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A comparison of life and death in the dukes speech

The poem first appeared in 1842 in Dramatic Lyrics, which is contained in Bells and Pomegranates 1841-1846. In fact, the irony is profound, for with each word spoken in an attempt to criticize his last duchess, the duke ironically reveals his utterly detestable nature and how far he is from seeing it himself.

The only speaker is the Duke of Ferrara. The listener, who, offstage, asks about the smile of the last duchess in the portrait, is silent during the entire poem. The time is probably the Italian Renaissance, though Browning does not so specify. Since the thrust of a Browning dramatic monologue is psychological self-characterization, what kind of man does the duke reveal himself to be?

Surely, he is a very jealous man.

At a Glance

Why would he hire a monk, obviously noted for his sacred art, to paint a secular portrait? He gave Fra Pandolf only a day to finish the expensive commissioned art. Probably, he chose Pandolf because, as a man of the cloth, the good brother would have taken a vow of chastity.

  1. Perhaps the duke, like another Renaissance figure, Henry VIII, will run through a series of brides because he is unable to see the flaws in his own personality. Critics take opposing views.
  2. Stylistically, Browning has written a tour de force.
  3. The listener, who, offstage, asks about the smile of the last duchess in the portrait, is silent during the entire poem. The thrust of the art object is dominance—the duke desires to be Neptune, god of the sea, taming a small, beautiful sea creature in what would obviously be no contest.

Yet the evidence that he uses to corroborate this charge—her love of sunsets, the cherry bough with which she was presented, her pet white mule—suggests only that she was a natural woman who preferred the simple pleasures.

Yet he never once mentions love or his willingness to emerge from his own ego. Tellingly, within fifty-six lines he uses seventeen first-person pronouns. Browning reveals this trait by bracketing the poem with artistic images of control. As noted above, the painting of Fra Pandolf portrait reveals how the duke orchestrates the situation. Everything that the listener hears about her is filtered through the mind and voice of the duke.

The emissary cannot even look at her portrait without the duke opening a curtain that he has had placed in front of the painting. The final artistic image is most revealing.

  1. As noted above, the painting of Fra Pandolf portrait reveals how the duke orchestrates the situation. Importantly, he uses a series of terminative images, all emphasizing the end of the cycle of life, to describe his last duchess—the sunset ends the day, the breaking of the bough ends the life of the cherry also a sexual reference , the white mule is the end of its line mules then could not reproduce within the breed , and whiteness as a color associated with sterility.
  2. Could it be that the duke, since he uses these images, employs his last duchess as a scapegoat and that he is the one who is sterile?
  3. The final artistic image is most revealing.

Once again, the commissioned art is a sort of Rorschach test—it reveals a great deal about the personality of the commissioner. The thrust of the art object is dominance—the duke desires to be Neptune, god of the sea, taming a small, beautiful sea creature in what would obviously be no contest.

  • Yet he never once mentions love or his willingness to emerge from his own ego;
  • Interestingly, for a man preoccupied with his nine-hundred-year-old name, nowhere does he mention progeny, and without children there will be no one to carry on the family name;
  • Since the thrust of a Browning dramatic monologue is psychological self-characterization, what kind of man does the duke reveal himself to be?
  • Historically, readers have wondered about two things.

As earlier indicated, the duke has always associated his last duchess with beautiful things of nature. Like Neptune, the duke rules his kingdom, Ferrara, with an iron fist. Critics take opposing views: Why would a man who has had so much trouble with his first duchess want a second wife? Interestingly, for a man preoccupied with his nine-hundred-year-old name, nowhere does he mention progeny, and without children there will be no one to carry on the family name.

  • The listener, who, offstage, asks about the smile of the last duchess in the portrait, is silent during the entire poem;
  • Tellingly, within fifty-six lines he uses seventeen first-person pronouns;
  • Why would a man who has had so much trouble with his first duchess want a second wife?

Importantly, he uses a series of terminative images, all emphasizing the end of the cycle of life, to describe his last duchess—the sunset ends the day, the breaking of the bough ends the life of the cherry also a sexual referencethe white mule is the end of its line mules then could not reproduce within the breedand whiteness as a color associated with sterility. Could it be that the duke, since he uses these images, employs his last duchess as a scapegoat and that he is the one who is sterile?

Perhaps the duke, like another Renaissance figure, Henry VIII, will run through a series of brides because he is unable to see the flaws in his own personality. Stylistically, Browning has written a tour de force.

My Last Duchess Summary

The fifty-six lines are all in iambic pentameter couplets. The couplet form is quite formal in English poetry, and this pattern suggests the formal nature of the duke and control. Historically, readers have wondered about two things.

Is the duke based on a real person?