ones.

My Last Duchess Literary Analysis

In the opening lines of the poem, the speaker talks about “his last duchess”. It gives the idea that the speaker is a Duke and he is addressing an unknown or silent listener. The Duke points towards the painting of his Duchess on the wall who is dead now. The picture of the Duchess is so beautifully painted that the speaker says it seems that she is standing alive in front of him.

The Duke praises the painting and calls it a masterpiece. He also tells the mysterious listener about the artist or the painter who produced this amazing piece of wonder. He says that Fra Pandolf worked hard and it took him an entire day to complete it and give it a realist effect. The Duke then says ” there she stands” it gives the idea that the painting is not just a close up of the Duchess but her full body is visible in it, so it seems as if the Duchess is alive and standing in front of the Duke.

The Duke then invites the listener to sit down and focus on the beauty of the painting. He asks him to examine the painting and admire its art.

The Duke tells the listener that he told him the name of the painter deliberately because everyone who looks at this painting, wants to know about the person who produced this piece of art. The people or the strangers who see this painting, also want to question how the painter portrayed so much depth and passion on the face of the Duchess and gave her the expressions that look absolutely real. 

The Duke also tells the listener that only he is allowed to draw the curtain back that hangs over the painting. It means that only Duke can see this painting or show it to anyone else if he wants. It also gives the idea that the painting hangs on a wall in the Duke’s private gallery where no one can enter without his permission.  

He further tells the listener that he is not the first one who is surprised to see this beautiful art. Everyone who looks at it, turns to Duke as if they want to ask him how the painting of the Duchess looks so real but they never dare to ask it actually. As the Duke can read their face and he knows what they want to ask so he replies to everyone before they ask.

Lines 13-21

The Duke keeps on addressing his silent listener and this time he calls him “Sir”. He explains the expressions of the Duchess in the painting and tells the listener that the smile and the blush that he can see on her cheeks was not because of her husband’s presence. The Duchess was not happy because the Duke was around. It gives the idea that something else was the reason behind the Duchess’ joy and the Duke seems jealous of this thing because he always wanted her to have these expressions of joy on her face just for her husband.

In the next lines, the Duke starts guessing the reason behind the Duchess’ happiness or blush. He suggests that maybe she smiled because Fra Pandolf praised her beauty or he told her that the mantle or shawl is covering too much of her wrist or he complimented her by saying that he could never be able to paint the beauty of her faint half_blush that fades on her throat.

The Duke criticizes his Duchess saying that she thought that the courtesy or the polite comments like these are enough to make her happy. It shows that the Duke didn’t want her to be happy or blush on trivial compliments of everyone. He only wanted her to be happy in her husband’s presence or on his compliments.

Lines 21-24

The Duke further explains the nature of his late Duchess to the listener. He says that the Duchess had a gentle heart that could easily be made happy anytime. The Duchess liked and praised everything that she looked at. In short, it was very easy for everyone to make her happy or to impress her by anything.

In these lines, the Duke is not praising the Duchess but in reality, he is criticizing her. The above lines give the idea that the Duchess was very kind and down to earth but she was not the kind of person that the Duke wanted his wife to be.

Lines 25-31

In these lines, the Duke again calls his listener by saying “Sir” and tells him further about the behaviour of his Duchess. He tells him that her behaviour was the same towards everyone and everything made her equally happy. If he brought her any present, brooch or jewellery that she could wear on her chest, she used to smile or thanked him for the present but she became equally happy on the trivial things like watching the sun setting in the West, the branch of cherries that some random fool brings for her from the orchard or the white mule on which she rode around the terrace. 

He further tells him that she praised all these things equally or blushed in a similar way each time. It shows that though the Duke expected special response from his wife yet the Duchess treated everything equally. Now it is clear that the Duke wanted his Duchess to pay special attention to  him but she treated him equally and always responded to him just as she used to respond to any other common person or thing.

Lines 31-35

The Duke then says that she used to thank men. The Duke admits that it is good to thank someone if they present you any gift or do any favour to you. He had no problem with the Duchess thanking everyone but he didn’t like her way to do that. The Duke gave her his nine hundred years old family name and the prestige. He gave her a status by making her his Duchess that she never had before marrying the Duke but she didn’t even value this gift of his superior to any other minor thing done for her by any common person. 

