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Browning gives us a glimpse into the world of Alfonso, Duke of Ferrara, in the sixteenth century. Ferrara is a city in what is now northern Italy. Alfonso was a real person, but the situation described in this poem is fictional. The Duke is addressing an envoy from a Count and is showing him a portrait of his former wife.
In the opening line, the Duke states plainly that the pain ting is of his 'last Duchess'. His comment in the second line that she is 'looking as if she were alive' gives the impression that this is a masterpiece, but as we read on we realize that there is a more sinister meaning to this phrase. The artist referred to, Fra Pandolf, is a fictional one. The Duke explains that he is the only one who shows off the portrait by drawing back the curtains that normally cover it. Everyone who sees it comments on the 'depth and passion' in the facial expression of the Duchess, and wonders what the reason for it was. The Duke refers to her expression as a 'spot of joy', and we begin to understand his attitude as he tells the envoy that he was not the cause of it: the artist was. The Duke imagines the compliments that Fra Pandol f might have paid to the Duchess as he was painting: 'Paint/Must never hope to reproduce the faint/Half -flush that dies along her throat.' It i cs clear that the Duke disapproved of his wife's reactions to such remarks, as he says that she was 'too soon mad e glad'. The Duke's comment that 'her looks went everywhere' (line 24) suggests that he could not tolerate the fact that the Duchess delighted in beauty and appreciated gifts from others. He recalls that she considered his 'favour at her breast' no more i mportant than the setting of the sun or a present of cherries from the orchard. He admits that she was right to thank people for gifts, but resents the fact that she did not seem value his gift to her, his 'nine-hundred-years-old name' above anything else. On two occasions the Duke mentions the idea of stooping to explain to his former wife what it was that displeased him about her (lines 34 and 42 -43). This clearly shows that he considered himself to be far above her. His language is very direct when he t ells the envoy that he might have said to her 'Just this/or that in you disgusts me'. Again, in lines 39 40, the Duke refers to how the Duchess might 'let/herself be lessoned', leaving us in no doubt as to his attitude towards her. She is seen as an inferi or being that would need to be taught how to behave, almost like an unruly child. He admits that she smiled when she saw him, but comments that she did the same to everyone she saw. As this went on, the Duke could no longer bear her behavior and 'gave comm ands;/Then all smiles stopped together' (lines 45-46). It soon becomes obvious that the Duchess did not merely cease to smile, but ceased to live: the Duke's orders had been to kill her. Once more he says 'There she stands/As if alive', and we are in no do ubt this time that she is no longer alive. The Duke's comments on his former wife are over and he asks the envoy to come downstairs with him. Only at this point is the purpose of the envoy's visit made clear: the Duke wishes to marry the Count's daughter, and the dowry is being discussed. Before they leave the upstairs room, however, the Duke draws the envoy's attention to another painting. This one, again by a fictional artist (Claus of Innsbruck) depicts Neptune 'Taming a sea horse'. There seems to be a clear parallel here with the concept of the Duke 'taming' his last Duchess. Browning's use of the dramatic monologue is of course ideal for emphasizing the Duke's dominant role in this situation. His is the only voice we hear, and his view of his relationship with his former wife is the one we are given. Our impression of the Duke is one of arrogance, intolerance, jealousy and cruelty. Does a wife who has looked at others and been generous with her thanks deserve to die? We are told (line 31) that on some occasions she merely blushed on meeting people when she went out for a ride; this would seem to suggest shyness and modesty. She appears to have been a lady who felt it right to express
Without this. and whether there was hope for a little more tolerance. The excuse for having his wife murdered is exceptionally eccentric if he possessed half an ounce of intelligence he would have confronted his wife and told her about her so-called flaws. The Count invites the courier to sit down and hear the story about his diseased wife. ³For calling up that spot of joy. ³She 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´. friendly an d polite manner. He boasts that he had enough with her jolly and positive attitude towards others so he gave commands to halt her smiling forever. The dashes in particular give the impression that thoughts are occurring to the Duke spontaneously as he speaks. and there she stands. The Duchess was a flirt and would please a man when she was praised. skilfully portrayed a domineering character. Browning has. Browning has composed his poem in rhyming couplets with iambic pentameter (ten syllables to a line. We should remember that at this time 'you' was actually a polite form of address. he has no 'skill in speech'. where one line flows into the next without a period. The use of enjambement. In this dramatic monologue authored by Robert Browning the author begins by addressing his last Duchess to the Counts messenger he states how striking she was and all the diverse things about her. gives