You are on page 1of 9

Robert Browning (7 May 181212 December 1889) was an English poet and playwright whose mastery of

dramatic verse, especially dramatic monologues, made him one of the foremost Victorian poets.
Early years
Browning was born in Camberwell, a suburb of London, England, the first son of Robert and Sarah Anna Browning.
His father was a well-paid clerk for the Bank of England, earning about 150 per year. Brownings paternal
grandfather was a wealthy slave owner in St Kitts, West Indies, but Brownings father was an abolitionist.
Browning's father had been sent to the West Indies to work on a sugar plantation. Revolted by the slavery there, he
returned to England. Brownings mother was a musician. He had one sister, Sarianna. It is rumoured that Browning's
grandmother, Margaret Tittle, was a Jamaican-born mulatto who had inherited a plantation in St Kitts. Robert's
father amassed a library of around 6,000 books, many of them rare. Thus, Robert was raised in a household of
significant literary resources. His mother, to whom he was very close, was a devout nonconformist as well as a
talented musician. His younger sister, Sarianna, also gifted, became her brother's companion in his later years. His
father encouraged his interest in literature and the arts.
By twelve, Browning had written a book of poetry which he later destroyed when no publisher could be found. After
attending several private schools, he began to be educated by a tutor, having demonstrated a strong dislike for
institutionalized education. Browning was a good student, and by the age of fourteen he was fluent in French, Greek,
Italian and Latin. He became a great admirer of the Romantic poets, especially Shelley. Following the precedent of
Shelley, Browning became an atheist and vegetarian, both of which he gave up later. At the age of sixteen, he
attended University College London but left after his first year. His mothers staunch evangelical faith prevented his
studying at either Oxford University or Cambridge University, both then open only to members of the Church of
England. He had substantial musical ability and composed arrangements of various songs.
Middle years
In 1845, Browning met Elizabeth Barrett, who lived as a semi-invalid in her father's house in Wimpole Street.
Gradually a significant romance developed between them, leading to their elopement on 12 September 1846. The
marriage was initially secret because Elizabeth's father disapproved of marriage for any of his children. From the
time of their marriage, the Brownings lived in Italy, first in Pisa, and then, within a year, finding an apartment in
Florence at Casa Guidi (now a museum to their memory). Their only child, Robert Wiedemann Barrett Browning,
nicknamed "Penini" or "Pen", was born in 1849. In these years Browning was fascinated by and learned hugely from
the art and atmosphere of Italy. He would, in later life, say that 'Italy was my university'. Browning also bought a
home in Asolo, in the Veneto outside Venice, and in a cruel irony he died on the day that the Town Council approved
the purchase. His wife died in 1861.
Browning's poetry was known to the cognoscenti from fairly early on in his life, but he remained relatively obscure
as a poet till his middle age. (In the middle of the century, Tennyson was much better known). In Florence he
worked on the poems that eventually comprised his two-volume Men and Women, for which he is now well known;
in 1855, however, when these were published, they made little impact. It was only after his wife's death, in 1861,
when he returned to England and became part of the London literary scene, that his reputation started to take off. In
1868, after five years work, he completed and published the long blank-verse poem The Ring and the Book, and
finally achieved really significant recognition. Based on a convoluted murder-case from 1690s Rome, the poem is
composed of twelve books, essentially ten lengthy dramatic poems narrated by the various characters in the story,
showing their individual perspectives on events, bookended by an introduction and conclusion by Browning himself.
Extraordinarily long even by Browning's own standards (over twenty thousand lines), The Ring and the Book was
the poet's most ambitious project and has been praised as a tour de force of dramatic poetry. Published separately in
four volumes from November 1868 through to February 1869, the poem was a huge success both commercially and
critically, and finally brought Browning the renown he had sought and deserved for nearly forty years.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning

The courtship and marriage between Robert Browning and Elizabeth were carried out secretly. Six years his elder
and an invalid, she could not believe that the vigorous and worldly Browning really loved her as much as he
professed to, and her doubts are expressed in the Sonnets from the Portuguese, which she wrote over the next two
years. Love conquered all, however, and, after a private marriage at St Marylebone Parish Church, Browning
imitated his hero Shelley by spiriting his beloved off to Italy in August 1846, which became her home almost
continuously until her death. Elizabeth's loyal nurse, Wilson, who witnessed the marriage at the church,
accompanied the couple to Italy and became at service to them.
Mr. Barrett disinherited Elizabeth, as he did for each of his children who married: The Mrs. Browning of popular
imagination was a sweet, innocent young woman who suffered endless cruelties at the hands of a tyrannical papa but
who nonetheless had the good fortune to fall in love with a dashing and handsome poet named Robert Browning.
As Elizabeth had inherited some money of her own, the couple were reasonably comfortable in Italy, and their
relationship together was content. The Brownings were well respected in Italy and they would be asked for
autographs or stopped by people because of their celebrity. Elizabeth grew stronger, and, in 1849, at the age of 43,
she gave birth to a son, Robert Wiedemann Barrett Browning, whom they called Pen. Their son later married but had
no legitimate children. It is rumoured that the areas around Florence are peopled with his descendants.
Several Browning critics have suggested that the poet decided that he was an 'objective poet' and then sought out a
'subjective poet' in the hope that dialogue with her would enable him to be more successful. At her husband's
insistence, the second edition of Elizabeths Poems included her love sonnets; these increased her popularity and
high critical regard so that she cemented her position as favourite Victorian poetess. Upon William Wordsworth's
death in 1850, she was a serious contender to become Poet Laureate, but the position went to Tennyson.
Last years and death
In the remaining years of his life Browning travelled extensively. After a series of long poems published in the early
1870s, of which Fifine at the Fair and Red Cotton Night-Cap Country were the best-received, Browning again
turned to shorter poems. The volume Pacchiarotto, and How He Worked in Distemper included an attack against
Browning's critics, especially the later Poet Laureate Alfred Austin. According to some reports Browning became
romantically involved with Lady Ashburton, but did not re-marry. In 1878, he returned to Italy for the first time in
the seventeen years since Elizabeth's death, and returned there on several occasions. The Browning Society was
formed for the appreciation of his works in 1881. In 1887, Browning produced the major work of his later years,
Parleyings with Certain People of Importance In Their Day. It finally presented the poet speaking in his own voice,
engaging in a series of dialogues with long-forgotten figures of literary, artistic, and philosophic history. The
Victorian public was baffled by this, and Browning returned to the short, concise lyric for his last volume, Asolando
(1889).
He died at his son's home Ca' Rezzonico in Venice on 12 December 1889, the same day Asolando was published. He
was buried in Poets' Corner in Westminster Abbey; his grave now lies immediately adjacent to that of Alfred
Tennyson.
The story of Browning and his wife Elizabeth was made into a play The Barretts of Wimpole Street. The play was
later discovered, produced and starred actress Katharine Cornell, for whom the role of Elizabeth became a signature
role. The play was a success and brought popular fame in the United States to the couple, and was eventually
adapted twice into film.
Browning's poetic style
Brownings fame today rests mainly on his dramatic monologues, in which the words not only convey setting and
action but also reveal the speakers character. Unlike a soliloquy, the meaning in a Browning dramatic monologue is
not what the speaker directly reveals but what he inadvertently "gives away" about himself in the process of
rationalizing past actions, or "special-pleading" his case to a silent auditor in the poem. Rather than thinking out
loud, the character composes a self-defense which the reader, as "juror," is challenged to see through. Browning
chooses some of the most debased, extreme and even criminally psychotic characters, no doubt for the challenge of

building a sympathetic case for a character who doesn't deserve one and to cause the reader to squirm at the
temptation to acquit a character who may be a homicidal psychopath. One of his more sensational dramatic
monologues is Porphyria's Lover.