The Duke then asks his listener who would lower himself to ask her about this strange behaviour or to have an argument with her over this matter? The Duke knows that the answer is “no one”. It also suggests that there was a communication gap in the relationship between  the Duke and the Duchess, that is the reason he never told her anything about her behaviour.

Lines 35-43

Now the Duke explains the obstacles that stopped him from complaining about the behaviour of his Duchess to her. He thinks she could make excuses or resist him, showing her stubbornness to change for him. 

He says that though he doesn’t have the skill in speech yet if he had and he tried to talk to her telling her about “the behaviour that disgusted him or where she did little or too much for him”, there was a possibility that she could have tried to change herself and made herself as he wanted but still the Duke says he would never try to talk to her.

The Duke didn’t want to talk to her because talking to her and explaining what was wrong, he considered it equivalent to stooping. As he is a Duke, so he considers it his insult to explain something to anyone even to his own Duchess. He didn’t want to bend but he wanted his wife to understand what he wanted, without saying anything.

Lines 43-47

The Duke tells the listener that he admits his Duchess was always nice to him. She treated him well and she always did smile whenever she saw him or he passed by her. Then the Duke again asks the question who passed her without receiving the same smile? There was nothing special in her smile for the Duke.

The Duke then tells the listener that “this grew”. He talks about her behaviour and her kindness towards everyone. He tells him that her kindness and love for everyone became more intense and she didn’t stop. The Duke admits that he couldn’t bear it more so he gave commands against his own Duchess and as a result, all her smiles stopped. It gives the idea that he gave the commands to end her life so that she could no longer be able to smile. 

The Duke then ends his story and again points towards the beautiful portrait saying that now there she stands and it looks like she is alive. The Duke then asks the listener in a gentle way to stand up.

Lines 47-53

Duke asks him to stand up and follow him so that they can go and meet other guests who are present downstairs. The Duke then starts talking about the listener’s master “Count”. It gives the idea that the silent listener is actually the servant of the Count.

He says to the servant that everyone knows about the generosity of his master so the Duke expects him to give the dowry of her daughter as much as he demands. It suggests that the Duke is now getting married again to the daughter of the Count and he talks to the servant to him about the matter of dowry. Here the greed of Duke is also shown. 

Moreover, he tells the servant that he is not worried about the dowry knowing the generous nature of the Count but instead of money, the fair nature of the Count’s daughter will be his utmost priority as he mentioned earlier at the beginning of their discussion.

Lines 53-56

The Duke ends his discussion and they start going down. While on their way, the Duke draws the attention of the servant towards another beautiful piece of art in his gallery. He points towards the statue of God Neptune who is shown taming his sea-horse. The Duke also tells the servant about the artist who made it. He tells him that Claus of Innsbruck made this statue with bronze especially  for him.

Analysis of Literary devices in the poem

The repetition of the same vowel sound in the same line is called assonance. In the poem, assonance is used in the following line “Her wits to your, forsooth, and made excuses”. In this line /o/ sound is repeated while the sound /o/ and /i/ are repeated in the following line “Of mine for dowry will be disallowed”.

The repetition of the same consonant sound in the same line is called consonance. In the poem, /t/ sound is repeated in the line “Together down, sir. Notice Neptune, though”. Consonance is also used in the line “The Count your master’s known munificence” because of the repetition of /n/ sound.

The explicit comparison between two things using the words “like” or “as” is called a simile. In the poem, the simile is used in the following line:

“That’s my last duchess painted on the wall, Looking as if she were alive.” In this line, the poet compares a dead person to her painting by using the word “as”.

When the intended meaning of the writer is different from the actual meaning of the words, it is known as irony. The title of this poem “My Last Duchess” is ironic because the dead Duchess of the Duke is not his last Duchess as he is going to marry the Count’s daughter now. 

The exaggeration of anything for the sake of emphasis, is known as Hyperbole. In this poem, hyperbole is used in the twenty-fourth line: “She looked on, and her looks went everywhere”.

The use of symbols to signify any object, idea or quality else than its literal meaning, is known as symbolism. In the poem, the painting of Duke’s last Duchess symbolizes how he uses his power to objectify human beings such as his own wife considering his own property or possession.

“The white mule” symbolizes the pure and gentle nature of the Duchess. It also symbolizes her innocence. Moreover, the statue of God Neptune taming his sea-horse symbolizes the cruel character of Duke taming his own Duchess.