a more natural. Fra Pandolf is an artist that works with the dead he dresses dead people and takes their picture. apparently for having a warm. ³That¶s my last duchess painted on the wall. ³I gave commands´. The poem is virtually devoid of metaphors and similes: as the Duke tells the envoy. My last Duchess is founded on events in Alfonso the second¶s life Alfonso was the Duke of Ferrara in Italy for a fraction of the renaissance period. the use of rhyme might have seemed a little too contrived. with stressed and unstressed syllables alternating). The narrator directs it to her smile in death. ³I choose never to stoop´. It is hard to read the poem without feeling compassion for the Duchess who died at his hand. full of his own self-importance. as the familiar form 'thee or 'thou' was also in use.gratitude or smile in a friendly way. I am left wondering how the next Duchess was to fare. since it does not become clear until the final few lines that he is talking to an envoy. The setting of this astounding monologue by Robert Browning takes place in Italy during the renaissance period. and we are left with the feeling that the Duke was a proud and ruthless man who over -reacted to his wife's charming manner. Like . in 'My Last Duchess'. The narrator considers himself to be a general and he uses being a general as an excuse because general¶s orders should not be taken lightly and should be abided by the out come is the same in war if you don¶t accept the orders given you are shot for deserting. Looking as if she were alive ³. The use of the word 'you' throughout the poem may make us feel that the Duke is addressing us personally as we read. in the Duke. She had a heart how shall I say? Too soon made glad´ I believe the duke is angry because the duchess was a flirt and thanks everyone excessively as if she is extraordinary and has a nine hundred year old name. Strangers glancing at her cadaver appeared to be traumatized. The last duchess adored the environment around her and was content with the small things in life. The duke enjoys the duchess smiling but then he contradicts himself and states that he only likes the duchess smiling at him. conversational feel to the poem. ³Fra Pandolph¶s hands worked busily a day.
³The half-flush that dies along her throat´ she might have been blushing over the painter who was painting her features they could have been having an affair like Porphyria and her lover the duke could of found out and that was the final nail in the coffin so the duke ordered some one to murder the duchess if the story was told by the painter this could have been the outcome. ³Notice Neptune. he visited Italy in 1838 and clearly had done considerable reading about its history. when Browning still lived. fifth duke of Ferrara. He must have come across a biography of Alfonso II (1533-1598). . "You say what? there's nothing in the poem about him killing her! where do you find that?" A century and more ago." Yet these are transfixing clues to a drama that we observe. Thanks to Louis S. Readers familiar with Browning's writing and sensitive to nuance perceive the speaker's pride and coldbloodedness. unable to speak or to act. in "My Last Duchess. jealousy. attentively. Browning's readers have only a title and. no doubt. Commentary by Ian Lancashire (2002/9/9) We always drop unprepared into a Browning dramatic monologue. Fascinated with the Renaissance period. The poem both begins and ends with the descriptions of works of art at the beginning it is the picture of the duchess and at the climax of the poem it is a bronze statue of Neptune crafted by Claus of Innsbruck. Soliloquies or speeches in a play have a context that orients the audience. as if we turned on a radio and. though . ³Oh sir she smiled. Many miss the point and are astonished. The duke continues to court the Counts daughter for a large dowry he does not care about love he only cares about getting rich. about a murder and the maybe-killer's search for the next victim. "Ferrara. as we may come very gradually to appreciate. readers presented him with questions about this poem. almost as if he had not written the poem but was seeing it himself. whene¶er I passed her. having selected a frequency. already in process and. helplessly.Taming a sea horse´. The duchess is put forward in the poem as a flirt but we have to remember this is in the view of the duke I believe the duke is covering his own envy. after a very long time and was trying to understand what had happened. He answered them cautiously. a critic who published an article on "My Last Duchess" in 1936. overhear a very private conversation. who married Lucrezia. but who passed without much the same smile. In my outlook the duke owns the duchess like an object the duke demonstrates this by the way he opens and closes the curtain he has power over her now just like Porphyria¶s lover they both wanted control and they both killed to get it they both probably have the inherited illness called Porphyria the only difference is Porphyria¶s lover killed for control of love the duke killed for control of the person. Friedland. resentment and covetousness to put the blame on her for him having the duchess killed. The last few lines about Neptune taming a sea horse is about male dominance Neptune control the sea horse as the duke control the duchess no that she is dead.the duchess she is assassinated for not doing what she is told. into several lives about which we know nothing." a speech prefix. we know something about how young Browning found the story.
