MY LAST DUCHESS SUMMARY
MY LAST DUCHESS SUMMARY : 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.
MY LAST DUCHESS
“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.
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.
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.
My Last Duchess Analysis
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.
My Last Duchess Analysis
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.
My Last Duchess Analysis
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.
My Last Duchess Analysis
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.
My Last Duchess Analysis
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.
My Last Duchess Analysis
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.
My Last Duchess Analysis
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.
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.
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;”
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.
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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