The technique in which a sentence is carried over to the next line without any pause, is known as Enjambment.  In the poem, Enjambment is used in the following lines:

“The Count your master’s known munificence 

Is ample warrant that no just pretense

Of mine for dowry will be disallowed;”

Heroic Couplet

The rhyming pair of lines in the form of iambic pentameter, is known as the heroic couplet. In the poem, there are twenty-eight heroic couplets. One of them is given below:

“Strangers like you that pictured countenance.

The depth and passion of its earnest glance,”

The reference to any famous incident, person or work of art in history, is known as an allusion. The allusion is used at the end of the poem when the poet refers to the bronze statue of God Neptune taming his sea-horse.

Rhetoric question

The question asked in any piece of Literature specially poetry whose purpose is not to get an answer and is just used to lay emphasis, is known as a rhetoric question. 

In the poem, the poet has used rhetoric questions at the following points:

“Who’d stoop to blame

This sort of trifling?”

“but who passed without 

Much the same smile?”

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Depiction of Sexist Mistreatment of Women in My Last Duchess by Robert Browning

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Robert Browning “My Last Duchess” as a dramatic monologue.

My Last Duchess (1842), written by Robert Browning is a dramatic monologue which deals with the Victorian social issues about the condition of woman. The poem explores the class consciousness and the Victorian morality code where a woman is strictly adhered to certain social norms. Browning also presents the male dominion and sketches the character of the speaker in the form of a monologue as well as the insights into the character of the Duchess. As a feminist poem, one can observe that the woman is objectified for a male gaze and desire as well as the oppression faced in the patriarchal society which Browning tries to establish in the poem.

The important features of the dramatic monologue is the presence of a speaker and the listener. The speaker in the poem is considered to be the Duke of Ferrara and the listener is the guest who came to visit the Duke. The setting is presented in the form of a monologue where the guest is drawn attention to the portrait of Duchess and the listener is told that the painting is done by Fra Pandolf. The psychological aspect is clearly drawn in the poem where the image of the painting evokes a sense of emotion attached with it which creates an inner conflict in the mind of the guests who feel its deep, passionate and earnest glance of the Duchess.

However, it throws insight into the social realism as a dramatic monologue. The Victorian era was a class conscious society and especially the woman were bounded to certain conventional norms. The Duke in the poem recollects his past knowledge about the Duchess and objects her actions and behaviours. She was portrayed as an immoral woman who equally shows respect to others and smiles at other man. Her actions and behaviour seem impulsive and immoral to the Duke and hence the Duke stopped her smiles which is presented euphemistically to show that she was killed. It clearly exemplifies the Victorian ideals of “Angel in the house” where a woman needs to be chastise and pure in the society. The objectification of woman is also presented in the poem where a woman’s image on the portrait is used for a male gaze and desire while establishing the male superiority. The Duchess was presented as an immoral woman but her image is objectified to others to show the Duke’s wealth and social status.

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Moreover, Browning sketches the character of the Duchess through a dramatic monologue. The character of the Duchess is sketched by the reminiscing process of Duke’s opinions and views. The Duke tells his guest that the Duchess liked everything and everyone she saw which reflects that she was sleeping around with other man. He even says that her response was kind and gives equal honour with the same blush on her cheeks which he objects it claiming that she is passionate or over emotional. He even further argues that she gives equal amount of smiles to other man who passes her which he tries to sketch her as an immoral woman. The Duke also represented her as a woman who disrespects her own social position for which she equally gives importance and smiles at others in contrast to the Duke highlighting that he would lower himself if he argues with the Duchess about her behaviour.

The entire process of the Duke reminiscing about the character of Duchess delineates the character of the Duke which becomes an essential essence of the dramatic monologue . Browning sketches the character of the speaker or the Duke which shows the social realism of male’s attitude towards woman. The Duke’s dislikes about the Duchess manners of thanking other men and being ignorant towards her social status reflects the Duke as a sexist man who is stereotyping the Duchess personality and her kind attitude in a negative perception.

One can also observe the character of Duke as a typical man who shows power along with dominion . The Duke’s resistivity to bow down to others and her objection towards the Duchess giving equal values and smiles to others shows him a man of dominion and superiority through his power and social status. The sycophantic character of the Duke is seen when he flatters the generosity of the guest’s master so to acquire the dowry which he can extract from the marriage to which he lies saying that the Duke wants the Count’s beautiful daughter and not the dowry. It also shows the materialistic attitude of the Duke representing a typical Victorian.