Yet it is by carefully reading the far more sophisticated and cultivated rhetoric of the aristocratic and civilized Duke
of My Last Duchess, perhaps the most frequently cited example of the poet's dramatic monologue form, that the
attentive reader discovers the most horrific example of a mind totally mad despite its eloquence in expressing itself.
The duchess, we learn, was murdered not because of infidelity, not because of a lack of gratitude for her position,
and not, finally, because of the simple pleasures she took in common everyday occurrences. She is reduced to an
object d'art in the Duke's collection of paintings and statues because the Duke equates his instructing her to behave
like a duchess with "stooping," an action of which his megalomaniacal pride is incapable. In other monologues, such
as Fra Lippo Lippi, Browning takes an ostensibly unsavoury or immoral character and challenges us to discover the
goodness, or life-affirming qualities, that often put the speaker's contemporaneous judges to shame. In The Ring and
the Book Browning writes an epic-length poem in which he justifies the ways of God to humanity through twelve
extended blank verse monologues spoken by the principals in a trial about a murder. These monologues greatly
influenced many later poets, including T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound, the latter singling out in his Cantos Browning's
convoluted psychological poem Sordello about a frustrated 13-century troubadour, as the poem he must work to
distance himself from.
Ironically, Brownings style, which seemed modern and experimental to Victorian readers, owes much to his love of
the seventeenth century poems of John Donne with their abrupt openings, colloquial phrasing and irregular rhythms.
But he remains too much the prophet-poet and descendant of Percy Shelley to settle for the conceits, puns, and
verbal play of the Metaphysical poets of the seventeenth century. His is a modern sensibility, all too aware of the
arguments against the vulnerable position of one of his simple characters, who recites: "God's in His Heaven; All's
right with the world." Browning endorses such a position because he sees an immanent deity that, far from
remaining in a transcendent heaven, is indivisible from temporal process, assuring that in the fullness of theological
time there is ample cause for celebrating life.
Complete list of works

Pauline: A Fragment of a Confession (1833)


Paracelsus (1835)

Strafford (play) (1837)

Sordello (1840)

Bells and Pomegranates No. I: Pippa Passes (play) (1841)

Bells and Pomegranates No. II: King Victor and King Charles (play) (1842)

Bells and Pomegranates No. III: Dramatic Lyrics (1842)


o

"Porphyria's Lover"

"Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister"

"My Last Duchess"

"The Pied Piper of Hamelin"

"Count Gismond"

"Johannes Agricola in Meditation"

Bells and Pomegranates No. IV: The Return of the Druses (play) (1843)

Bells and Pomegranates No. V: A Blot in the 'Scutcheon (play) (1843)

Bells and Pomegranates No. VI: Colombe's Birthday (play) (1844)

Bells and Pomegranates No. VII: Dramatic Romances and Lyrics (1845)
o

"The Laboratory"

"How They Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix"

"The Bishop Orders His Tomb at Saint Praxed's Church"

Bells and Pomegranates No. VIII: Luria and A Soul's Tragedy (plays) (1846)

Christmas-Eve and Easter-Day (1850)

Men and Women (1855)

"Love Among the Ruins"

"The Last Ride Together"

"A Toccata of Galuppi's"

"Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came"

"Fra Lippo Lippi"

"Andrea Del Sarto"

"The Patriot/ An Old Story"

"A Grammarian's Funeral"

"An Epistle Containing the Strange Medical Experience of Karshish, the Arab Physician"

Dramatis Personae (1864)


o

"Caliban upon Setebos"

"Rabbi Ben Ezra"

The Ring and the Book (1868-9)

Balaustion's Adventure (1871)

Prince Hohenstiel-Schwangau, Saviour of Society (1871)

Fifine at the Fair (1872)

Red Cotton Night-Cap Country, or, Turf and Towers (1873)

Aristophanes' Apology (1875)

The Inn Album (1875)

Pacchiarotto, and How He Worked in Distemper (1876)

The Agamemnon of Aeschylus (1877)

La Saisiaz and The Two Poets of Croisic (1878)

Dramatic Idylls (1879)

Dramatic Idylls: Second Series (1880)

Jocoseria (1883)

Ferishtah's Fancies (1884)

Parleyings with Certain People of Importance In Their Day (1887)