while she. almost vulgar. connotes something quite different. -. and being told. This context.Italy. one Nikolaus Mardruz. if necessary. If "Duchess" gets the stress. describing the painting. to him. and four years later in Innsbruck. tells us two things. to something he casually points out. also sounding peculiar.. Alfonso left her -.. "That's my last Duchess painted on the wall. it sounds odd.or maybe we infer -that he acquires. cheerfully. The Duchess looks out at us. come in sequence. The title evidently refers to a wall painting that Ferrara reveals to someone yet unidentified in the first fourteen words of the poem. in his expression." as "portrait." is archaic now and may have been so when Browning wrote the poem (OED "piece" sb. havi ng become obsolescent. The line suggests self-satisfaction. and still means now. not just works of art. "How odd he didn't say her name. That sense of "piece. He first published the poem in 1842. 9b). by the owner himself. now." how would we react? We might think. what the term has meant for centuries. a c-nt? . she may be dead. not the Duchess (so possibly we are being silly): "I call / That piece a wonder. Finding ourselves being given a tour of a grand home for the first time." This clause. Three days after the wedding. the Duchess herself (rather than her image in the painting). or at least we might wonder until he finished his sentence with "Looking as if she were alive. The poem's duke of Ferrara. In recent use. I. once his spouse." to . Is "That piece" a portrait or a sl-t. are to be replaced. the Medici." The phrase "That piece" must mean "that portrait. I wonder what happened . and that Duchesses are no different from paintings.. "That's my last wife painted on the wall. though there is something intangibly common. as far as we know. and the phrase "last Duchess" echoes in our working memory. like collectibles that.. Yet wouldn't Ferrara say "life-like" or "true to life. Emphasize "my" and Ferrara reveals his sense of owning her. Pause over "last" and we might infer that duchesses. in 1558. Do we know for sure? Does "she" mean the Duchess or her painting? Ferrara continues. from "Italy and France. but Browning must have meant his readers to associate the poem with these shadowy historical figures because he changed the title in 1849. he implies -. The painter Frà Pandolf and the sculptor Claus of Innsbruck are fictitious. directly from the painting. four years after his visit to Italy. She died barely 17 years old. but the interpretation of what actually took place among them is Browning's own. and the new "fair daughter" are historical." if that was simply what he meant? His choice of words may suggest that." surely.". a thing on a wall. and her depiction there is life like. Al fonso began negotiating for a new wife with a servant of the then count of Tyrol. but persons.the 14-year-old daughter of the upstart merchant princes. and people talked. what we see today. that is. mostly depreciatory. we might be looking at a living person rather than a work of art. a b-tch.for two years. However a reader utters this line. of a woman or girl regarded as a sexual object" (OED sb. the viewers. his last duchess." he says. looks alive. Stress "That's" and Ferrara reduces a woman. 17b). "Applied to a woman or girl. a man speaking of pictures of women. the "Count" with whose servant (Mardruz) Ferrara is here discussing re-marriage and a dowry.