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Poems Comparison: “To His Coy Mistress” and “My Last Duchess” Research Paper

Introduction, treatment of women, views of women, views of themselves, works cited.

The poetic rendition of the female subject has historically been a patriarchal domain for famous poets like Robert Browning and Andrew Marvell to create their masterpieces. In these poems, objectification of the female body and attitude towards women is clearly shown under the garb of romantic poetry. In this essay, I will compare “To His Coy Mistress” by Andrew Marvell and “My Last Duchess” by Robert Browning to show how these two apparently different poems are similar in their treatment of the female subject. The poems hide the patriarchal desire to look at a woman who is behind the veils, hidden and unattainable. Though the poems are apparently dissimilar, the tone of the narrators, their description of the object of their obsession, and the treatment of the female body suggest a connection that previously was unobserved. The theses I present in the paper are that the resemblances and divergences between the two poems and finally argue that they are thematically similar.

The voices of the narrators in both poems seem uncannily similar. Both are egotistical misogynists. A woman, the object of obsession for both the narrators, is the forbidden erotic object that the poets want to capture in their poems. In these dramatic monologues, the poets show the narrators as dominating and egotistical men who feel a woman’s wish is insignificant. Duke Ferrara shows the envoy his last, and, presumably, dead wife’s portrait that he keeps concealed from the common eye. A duke is a proud man who feels that his last duchess was too frivolous, easy to please, and bestowed her smiles too generously on strangers. The narrator has an inflated male ego that boasts of the nothingness of female existence. This is apparent when he says, “I gave commands; / Then all smiles stopped together” (Browning 45-46). The masculine pride of the duke reduces the duchess to a mere object (a painting). He boasts of his power to stop her from smiling with just one command. The narrator clearly indicates that the female demeanor is controlled and ruled by the man’s wishes.

He is the master of the female ‘other,’ and therefore, has physical and emotional power over her. A similar rejection of the female identity is observed in Marvell’s poem. Marvell’s narrator tries to seduce his mistress, initially with sweet words of love, and then with morbid and grotesque imagery to frighten her into submission. Here too, the narrator tries to gain sexual favor from his mistress, even when she is “coy” and reluctant to engage in physical relations. Apparently, the narrator seems to have accepted her negation, but that is a fallacy that the poet wants the readers to believe with the use of words like “lady” and “if you … refuse” (Marvell 2-9). However, the narrator, in the tradition of courtly love, should have accepted the woman’s denial. Instead, he pursues her with unabashed fervor. He solicits her love even when she refuses his advances: “And you should if you please, refuse / … My vegetable love should grow” (9-11). This actually shows that the narrator was unable to accept the lady’s denial and continued to pursue her. Like the narrator of “Last Duchess”, here too, the narrator believes his wishes gained precedence over the woman’s denial. Both of them believe that the female ‘other’ did not have any individual identity, but was an appendage to the male ‘self’, and therefore, a man’s possession.

Women in the poems are depicted as frivolous and flirtatious. Browning’s narrator openly declares to the foreign envoy that his last wife “had a heart” that was “too soon made glad” or easily “impressed” (25-26). Duke Ferrara disapproved of her easy manner and sweet disposition. He believed his wife’s love and attention should be his exclusive property. When the duchess did not differentiate between the men on whom she bestowed her “speech” or “blush”, it infuriated the duke (33-34). The sense of egotistic possession was so strong in the duke that he could not tolerate the Duchess’s good-natured smiles towards other men.

Thus, the natural female beauty in her smiles, blushes, or sweet manners did not inspire love in the narrator. Instead, we find swelling anger to the mild and compassionate nature of the duchess. These character traits that the duke disliked in the duchess were the epitome of feminine nature and therefore a source of her identity. However, the duke vehemently rejects her character and suspects her fidelity (Gardner 166). Similarly, Marvell’s narrator in “Coy Mistress” feels that the “coyness” in his mistress is a show of her flirtatiousness. He strongly believes that she was enjoying his overt sexual advances even though she was rejecting them. Thus, both the narrators believe that women have an enticing nature. They are frivolous and ‘coy’, devoid of any moral uprightness.