Asolando (1889)
o

Prospice

Notes Ferrara
1] First published in Dramatic Lyrics, 1842; given its present title in 1849 (Dramatic Romances and Lyrics).
The emphasis in the title is on last, as the ending of the poem makes clear; the Duke is now negotiating for his next
Duchess. Fra Pandolf (line 3) and Claus of Innsbruck (line 54) are artists of Browning's own invention. Title:
emphasizing the word Last as the ending of the poem implies; the Duke, identified as "Ferrara" in the poem's speech
prefix, is negotiating for his next Duchess. In 1842 the title was "Italy and France. I. -- Italy" (then the poem was
paired with "Count Gismond: Aix in Provence," which followed). Ferrara: most likely, Browning intended Alfonso
II (1533-1598), fifth duke of Ferrara, in northern Italy, from 1559 to 1597, and the last member of the Este family.
He married his first wife, 14-year-old Lucrezia, a daughter of the Cosimo I de' Medici, in 1558 and three days later
left her for a two-year period. She died, 17 years old, in what some thought suspicious circumstances. Alfonso
contrived to meet his second to-be spouse, Barbara of Austria, in Innsbruck in July 1565. Nikolaus Mardruz, who
took orders from Ferdinand II, count of Tyrol, led Barbara's entourage then. This source was discovered by Louis S.
Friedland and published in "Ferrara and My Last Duchess," Studies in Philology 33 (1936): 656-84.
3] Fr Pandolf: a painter not recorded in history, a member of religious orders and so, on the surface of things,
unlikely to have seduced the Duchess. No known painting has been linked to Browning's poem.
6] by design: when put the query, "By what design?", Browning answered: "To have some occasion for telling the
story, and illustrating part of it" (A. Allen Brockington, "Robert Browning's Answers to Questions concerning some
of his Poems," Cornhill Magazine [March 1914]: 316).
13] you: presumably Browning had in mind Nikolaus Mardruz.
16] mantle: loose cloak without sleeves.
22] When questioned, "Was she in fact shallow and easily and equally well pleased with any favour or did the Duke
so describe her as a supercilious cover to real and well justified jealousy?" Browning answered: "As an excuse -mainly to himself -- for taking revenge on one who had unwittingly wounded his absurdly pretentious vanity, by
failing to recognise his superiority in even the most trifling matters" (Brockington).
25] My favour: a love-gift such as a ribbon.

30] approving: "forward" in 1842.


33] a nine-hundred-years-old name: Lucruzia's family, the Medici, had their recent origin in merchants, but the Este
family went back 650 years (Complete Works, III [1971]: 372).
36] to make: "could make" in 1842.
39] exceed the mark: overshoot the target (from archery).
40] lessoned: put to school, instructed; possibly punning on "lessened," `diminished.'
45] I gave commands: when asked what this meant, Browning said first, "I meant that the commands were that she
should be put to death," but then continued, "with a characteristic dash of expression, and as if the thought had just
started in his mind, `Or he might have had her shut up in a convent"' (Hiram Corson, An Introduction to the Study of
Robert Browning's Poetry, 3rd edn. [Boston, 1899]: viii).
49] The Count: presumably Ferdinand II, count of Tyrol, who led the negotiations for the marriage of Alfonso II and
Barbara of Austria.
54] Neptune: the Roman god of the sea, whose chariot is often shown pulled by sea-horses.
56] Claus of Innsbruck: a painter not recorded historically, from an Italian city, renowned for its sculpture, that
Browning visited in 1838.
Commentary
(2002/9/9)

