Robert Browning and My Last Duchess.

Set in Renaissance Italy in early 16th century My Last Duchess is an outstanding dramatic monologue and the dogmas of a self-sacrificing man are voted for as he shows a marriage mentor and a portrait of his late wife ‘my last Duchess’.

Moulded in rhyming couplets or so-called the heroic couplets, in a distinct long stanza, My Last Dutchess is one of the finest examples of Browning’s talent for developing character and this remnant as an influential part of psychological poetry.

Studying famous figures of the time Browning have researched into certain aspects of Renaissance Italy to help with his poetic endeavours. This dramatic monologue, no doubt is a magnum opus of the genre.

The dark, pretentious and egotistic deeds fit with the language with an enigmatic of the man who is being doubted for killing his wife for the reason that she was excessively compassionate and open-hearted.

The ability to keep the reader on the tightrope of uncertainty is where the genius of Browning lies. There is no moral judgement made, throughout the vague monologue.

The age, when women were grasped more as chattels in a marriage than real humans capable of love, ‘My Last Duchess’ was written in the Victorian age. Browning somewhat wrote the poem to see the sights of male and their supremacy, marriage position of women predominant in the society.

The poem thus proves to be an account of the imagination of a man’s effort to elucidate a picture, which is behind the curtains. Then being able to convince himself of the truth; the truth which could also well be one protracted lie.; a reason for the persistence of control over his first wife.

Summary

My Last Duchess by Robert Browning PDF

Background of the Poet

The commencement of the Victorian era was marked by the literary works of Robert Browning (1812-1889). It won’t be an exaggeration to call the early Victorian era as spent under the influence of this highly celebrated poet. The poet has many a ‘Magnum Opus’ to his credits, thanks to his distinctive writing style.

Apart from the major works like the ‘Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came’, ‘Andrea Del Sarto’, and so on, ‘My Last Duchess’ was a literary piece which garnered critical appreciation.

Structure of ‘My Last Duchess’

Dramatic monologue and Robert Browning are inextricable! Browning mastered the art of painting characters through monologues or soliloquies. A dark tone paired with irony and Dramatic lyrics were considered to be Browning’s forte.

Dramatic lyrics mirrored the then prevailing psychology of the society spent under male chauvinism where women were expected to be tamed and timid. The 28 rhyming couplets and the irregular sentence structure accentuates this monologue. The heroic couplets and the Iambic pentameter complements its structure and confirms the order and control in the life of the speaker as well.

My Last Duchess
My Last Duchess

That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall, / Looking as if she were alive. 

 

Robert Browning (1812-1889)
Robert Browning (1812-1889)

Browning’s Dramatic Monologue

A poetic form attendant primarily with Browning the dramatic monologue is a poem in which the narrator is the true focus of the poem. The subjects are being talked about by the characters in the poem, and the personality and psychology of the speaker are learnt predominantly by the readers.

Browning was also involved in playwriting and his writings were much more influenced by this. Venerable was the tradition of monologues in theatre and Browning intellectually this monologue form to poetry.

The Ring and the Book, in this a short form of the monologue is taken he takes the short monologue form and lends it to multiple characters who collectively reveal the story of a murder. Browning uses his dramatic monologue to explore a mystery.

The theme of My Last Duchess

The poem “My Last Duchess” by Robert Browning revolves around the theme of wariness, recklessness and control.

It first appeared in 1842, is said to be an altered depiction of a historical incidence of Duke of Ferrara who is exhibiting the undistorted, life-like portrait of his Duchess to the servant of a Court daughter he wishes to marry. The speaker, Duke of Ferrara maintains a conspicuous rhetoric tone throughout the poem. The silence and obsequious mannerism of the servant divulges the duke’s dominant nature.

WARINESS

In the relationship, there was an overwhelmed feeling of jealousy with the poet’s late wife. The fact that other people were fascinated by his wife and the way she reacted to their fascination with smiles. And moreover because of this watchfulness, his wife is no longer alive and there is a suspicion that the wife has been ordered to be killed by him. This jealousy thus; becomes the path to madness.