and yet Ferrara continues. we must be told (and Ferrara will explain) why he named.a relief. That. because (as he tells us pointedly) the portrait is curtained off." As readers. nature being what it is." If "presence" meant just "the state of being in the same place". "Frà Pandolf's hands / Worked busily a day. Ferrara uses the term to allude to the importance of his decision to be with her. As "Strangers" (7). "Sir. "Frà" ('brother'). Ferrara has not yet done with us. from sexual passion. for example. and that "glance" (again) -. or he might have complained that his art was not up to capturing the "faint / Half-flush that dies along" her throat. We have to look at the Duchess. standing beside him. a painting. His listener does not ask this question. giving him the honorific. "by design. as her sexual partner. awareness that someone likes her reveals itself in a blush. at being looked at approvingly. to sit down "and look at her. to colour in this way. We have to "read" (6) her face. Mid-way through line 5. possibly. and only he can pull back the curtain to reveal it. but of course that is impossibl e. where did it live? Frà Pandolf alludes here to the "spot of joy. that "spot of joy. its skin being attractive. no . through his words. more. called that spot / Of joy in to the Duchess' cheek. He just sits where he is told to sit and hears what others. due a member of religious orders and a celibate man. being just as silent as the "you" to whom Ferrara refers. on anyone by just turning up. reveals a "joy" felt by the Duchess in herself.Ferrara's next remark keeps us off-balance. it would be redundant here./ The depth and passion of its earnest glance". 't was not / Her husband's presence only. the stateliness and majesty that a duke confers. if they dare (11). to look as if they would ask Ferrara. any court compliment owing to the Duchess merely by virtue of her position. not someone contemptible -. though he may look as if he would like to ask. Ferrara implies. Is he speaking about the woman? Ferrara then invites his listener. just what elicited that "passion" in her. would sometimes want to ask (but in fact seldom do ask) and. Yet any "courtesy. hears what Ferrara would say in answer to that rare question. her look did not rise." The painting cannot stand because it is on the wall. aroused that look. a celibate religious. might have observed that the Duchess should shift her mantle up her arm somewhat to show more of her wrist. a colouring in a small patch ("a spot") as blood flows to the face. Was she looking at a lover. ought to arouse her." spreading downwards from her cheeks (15) as he was painting her. for Frà Pandolf. and only Ferrara." Ferrara asserts. The Duchess's look -. as if we too were there." No. If it died in the throat. at sometime who desired her? That is one question her look suggests. but from a more general emotion. could never bring forth that "passion. a wondrous good one. at being herself. but not at all displeased. Ferrara says. Ferrara also speaks to us. and add to that. We may want to sit down." that "blush" (31). the way he. Frà Pandolf. Her embarrassed." Obviously the "piece" is something hand -made. as a gif t.causes ignorant observers. "there she stands.her "pictured countenance. who as a lyric poet would address us directly. not a person." the painter. has disappeared behind this character. and there she stands. knowing nothing about this place and its people. of his type. because Browning.
in her face. in fact.did the looking. / Then all smiles stopped together. where she stands." He not only lowers himself to the level of a mere count but generously offers to "go / Together down" with the listener. lowering himself to her level. If the Duchess smiled everywhere. he shifted to the Duchess herself. has a much more ominous sound. Ferrara could ind eed be speaking mainly about the "life-like" portrait. disgusted (38) Ferrara for the way they seemed to trifle (35) with. Then Ferrara invites his listener and us to rise from being seated and "meet / The company below" (47-48). the second time he uses the phrase.matter who -. Her humility and general good nature. to flatter Ferrara. bleak sentences brings Ferrara back to where he started. could her smiles be stopped by anything short of death by execution? What Ferrara's commands were. he does not say. she also could not detect his outrage. side by side. "This grew.whether a celibate painter. took joy in "whate'er /She looked on. standing before her portrait. She cannot be "life-like. Now. Unable to recognize "courtesy" as insincere. but as his anger grew. Ferrara obsessively reviews the reasons why that joy was "a spot. Ferrara bargains with it openly. however. and he said nothing to her about what he felt. instead of following him and so maintaining symbolically a duke's superior level and rank.Ferrara killed the joy that defined the "depth and passion" of her being. The more he talks. rather than a Duchess who was herself the prize. I gave commands. At the beginning." He alone draws back the curtain on the portrait. a courtier's gi ft of some cherries from the tree. 43). or her husband the duke -. but "As if alive". For all his obsession with his noble lineage. a servant. There she stands / As if alive. He finally controlled before whom she could "blush. Ferrara "stoops. . though sharing the same smile with anyone else. or understate the value of his own gift. and the white mule whom she rode "round the terrace" (29). When negotiating with the listener's master the Count for a dowry." a contaminant that should not have been on his last Duchess' cheek. no less than a sunset. She smiled on him. an excuse that the poem itself disproves. she was made happy by it. When he describes her as missing or exceeding the "mark" (38 -39). the more his contempt and self-justifying anger show. that is. by the side of a listener made to sit. He attributes this silence to his lack of "skill / In speech"." This elliptical chain of four curt. and her looks went everywhere. Lacking the cunning to discriminate publicly. whenever he "passed" her (44). competing in a competition for prizes (his name). as Browning thought possible late in his life -. She wore her feelings openly. Ferrara develops his metaphor from archery.as if the poem somehow lived independent from him -." A sprig of flowers from the duke for her bosom (25) and his ancestral name itself (33) meant joy to her. and the more he endears the Duchess to us. but to the standing Duke any outward expression of his concern would have meant "stooping" (34." Even had he just divorced her and put her in a convent. a place in a noble family 900 years old. as if she was one of his soldiers.