Objectification of the female body is another aspect present in both the poems. These poetic creations have a voyeuristic appeal for the poet as well as the readers. Vivid physical description of the women depicts the male gaze on the female body. In “Last Duchess” the duke and the foreign envoy, both men, are looking at the life-like portrait of the duchess. The painting becomes the voyeuristic window where the male gaze appraises the female body. The line “Will ‘t please you sit and look at her” is an invitation by the duke to the envoy to appreciate the female form in the duchess’s painting (Browning 5). This invitation contradicts the duke’s possessive nature expressed in the poem. On the contrary, he takes pleasure in the show. The use of words like “depth of passion” of the duchess’s “earnest glance” and the “blush” on her “cheeks” was actually drawing the envoy’s attention to her physical appearance (9-15). The deliberate drawing of the reader’s attention to the duchess’s body shows the voyeuristic pleasure the narrator drew from this exhibition of the painting. Marvell’s narrator in “Coy Mistress” gives a vivid description of his mistress’s physical attributes:

Two hundred to adore each breast,

But thirty thousand to the rest;

An age at least to every part,

And the last age should show your heart. (13-18)

This description of the female body is devoid of any pretention of romantic involvement. Instead, it is just a pretense of passionate address that is rejected at the very beginning of the third stanza when he brings forth his real perception of his mistress whose beauty he believes are mere ashes (Cousins 398). His perception of his mistress becomes more apparent when he metaphorically compares her attempts to safeguard her chastity as a mere folly for her “long-preserved virginity” he says will “turn to dust” (27-30). Therefore, he believes that a woman’s beauty “shall no more be found” and will turn her old-fashioned honor to “dust” and “ashes” if she continually rejects a lover’s advances (25-30). The woman’s cadaver is also an object of lust to the narrator: “then worms shall try / That long-preserved virginity” (28-29). This shows that the narrator believes that a woman is desired only for her beauty and once she grows old, all her charms are lost. Both the narrators believe that women’s beauty is skin-deep. Their voyeuristic description actually shows their perception of feminine beauty and attraction. Both the narrators openly display the woman’s body for voyeuristic viewing through the words and expressions in the poem.

The narrators of the poems are but a mirror into the poet’s attitude towards the gender. Marvell’s witty and erotic poem skillfully hides the true attitude of the poet behind the narrator. However, the poem depicts the poet’s disgust towards the female form (Cousins 399). The physical descriptions of feminine grace and virtue are an ironical representation of the rude description of the female body. Similarly, Browning, through his narrator, expresses his attitude towards women. His idea of feminine conduct is piquantly speckled with Victorian morality (Gardner 167). Both the poets show no respect for female identity and strongly reject its presence through their overt masculine overtures towards the female ‘other’. Imagining frivolity and flirtatiousness as the main traits of female character, the poets show that women are in their social status and should suffer male dominance. The presence of the male gaze in the poems is a deliberate sexist trope to intensify the narrator’s and through them the poet’s, misogynistic attitude towards women. In conclusion, both “Last Duchess” and “Coy Mistress” trivializes the female body as an object controlled by man, thus denying them an individual identity.

Browning, Robert. “My Last Duchess.” My Last Duchess and Other Poems . Dover, 1993, pp. 1-2.

Cousins, AD. “The Replication and Critique of Libertinism in Andrew Marvell’s ‘To His Coy Mistress’.” Renaissance Studies , vol. 28, no. 3, 2013, pp. 392-404.

Gardner, Kevin. “Was the Duke of Ferrara Impotent?.” ANQ: A Quarterly Journal of Short Articles, Notes, and Reviews , vol. 23, no. 3, 2010, pp. 166–171.

Marvell, Andrew. “To His Coy Mistress.” “ To His Coy Mistress” and Other Poems . Dover, 1997, pp. 1-2.

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Bibliography

IvyPanda . "Poems Comparison: "To His Coy Mistress" and "My Last Duchess"." November 28, 2023. https://ivypanda.com/essays/poems-comparison-to-his-coy-mistress-and-my-last-duchess/.

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Robert Browning's poem, "My Last Duchess"

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Introduction.

Browning’s “My Last Duchess” is a poem about a Duke and his wife. The duchess has an outstanding personality that threatens the insecure duke. The Duke has his wife killed because he is not pleased with her, and he is afraid he will not be able to control her.

