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Monday, January 7, 2013

Essay on My Last Duchess

Essay on My Last Duchess

Theme and Structure of My Last Duchess

What is the major theme of My Last Duchess and how does Browning use content, literary devices and structural form to convey that message?

My Last Duchess is written by Robert Browning in 1842. A dramatic monologue of the Duke of Ferrara presents his best side to the agent of the count of Tyrol when he tries to talk about his first wife who is now dead, as the Duke plans to negotiate a dowry for his daughter’s hand in marriage.

The theme of the Last Duchess is about the Duke’s character: arrogant, proud and manipulative attitude. There is uncertainty and vagueness when he discusses the late countess; the way he describe the painting to the agent surfaces he is merely trying to paint himself with words (Browning, 1992).The poem is set in iambic pentameter (10 syllables, or five feet, per line with five pairs of unstressed and stressed syllables), AABB rhyme scheme along with other techniques such as enjambment and caesura, the poem reveals qualities about the speaker and his situation. The reader might be drawn to the conclusion that the speaker has something to do with his wife’s death as revealed in his confusing speech and actions throughout the poem. The effective use of enjambment throughout the monologue, e.g. first line gives a complete thought, second line is a different story, and third line is the middle of the thought. The dramatic monologue exposes the speaker’s true personality and his situation more than he aims to say both to the agent and the reader. 

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The Duke of Ferrara seems to be controlling in nature; he tries to control everyone he comes to term with,  like he controls the actions of the agent as read in line 5, “Will’t please you sit and look at her”, “Will’t please you rise?” (l 47) and “Nay, we’ll go/ Together down, sir” (l 53-54.). What the reader of “My Last Duchess” noticed that the poem begins and ends with the discussion of the painting, the art piece being described with symbols and emblems are parts of the structural device which provides as the clue to the meaning of the poem (Adler, 1977).He succeeded in gaining full possession his duchess when she became a mere object (lines 1 and 3) “That’s my last Duchess painted in the wall…I call that’s a piece of wonder now”, he states likes the painting in the line 7: “Strangers like you that pictured countenance”. He fully gains power over her, his possessiveness surfaces in the lines 9 to 10: “since non puts by/ the curtain I have drawn for you, but I”. From the first lines (“That’s my Last Duchess painted on the wall…”)to the last three lines Browningcaptures the Duke’s authoritarian character: “Notice Neptune, though, Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity, Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me!”Just as he succeeded in controlling his previous wife as an object (“since none puts by The curtain I have drawn for you, but I”, line 9-10) throughout the interview he succeeded in manipulating the listener as if he were a puppet. (Adler, 1977)

The Duke tries to put his wife in the bad light, giving the reader the impression that she is flirtatious, false and disrespectful, while he appears to be the abusedbut caring husband. The use of caesura suggests that he is unsure of what to say next. He could not understand of his wife’s love for natural, simple things (lines 21-30) and his reaction to “…I know not how–as if she ranked My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name” expresses his love for artificiality and a vain attitude. His jealousy of some men when he saw her smiling at them did the Duke reprimanded her.  “Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands as if alive.” suggests that she ceased flirting and stop living. It brings to mind to the reader that the Duke mighthave murdered her. (Browning, 1992). The whole poem does not describe much of the Duchess’ painting, but a frightening description of the Duke’s character.


Adler, Joshua. "Structure and Meaning in Browning's" My Last Duchess"."Victorian Poetry (1977): 219-227.
Browning, Robert. My Last Duchess. Arion Press, 1992.

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