by

Ian

Lancashire

We always drop unprepared into a Browning dramatic monologue, into several lives about which we know nothing.
Soliloquies or speeches in a play have a context that orients the audience. Browning's readers have only a title and,
in "My Last Duchess," a speech prefix, "Ferrara." Yet these are transfixing clues to a drama that we observe,
helplessly, unable to speak or to act, as if we turned on a radio and, having selected a frequency, overhear a very
private conversation, already in process and, as we may come very gradually to appreciate, about a murder and the
maybe-killer's search for the next victim. Readers familiar with Browning's writing and sensitive to nuance perceive
the speaker's pride and cold-bloodedness. Many miss the point and are astonished. "You say what? there's nothing in
the poem about him killing her! where do you find that?" A century and more ago, when Browning still lived,
readers presented him with questions about this poem. He answered them cautiously, almost as if he had not written
the poem but was seeing it himself, attentively, after a very long time and was trying to understand what had
happened.
Thanks to Louis S. Friedland, a critic who published an article on "My Last Duchess" in 1936, we know something
about how young Browning found the story. Fascinated with the Renaissance period, he visited Italy in 1838 and
clearly had done considerable reading about its history. He must have come across a biography of Alfonso II (15331598), fifth duke of Ferrara, who married Lucrezia, the 14-year-old daughter of the upstart merchant princes, the
Medici, in 1558. Three days after the wedding, Alfonso left her -- for two years. She died barely 17 years old, and
people talked, and four years later in Innsbruck, Alfonso began negotiating for a new wife with a servant of the then
count of Tyrol, one Nikolaus Mardruz. The poem's duke of Ferrara, his last duchess, the "Count" with whose servant
(Mardruz) Ferrara is here discussing re-marriage and a dowry, and the new "fair daughter" are historical, but the
interpretation of what actually took place among them is Browning's own. He first published the poem in 1842, four
years after his visit to Italy. The painter Fr Pandolf and the sculptor Claus of Innsbruck are fictitious, as far as we
know, but Browning must have meant his readers to associate the poem with these shadowy historical figures
because he changed the title in 1849, from "Italy and France. I. -- Italy." to ... what we see today.

The title evidently refers to a wall painting that Ferrara reveals to someone yet unidentified in the first fourteen
words of the poem. "That's my last Duchess painted on the wall," he says. However a reader utters this line, it
sounds odd. Stress "That's" and Ferrara reduces a woman, once his spouse, to something he casually points out, a
thing on a wall. Emphasize "my" and Ferrara reveals his sense of owning her. Pause over "last" and we might infer
that duchesses, to him, come in sequence, like collectibles that, if necessary, having become obsolescent, are to be
replaced. If "Duchess" gets the stress, he implies -- or maybe we infer -- that he acquires, not just works of art, but
persons; and that Duchesses are no different from paintings. The line suggests self-satisfaction. Finding ourselves
being given a tour of a grand home for the first time, by the owner himself, and being told, "That's my last wife
painted on the wall," how would we react? We might think, "How odd he didn't say her name. I wonder what
happened ...", or at least we might wonder until he finished his sentence with "Looking as if she were alive." This
clause, also sounding peculiar, tells us two things. The Duchess looks out at us, the viewers, directly from the
painting; and her depiction there is life-like, that is, we might be looking at a living person rather than a work of art.
Yet wouldn't Ferrara say "life-like" or "true to life," if that was simply what he meant? His choice of words may
suggest that, while she, the Duchess herself (rather than her image in the painting), looks alive, she may be dead;
and the phrase "last Duchess" echoes in our working memory. Do we know for sure? Does "she" mean the Duchess
or her painting?
Ferrara continues, cheerfully, describing the painting, not the Duchess (so possibly we are being silly): "I call / That
piece a wonder, now." The phrase "That piece" must mean "that portrait," surely, though there is something
intangibly common, almost vulgar, in his expression. That sense of "piece," as "portrait," is archaic now and may
have been so when Browning wrote the poem (OED "piece" sb. 17b). This context, a man speaking of pictures of
women, connotes something quite different, what the term has meant for centuries, and still means now, "Applied to
a woman or girl. In recent use, mostly depreciatory, of a woman or girl regarded as a sexual object" (OED sb. 9b). Is
"That piece" a portrait or a sl-t, a b-tch, a c-nt? Ferrara's next remark keeps us off-balance. "Fr Pandolf's hands /
Worked busily a day, and there she stands." Obviously the "piece" is something hand-made, a painting, a wondrous
good one, not a person, not someone contemptible -- a relief; and yet Ferrara continues, "there she stands." The
painting cannot stand because it is on the wall. Is he speaking about the woman? Ferrara then invites his listener,
standing beside him, to sit down "and look at her." As readers, Ferrara also speaks to us, as if we too were there,
because Browning, who as a lyric poet would address us directly, has disappeared behind this character. We may
want to sit down. Mid-way through line 5, Ferrara has not yet done with us. We have to look at the Duchess, through
his words, being just as silent as the "you" to whom Ferrara refers. We have to "read" (6) her face.
As "Strangers" (7), knowing nothing about this place and its people, we must be told (and Ferrara will explain) why
he named, "by design," the painter, giving him the honorific, "Fr" ('brother'), due a member of religious orders and
a celibate man. The Duchess's look -- her "pictured countenance,/ The depth and passion of its earnest glance", and
that "glance" (again) -- causes ignorant observers, if they dare (11), to look as if they would ask Ferrara, and only
Ferrara, because (as he tells us pointedly) the portrait is curtained off, and only he can pull back the curtain to reveal
it, just what elicited that "passion" in her. His listener does not ask this question, though he may look as if he would
like to ask. He just sits where he is told to sit and hears what others, of his type, would sometimes want to ask (but in
fact seldom do ask) and, more, hears what Ferrara would say in answer to that rare question. Was she looking at a
lover, at sometime who desired her? That is one question her look suggests, but of course that is impossible, for Fr
Pandolf, a celibate religious, could never bring forth that "passion." No, her look did not rise, Ferrara implies, from
sexual passion, but from a more general emotion. "Sir, 't was not / Her husband's presence only, called that spot / Of
joy into the Duchess' cheek." If "presence" meant just "the state of being in the same place", it would be redundant
here. Ferrara uses the term to allude to the importance of his decision to be with her, the stateliness and majesty that
a duke confers, as a gift, on anyone by just turning up; and add to that, possibly, the way he, as her sexual partner,
ought to arouse her, nature being what it is, to colour in this way.
Yet any "courtesy," Ferrara asserts, any court compliment owing to the Duchess merely by virtue of her position,
aroused that look, that "spot of joy," that "blush" (31). Fr Pandolf, for example, might have observed that the
Duchess should shift her mantle up her arm somewhat to show more of her wrist, its skin being attractive; or he
might have complained that his art was not up to capturing the "faint / Half-flush that dies along" her throat. If it
died in the throat, where did it live? Fr Pandolf alludes here to the "spot of joy," spreading downwards from her
cheeks (15) as he was painting her. Her embarrassed, but not at all displeased, awareness that someone likes her
reveals itself in a blush, a colouring in a small patch ("a spot") as blood flows to the face. That, Ferrara says, reveals