and `called/calling . 46)." Will she too. He also obsesses about his height. He curtains off the Duchess' portrait to prevent her from looking "everywhere. He stands because the Duchess stands on the wall. 45-46). is "Taming a sea-horse" (55). relative to others. In this poem Browning develops an idiolect for Ferrara.Will Ferrara "repeat" (48) in marriage as he does in his speech? He claims the Count's "fair daughter's self" is his "object. alive" (2. and to walk downstairs with him side-by-side.. for example. `gift' (33 -34). `Will 't please you' (5. "I repeat" (48). 21). Unlike poets like Gray and Keats. the sea-god. 47). 5. Ferrara betrays his obsessions by nervous mannerisms. `thanked' (31)." He tells his listener to look at her and to "Notice Neptune. `there she stands' (4. 24). as Ferrara tamed his last Duchess. to rise. that spot of joy' (14 -15. Last. become a thing. These tics define his idiolect but also his mind. 12). Browning does not write as himself. He takes pride in saying. because to do so would be untrue to the Duke's character. found on a wall like his last Duchess? Ferrara hints at his intentions by pointing out a second work of art.. `glance' (8. `stoop' (34.' variously inflected (2. `look. He abhors stooping because he would lose face. by echoing the work of other poets. Neptune.. this time a sculpture. `smile' (43. Ferrara needs to control the eyes of others. 42-43).." . and `pass' (44). as he reaches the staircase. and he requires his listener to sit. He repeats words associated with the Duchess: the phrases `as if . circling back to the same topic again and again. 47). an objective achieved.
and b) an introduction to the Duke's subtle. Browning accomplishes two things: a) an emphasis on the mastery of the artist. but another character. The central premise of the poem is put in place: the dead wife will appear to come back to life only throu gh the artistry of the picture. the Duke. In addition. Claus of Innsbruck²is an imaginary. It should be noted that. figure. mocking tone with the phrases "piece of wonder" and "busily a day". Fra Pandolf ²and later. and initiates a "relationship" between the dead woman and the reader. unlike some other figures in Browning's work. the Duke appears more taken with the pain ting . Lines 6-9: The words "by design" imply that the artist is well -known and has some prestige attached to his name. is now addressing the emissary directly. not historical. Browning allows the reader to begin to think of the woman as a real person. the speaker is not addressing the reader. this provides the reader with location (Italy) and class environment (aristocratic). The Duke also stresses that all of the painting's viewers² "strangers like you"²remark upon the painting's lifelike look. These words seem to be heavy with ridicule and scorn for both woman and artist. it indicates that the speaker of the poem. More specifically. The reader may imagine the emissary sitting in a chair while the Duke stands and delivers his speech.My Last Duchess Lines 1-2: The beginning note is meant to explain that the speaker of the poem is the Duke of Ferrara. Once the reader begins to feel sympathy for the woman. asking him to sit and gaze upon picture of the dead woman. focusing the reader's imagination on the painting on the wall. The Duke may want to advertise that it was his own talent for hiring the right artist that was responsible for the "life-like quality" of the picture. "Fra Pandolf." who created a work of art that makes the dead woman seem so animated. ultimately created ²not a masterpiece²but just a portion of one. In the opening lines Browning sets the scene for the poem. once very much alive. the emissary is now in a subordinate position. In effect. At this poi nt the reader might begin to think the Duke was jealous of the man who "fussed" over his wife but who. Through this. Line 5: The use of the word "you" informs the reader that there is an immediate addressee within the fiction of the poem. Lines 3-4: Here. then the subsequent "reasons" given by the Duke concerning her "imperfections" will seem all the more outrageous.
