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My Last Duchess

Robert Browning

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Issues
2003-09-07
Added by: Dodd
Dear me, Zainab,someone has issues! Jealousy is a sin,but its an incredibly powerful emotion as well.Could it be possible the Dukes main crime was to care too much?Well, no,as murders a pretty big crime,but you know what i mean.
a vivid portrayal of jealousy without remorse
2003-09-29
Added by: kudzu_topiary
Browning's duke can't see himself as he is, but the reader can. His words betray his consuming jealousy and his complete lack of remorse for letting it make him a killer, yet he still believes that both the jealousy and the murder are justified.

There is a great English ballad, usually called "The Lily of the West", that shows much the same mix of jealousy, murder and lack of repentance in the words of an uncontrollably jealous man. The listener gets a progressively deeper chill up the spine with each repeat of the song's refrain, as the killer blithely blames his crime on the woman whose beauty obsessed him beyond reason: "I was betrayed by Flora, the Lily of the West."
true
2003-10-06
Added by: Leah~
i would like to agree with whoever up the top said it was true because it is
this poem is about the fith duke, Alfonso II he married his first wife (the duchess) when she was 14 - her name was Lucrezia 3 days after the marriage he left her for 2 years then she died when she was 17 in somewhat suspicious circumstances - it is not sure if she was killed or died from other causes but this is who it is about
The Last Dutchess
2003-10-18
Added by: Dane
"That's my last Duchess painted on the wall, Looking as if she were alive."

In the very beginning of this poem it almost feels as if the Duke is speaking to you, the reader. Immediately you learn that she is no longer alive.

"I call that piece a wonder, now: Fra Pandolf's hands Worked busily a day, and there she stands."

Although during your initial reading you will obviously not notice the possibility, once you have learned more of the Duke you can already see support for her possible murder mentioned later.

To say that Fra Pandolf's hands worked busily could both imply work on the painting and work on the Duchess in an inappropriate sense. It's a stretch but she stands there in the painting and not by the Duke's side because of adultery with the painter.

"Will't please you sit and look at her? I said "Fra Pandolf" by design, for never read Strangers like you that pictured contenance, 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 if they would ask me, if they durst, How such a glance came there; so, not the first Are you to turn and ask thus."

The Duke offer's his guest the opportunity to sit down and look upon his prize. He also seems to throw around the name "Fra Pandolf" as a sign of superiority. Much as a person today might talk highly of Bach or Beethoven because such names seem to imply culture and education. Next he calls the visitor "never read" and a "stranger." These statements both seem to have a condecending tone to them.

Showing his pride in controlling his Duchess, at least in death, he let's the visitor know that all that are fortunately enough to look upon the picture are allowed to do so because of his permission.

You might also consider, although I haven't heard this supported often, that the Duchess was truely unfaithful. He seems to say here, you aren't the first to "ask me, if they durst, How such a glance came there." He could be saying, you aren't the first to ask why she died or how she died or could be supported in his dislike of her inappropriate display of attention to others besides him. The poem seems to suggest, through silent dialogue of the visitor, that a question was raised in support of the Duke's complaints.

"Sir, 'twas not Her husband's precense only, called that spot Of joy into the Ducess' 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"; and cause enough For calling up that spot of joy.

The Duke suggests further the improper activity that may have happened between the Dutchess and Fra Pandolf. These are very subtle suggestions. Although they suggest a certain flaw in the Duke's nature, I suggest that the possibility exists that just because the Duke appears paranoid, doesn't mean the Duchess wasn't cheating.

"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.

The Duke points out further flaws about the Duchess. It sounds creepy and you begin to suspect more and more the character flaws in the Duke's personality. I will keep asking though, was the Duchess without fault?

"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."

Here the Duke shows his dislike of being treated equally with others. Or at least his dislike of her enthusiasm cocnerning life in general. As an unimportant side note, the riding of the white mule on the terrace was done, I believe, specifically to cause the lady's breasts to bounce and jiggle during this time in history. Men enjoyed seeing this. I could be entirely wrong on that point, but do not believe so.

"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."

I think this portion may suggest a true existence of inappropriate behavior on the Duchess' part. It could also prove the Duke's self-absorbed nature. Either way, both should be considered. In truth, it seems a wife should treat her husband differently than all others. Remember, just because he is paranoid doesn't mean it didn't happen. So, he is big headed concerning his nobility, but that phrasing could also mean just marriage.

"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 you exceed the mark"--and if she let Herself be lessoned so, nor plainly set Her wits against yours, forsooth, and made excuse,--E[en then would be some stooping; and I chuse Never to stoop."

It's obvious that the Duke has skill in speech due to his words insofar into the poem. After all, the Duke is an extension of Browning and the poem is quite clever. The Duke makes many excuses for not confronting the Duchess, the last of which is because is his pride.