a "joy" felt by the Duchess in herself, at being herself, at being looked at approvingly, no matter who -- whether a
celibate painter, or her husband the duke -- did the looking.
Now, standing before her portrait, where she stands, by the side of a listener made to sit, Ferrara obsessively reviews
the reasons why that joy was "a spot," a contaminant that should not have been on his last Duchess' cheek. The more
he talks, the more his contempt and self-justifying anger show, and the more he endears the Duchess to us. Unable to
recognize "courtesy" as insincere, she was made happy by it, in fact, took joy in "whate'er /She looked on, and her
looks went everywhere." A sprig of flowers from the duke for her bosom (25) and his ancestral name itself (33)
meant joy to her, no less than a sunset, a courtier's gift of some cherries from the tree, and the white mule whom she
rode "round the terrace" (29). She smiled on him, whenever he "passed" her (44), though sharing the same smile
with anyone else. Her humility and general good nature, however, disgusted (38) Ferrara for the way they seemed to
trifle (35) with, or understate the value of his own gift, a place in a noble family 900 years old. Lacking the cunning
to discriminate publicly, to flatter Ferrara, she also could not detect his outrage; and he said nothing to her about
what he felt. She wore her feelings openly, in her face, but to the standing Duke any outward expression of his
concern would have meant "stooping" (34, 43), that is, lowering himself to her level. He attributes this silence to his
lack of "skill / In speech", an excuse that the poem itself disproves. When he describes her as missing or exceeding
the "mark" (38-39), Ferrara develops his metaphor from archery, as if she was one of his soldiers, competing in a
competition for prizes (his name), rather than a Duchess who was herself the prize.
"This grew; I gave commands; / Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands / As if alive." This elliptical
chain of four curt, bleak sentences brings Ferrara back to where he started. If the Duchess smiled everywhere, could
her smiles be stopped by anything short of death by execution? What Ferrara's commands were, he does not say, but
"As if alive", the second time he uses the phrase, has a much more ominous sound. At the beginning, Ferrara could
indeed be speaking mainly about the "life-like" portrait, but as his anger grew, he shifted to the Duchess herself. She
cannot be "life-like." Even had he just divorced her and put her in a convent, as Browning thought possible late in
his life -- as if the poem somehow lived independent from him -- Ferrara killed the joy that defined the "depth and
passion" of her being. He finally controlled before whom she could "blush." He alone draws back the curtain on the
portrait.
Then Ferrara invites his listener and us to rise from being seated and "meet / The company below" (47-48). When
negotiating with the listener's master the Count for a dowry, Ferrara "stoops." He not only lowers himself to the level
of a mere count but generously offers to "go / Together down" with the listener, a servant, side by side, instead of
following him and so maintaining symbolically a duke's superior level and rank. For all his obsession with his noble
lineage, Ferrara bargains with it openly.
Will Ferrara "repeat" (48) in marriage as he does in his speech? He claims the Count's "fair daughter's self" is his
"object." Will she too, an objective achieved, become a thing, found on a wall like his last Duchess? Ferrara hints at
his intentions by pointing out a second work of art, this time a sculpture, as he reaches the staircase. Neptune, the
sea-god, is "Taming a sea-horse" (55), as Ferrara tamed his last Duchess.
In this poem Browning develops an idiolect for Ferrara. Unlike poets like Gray and Keats, Browning does not write
as himself, for example, by echoing the work of other poets, because to do so would be untrue to the Duke's
character. Ferrara betrays his obsessions by nervous mannerisms. He repeats words associated with the Duchess: the
phrases `as if ... alive" (2, 47), `there she stands' (4, 46), `Will 't please you' (5, 47), and `called/calling ... that spot of
joy' (14-15, 21), `look,' variously inflected (2, 5, 24), `glance' (8, 12), `thanked' (31), `gift' (33-34), `stoop' (34, 4243), `smile' (43, 45-46), and `pass' (44). These tics define his idiolect but also his mind, circling back to the same
topic again and again. He takes pride in saying, "I repeat" (48). He also obsesses about his height, relative to others.
He stands because the Duchess stands on the wall, and he requires his listener to sit, to rise, and to walk downstairs
with him side-by-side. He abhors stooping because he would lose face. Last, Ferrara needs to control the eyes of
others. He curtains off the Duchess' portrait to prevent her from looking "everywhere." He tells his listener to look at
her and to "Notice Neptune."