Browning begins to interject the notion of the Duke's jealousy. That "passionate glance" might have been placed there by the painter. she gave all men the kind of respect that only a man with his family's rank and distinction deserves. whom the Duke probably sees as a rival for his dead wife's affection. since apparently all previous viewers have wanted to know what excited the Duchess enough to inspire that look in her eyes. Two readings are possible. The use of the word "its" instead of "her" suggests that the Duke has more of a relationship with the painting than he did with his dead wife. the Duke announces that. He blames her for not seeing any difference between being the wife of a "great man" and: being able to see the sunset. even though her faults were many. While he thinks it's fine to be courteous ("She thanked men." which may literally have been a blush. The Duke insinuates that this blush must have come to her face from either being in the company of a lover or from her far too impressionable and undiscriminating nature.. Browning suggests more of the Duke's possessiveness. but I. If the painter was not the Duchess' lover. Lines 35-43: Having recounted the Duchess's imperfections. or riding a white mule. Lines 10-13: These lines suggest just how striking the depth and passion of the image are. With these details. might have caused the Duchess to blush." Lines 14-15: At this point.than with the real woman the picture represents. then her nature was simply too susceptible to flattery for the Duke's liking.²good!"). he would not lower himself² "stoop"²by telling her what . receiving a bouquet from someone of status below the Duke's. Lines 22-34: This section of the poem begins the Duke's long list of complaints against the Duchess. First and foremost. turning on the reader's sense of how seriously the Duke believes in the monk's vows of celibacy. as he tells the emissary that it wasn't his presence alone that made his wife happy or caused the "spot of joy. she was innocent. too easil y pleased and impressed. The image of emotion²the "passion" in the "glance"²seems more valuable to him than genuine emotion. aside from some illicit pleasure. The Duke also betrays his posses siveness and desire for control when he comments that "none puts by / The curtain . Lines 16-21: The Duke begins to offer his guesses at what..
The Duke recalls his dead wife's smile. at worst. . the Duke is restating his power over his future bride." taming a sea -horse. At this point. he explains that the very process of having to explain his feelings to her would have constituted a compromise (or "stoop") to his authority. however." underscore her death. even if he had the skill to tell the Duchess just how much she disgusted him. with the emphasis on "as if alive. The lines "gave commands. the reader is unlikely to trust these declarations and is likely to fear for this young woman's welfare. as well as his more general power in the world. he betrays a fear that she would have argued with him: "plainly set / Her wits to yours. / Then all smiles stopped together" tell us that the Duke used his power to curb his wife's friendliness. On one hand." At this point in the poem. He tells the emissary that he is certain his future bride's father will give him a generous dowry. The next lines. The Duke. the Duke redirects his attention to his upcoming marriage. but the words also leave the details ambiguous. Lines 49-53: As the poem draws to a close. by pointing out this sculpture to the emissary. The image of the powerful god taking control over a creature like a sea-horse demonstrates the relationship between the Duke (Neptune) and the last Duchess (seahorse). Lines 54-56: The poem concludes with the final image of a god.bothered him." On the other hand. Note how the Duke tries to paint himself as a "plain -spoken" man. wants to be seen as a man who is more interested in his fiancee than in any money she might bring to their union. "Neptune . but also his ability to do so. one who has no "skill" in "speech. showing not just the Duke's desire to possess rare objects of beauty. he may have ordered her assassination. At best. The final lines emphasize another aspect of that power. he may have restricted her behavior in a way that dampened her ardor for life. and how she never reserved her smile for him. the reader may realize the Duke is well-skilled in the uses of language. Lines 44-48: These lines contain the speaker's final judgement on the Duchess. The Duke explains that. It is as if. he would not have explained to her how and why her actions bothered him.
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