Suppression of women and male dominance

The relationship between the Duke and the Duchess illustrates how men are obsessed with dominating and controlling women. The poem shows that the power to control women is in the hands of men. The duke feels he had taken back his control over the duchess once he killed her, but the duke does not realize that he only portrays his imminent weakness. Browning’s poem shows that, men silence women so that only their point of view is heard, thus there is no competition or opposition for them. Men such as the Duke become dependent on women’s silence.

Because of his insecurity, the Duke feels he has more control over the Duchess because only a portrait of her is hung on the wall, and not her real self. “Man-made objects displace divinely constructed ones in terms of importance” (Mitchell 74). The manmade portrait puts out of place the beautifully created human being in terms of importance. This shows men in society do not respect life; men are ready to end the life of another human being just so that they may gain power and control.

Though men played an enormous role in suppressing women, women are also to blame for their bondage. In an attempt to please men and society, women do not seek to find their identity. They seem to enjoy the fact that, men are taking control over them. The duke speaks of the duchess and says, “She had a heart, how shall I say? Too soon made glad, too easily impressed” (Browning lines 21-23). The Duke refers to the Duchess as someone who could not differentiate between an ordinary event and an event that should evoke joy. The Duke’s statement symbolizes the child-like behavior of women which makes it easy for men to take advantage of their innocence. Browning’s poem, “My Last Duchess” shows women that there are consequences of behaving child-like and conforming to men’s will.

The Duke wanted to control the Duchess in every way when she was still alive. He wanted to ensure that her smiles and laughter were only directed to him. The Duchess’s sociable personality threatened the Duke and made him feel insecure. The Duke says that he was “disgust[ed]” by the Duchess’s interest in anybody else other than himself (Browning 39). The Duke was so insecure that he used his power to control the Duchess so that she could not see other people. He did not want the Duchess’s warmth to be directed to anyone else. Control over what the Duchess was exposed to was one of the Duke’s vital role. After the Duchess died, the Duke feels that he has recovered complete control over her. The Duke seems to be happier when the Duchess dies. This shows that he has a weak personality and is threatened by the existence of the Duchess.

The Duke says that,” her looks went everywhere” (Browning line 24). Since only her portrait remains now, the Duke can open and close the curtain whenever he wants, and he makes sure that only he can access that curtain. This way, he is sure that her looks will go nowhere, and she will always be there for him. “None puts by the curtain I have drawn for you, but I” (Browning line 9). This way the Duke has complete control over the Duchess and only he enjoy her smile on the painting.

The Duke was uncomfortable with the fact that the Duchess did not entirely depend on him. The Duchess treated everyone with respect, and this did not please the Duke. The Duke felt that the Duchess should give him her undivided attention and should place him above everything because of his status. He states that, “I know not how, as if she ranked my gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name with anybody’s gift” (Browning lines 32-34). The Duke feels that Duchess does not consider being married to him as the most valuable thing in her life. According to Dukes statement the Duchess is supposed to worship him like a god simply because he is the Duke. This is how society expects women to act as a commitment to their marital life.

The Duke felt that the Duchess no longer smiled at him. The Duke was irritated because he was unable to control the Duchess’s smile.  “I gave commands, then all smiles stopped together” (Browning line 45). The Duchess smile was a symbol of her connection to the outside world, outside her marriage. The Duchess was able to use her smile to bond and communicate with others. The Duke was not happy because the Duchess no longer reserved her “smiles” and attention for him. “My Last Duchess” reveals that women are expected to reserve all their lives and attention for their husbands.

Women will continue to be subjected to the urge of men until they stop worshiping them. The Duchess did not worship the Duke, for this reason the Duke had her murdered. The Duchess viewed her husband as a man and not a god. The Duke killing his wife is a threat to all women in society. He states that, if his future Duchess does not flatter him as he expects, she will lose what power she will achieve by getting married to him. Even after having his wife killed, the Duke does not make any attempt to conceal his possessiveness and jealousy that led to this murder. This is a threat to all future Duchesses and shows that men are not remorseful for subjecting women to suppression.

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    By Robert Browning FERRARA That's my last Duchess painted on the wall, Looking as if she were alive. I call That piece a wonder, now; Fra Pandolf's hands Worked busily a day, and there she stands. Will't please you sit and look at her? I said "Fra Pandolf" by design, for never read Strangers like you that pictured countenance,

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