Notes
1] First published in Men and Women, 1855. Again Browning draws upon Giorgio Vasari's Lives of the Painters
(published in 1550) for the details of Andrea's life. Andrea (1486-1531) was the son of a tailor in Florence; hence the
name "del Sarto." From 1509-14, having served his apprenticeship and learned his craft, he was engaged to do a
series of frescoes for the Church of the Annunciation in Florence, and then to do another series for the Church of the
Recollets. It was these paintings that secured his fame and earned him the title "Il Pittore senza Errori"--the faultless
painter. During this period he married Lucrezia del Fede, a widow, who served as a model for a number of his
pictures. In 1518, Andrea was invited by Francis I of France to come to the court at Fontainebleau. The next year
Francis gave him money to be used in the purchase of pictures in Florence for the palace of Fontainebleau, and
Andrea left France on this commission. According to Vasari, through Lucrecia's persuasion Andrea used the king's
money to build himself a house in Florence, never daring to return to France, and in effect destroying "the eminence
he had attained with so much labour." Much of Vasari's story has been doubted by modern scholars; nor are they
inclined to share Vasari's (and Browning's) view of the limitations of Andrea's art. The accuracy of Browning's poem
as biography or as art criticism is, however, of doubtful relevance to its success or to its meaning.
57] Cartoon: a preliminary sketch on paper, usually in charcoal or crayon, working out the composition or detail for
a painting.
105] Urbinate: the painter Raphael (1483-1520) was born in Urbino, near Florence.
130] Agnolo: Michaelangelo (1475-1564).
263] Leonard: Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519).