RECKLESSNESS

The poet seems to be very stable mentally. His judgment has been clouded by jealousy and as a result, he turns out to be the killer of his wife. The poet undoubtedly becomes too much possessed, that he even cannot stand seeing others who gaze at the painting of his wife.

CONTROL

The converser is also allowed to speak, by the poet and with the portrayal of the lady, a whole monologue is being started. The same controlling boldness is seen while conversing with the dutchess. With this, we can also say that no matter how jealous the poet was, he also likes to be controlled.

The tone of My Last Duchess

Egotistical, cold, mysterious is what the tone of the poem’My Last Dutchess’is. The tone is something which refers to the approach of the speaker. In the poem, the readers are told about the painting of the poet’s late wife.

The poet criticises about his wife; her hospitable attitude and that she delights in her life and also her inclination to smile at others who appreciated her. The speaker also conditions coldly that whenever he ordered, his wife’s smile clogged; this also somewhere hint at that he caused her slowly to death.

A tone of clandestine is also boosted with the use of different dictions. The words which were preferred by browning in the dramatic monologue forces the readers to rely on that is was getting difficult for the duke to handle such a flirty nature. “too easily impressed” with this statement the duke explains how she is was charmed easily by anyone.

The duke validates his reason to be upset by saying that “She ranked my gifts…with anybody’s gift”. He also states that by marrying her he provided her with a gift of nobility; therefore she relishes such a high social rank.

The dramatic monologue maintains the air of unsatisfied marriage and cynical psychology of the speaker. Here, the poet presents to us the two perspectives, one of the speaker himself and the other of the Duchess’s truthfulness. Thrusting it upon the audience to judge whether it’s the paranoia concerning the infidelity of his duchess or the flirtatious nature of his duchess which causes the drama.

“I gave commands, then all smiles stopped together” signals that the Duke was brutal enough to silence her smiles either by death or by sending her to some forsaken dungeon for the only fault of the Duchess of being friendly. It’s intriguing how, despite the assumed murder of his wife, the Duke still manages to put on his charisma and absorb his listener into his tales.

It is his brazen attitude that establishes his prominent aristocracy. This monologue can also be viewed as a piece of cautionary advice to his next duchess who is expected to follow his norms and know the consequence if she acts otherwise.

It is the diplomatic choice of words which conveniently hides the cunningness of duke. But, one cannot deny the duke’s eye for beauty. He has his personal art gallery in which he preserves his artistic monuments, one of which as we know, is the portrait of his beloved Duchess which states that his beloved wife’s portrait is now no more than an artefact to him. The swift transition in his monologue from Duchess’s portrait to other artefacts, like the Neptune taming a horse, evinces a ruthless yet breeziness in the Duke’s character.

There is no denying that Robert browning achieved a mysterious, haunting and jealous tone throughout the poem “My Last Dutchess’.

The context of My Last Duchess

The incident the poem comes from the life of Alfonso II, an aristocrat of Spanish origin who was Duke of Ferrara in Italy during the sixteenth century. Lucrezia, the daughter of a man who later became pope, was said to be the first wife of Alfonso. The court of Ferrara was converted by Lucrezia into a gathering place for performers of Renaissance including the eminent Titian Venetian painter.

Duke Alfonso II and Lucrezia de' Medici
Duke Alfonso II and Lucrezia de’ Medici

Although she died only three years into the marriage—to be replaced, as the poem suggests, by the daughter of the Count of Tyrol—As a result, Ferrara became exemplary of the aesthetic awakening that was taking place throughout Italy.

Character Analysis in My Last Duchess

The character of the Duke of Ferrara is revealed to be cruel, jealous, arrogant and proud. He is basically a persona of Alfonso IID’Este.In the poem, he is believed to have killed his wife for the reason that she was more welcoming to others and not grateful to him for marrying her. there is always seen a justifying act in the behaviour of Duke and his act of killing reveals that he truly has no feeling.