"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."

The popular explanation of this is suggestions of murder. Since "all smiles stopped together. There she stands as if alive."

Once again the Duke points out that the attention from the Duchess is no different from that of all other's. Interesting that there is no conclusive proof to the Duke's actions towards the Duchess. I think that jumping to a particular conclusion takes the fun out of the piece. You might try supporting the ludicrous notion that his Duchess was cheating. It isn't any more difficult than the reversed position. It might even be easier taking into the fact that many have commented about the painting.

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

Surprise, if this is your first time reading the poem, you learn that not only is the Duke not speaking to you, he is also already in the process of finding another Duchess. Whether or not you believe him, he says that he can ask for anything basically from the Count, but really just wants the daughter.

Also, you saw lofty tones earlier in the poem that suggested an inflated ego. The mentioned of being "never read" or talking down to the visitor might have been justified as he would have been a servant and a distinction would be apparent between the nobility and servant. Yes, when it was thought that the Duke was talking to the reader, we feel appropriately offended. But what if he was talking to someone of a lesser station. It would justify his tones.

"Nay, we'll go Together down, Sir! Notice Neptune, though, Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity, Which Clause of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me."

Browning really manages to create action in his poem. Saying that "we will go Together down, Sir," almost suggests that the visitor is feeling as many of us do towards the last of the poem, some sort of distrust or unease around the Duke. This may or may not be true.

After this, the Duke casually refers to another piece in his collection.

It can be seen easily that there are character flaws apparent within the Duke. Attempt to avoid dismissing immediately that the Duchess was unfaithful. Also allow for explanation of the Duke's lofty tone, which seemed to be to you (and insulting) was in fact towards a lower class citizen.

It would also be helpful to know about the morality during Victorian times (which I believe is the time of Browning? Just guessing.) If it is this time in history, then it could be that this poem represents a morally conservative man in a time of immoral social standards.
2003-10-27
Added by: Sephy
Just thought i'd say thanks because all the comments made about this poem really helped me to understand it. My only contribution would be to suggest that the title 'my last duchess' refers to the fact that he is finished with marrying duchesses (someone mentioned he may have been married to a duchess before the last one) and is now moving on because duchesses don't seem to be as obliging as he wants. would the daughter of a count be a countess? In which case, the title could refer to his choice to now try marrying a countess. Just a though.
I dont think u are all going deep enough
2003-11-27
Added by: aristophanes_angel
Browning demonstrates a typical victorian attitude in which women are portrayed as art. Some of you hit the nail on the head when yoiu said that he wanted to possess the Duchess. This is evident when you consider the lines "(since none puts forth the curtain I have drawn for you but I)". The Duchess , was at first the perfect 'angel of the house', but because she refused to conform happily to the Duke's demands, he resented her. We are not given any indication that she was unfaithful to him, but we are give evidence that she refused to be repressed by him when the narrator/ speaker states that when the commands grew the smiles stopped. We are also given indication of her death when he states " There's my last Duchess painted on the wall, standing as if she were alive..". This poem is in my opinion, one of Browning's better pieces, if only because it gives us valuable insight into what the expected roles of the female were in the time period.
2003-11-26
Added by: Vicky C
I feel that the title 'My Last Duchess' may emphasize that he has had many wifes before this one.
This new woman that he wants to marry does not get a say in whether she marries him, her father is doing her bidding for her. In those days thats what happened, fathers married their daughters to a man with wealth and status, and in return the man would be given a dowry. Maybe this is what happened to the wife he killed, and if so then why should this woman look at the duke and treasure his name more than others. If she didn't want the marriage she would have been resentful of the name.

When the duke refers to his killing of his wife he doesnt say it in so many words, and he changes the subject almost immediately as if what has happened is really nothing to him.

*Thanks everyone for all your comments, they really have helped me with my coursework learning other peoples point of views.
not marrying a duchess again
2003-12-09
Added by: nellie
Everyones comments here are really good, but about what someone said to do with the title meaning he was never going to marry a duchess again, that is impossible; he is a duke so therefore anyone he marries is automatically a duchess. A countess is not the daughter of a count, but has married a count. Nice idea though!
2004-01-29
Added by: S
The Duke is a materialistic man he likes to show off e.g "...neptune..." at the end of the poem.H ecant understand why the duchess is pleased so much by small things when he is only pleased by money and wealth.
2004-01-28
Added by: Grace Sanni
The Duke is a control freak and thinks he can toss everyone back and forth as he pleases. I don't see him as being over protective of his dutchess. i mean, if he loves her so much why did he kill her? He is proud; and jealous of the fact that she is smarter than he is. That seem to be the primary reason for killing her. HE IS A BAD EXAMPLE!

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