The dutchess of Ferrara was such a lady who could be pleased very easily. According to the duke, she did not enjoy the presence of the duke and welcomed everyone with a smile which was not appreciated by the duke at all. The entire character of the Duchess is told entirely by the speaker. The character of the Duchess is related to Lucrezia Di Cosimo De’ Medici.she is also depicted as very cheerful and excited.

The use of Literary Devices

A vibrant picture is conveyed in the mind of the person who reads with the use of imagery in the poem. The poem brings into being with the lines; “That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall, / Looking as if she were alive,” where the reader could vividly visualise the portrait of the duchess. The praises of the painter Fra Pandolf is also talked about by saying “Must never hope to reproduce the faint /Half-flush that dies along her throat ” causing in the growing jealousy of the duke.

Allusion, that is, reference to another text or art, also played a major role in the culmination of the poem while denoting to the Roman god Neptune. The listener’s thoughtfulness is stirred to the statue of Neptune’s domestication a seahorse. This can also be seen as an individual to take control of the fewer powerful.

Other figures of speech, metaphors, words and analogies are used by browning to signify the character of the speaker. The speaker plead guilty his act of killing the wife, also his careless confession lets the reader know the careless attitude of him.

The poet uses the device of Flashback to describe the Duchess’s persona. Whilst describing the portrait of Duchess “The Spot of Joy”, as he fondly recalls, the blush on his Duchess’s cheeks symbolises her seemingly promiscuous and ‘easy to cajole’ persona.

Fra Pandolf, the hand behind the portrait, manages to rouse flush in her cheeks, thus indicating that her husband is not the only reason for the blush in her cheeks. The Duchess holds at par her legendary Nine hundred years old title pronounced by the Duke with the meek little gestures of other men like ‘bough of cherries’ and ‘the white mule’. The sheer audacity of speaking about his wife, who the duke himself murdered, clearly expresses the piqued state of his mind. What seems like an eternal description of the portrait contradicts his blatant lie of not being verbally expressive.

Explanation; Lines 47-56

The duke is soon is seen readdressing the thoughtfulness towards the forthcoming marriage as the poems pull much closer. He is sure to get a lavish dowry from his wife’s father.

Moreover, he says that he desires to be seen as giving more courtesy to his fiancée that the money that would come along in the marriage. and this is the time when the readers become more anxious about the welfare of the young woman.

The image of the god ‘Neptune’ is used to conclude the poem. The relationship between the Duke depicted by Neptune and the last Duchess depicted by seahorse is verified with the image of god taming the seahorse. With this, the duke conditions his power of controlling his future wife.

The conclusion is made by showing the dukes desire for the rare beautiful beauty and his competence to fulfil the desire.

My Last Duchess by Robert Browning: Analysis

“My Last Duchess”, one of the finest dramatic monologue, is a spectacular blend of the social, psychological, Victorian aged poem comprising of the pessimism about human nature, the dark tone of life and the reigning inhumanity.

The dramatic revelation of character creates the poem unique in its own way. The poem is made much more convincing and impressive with the use of ordinary language, colloquial words, the rhythms, the very conventional situation and many such features. The poem is grim at first sight.it is trodden,  and elliptical. The realism behind the story could be understood only by a critical mind.

The readers see the duke pulling off his own face mask. The theme and style of the poem are always admired. The possessiveness and the distrust of the Duke as a husband is revealed when he tells the readers that the Duchess use to smile at every other person and it was not only for her husband. The values of sophistication are also revealed through the character. The poem is well defined as factually and expressively.

The Duchess is a character with natural humanity. The Duke, on the other side, is given the figure of Renaissance Machiavellian. The man with his pride avidity, and absence of human values. The eventual human depravity is displayed that results from the conquest of human values in the Victorian world with the killing of the Duchess by the Duke.

Hence Browning’s poem represents the entire social background of contemporary world lurks and it does not remain just a study of the Italian Renaissance.

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