MY LAST DUCHESS ROBERT BROWNING This poem is designed to reveal by sdfsb346f


MY LAST DUCHESS ROBERT BROWNING This poem is designed to reveal

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This poem Is designed to reveal the character of the Duke of Ferrara -
both as an individual (a unique product of his own time) and as a
type,with qualities still recognisable today.
Part of the effect is achieved by the peculiarly DRAMATIC dimension of
this form -the interaction with the implied listener. However, much is
also conveyed by the various devices of POETRY.
The best critical essays are the product of your own guided response
to the text. Make your own notes on each of the following areas. The
results will be more personal and convincing.
Remember, you are not in the business of observing and noting the
devices used. It is your task to comment on how EFFECTIVE each is in
conveying the MOOD, TONE, PERSONALLY of the Duke.
STRUCTURE: What is gained from the uninterrupted structure of the poem?
RHYTHM:The rhythm is IAMBIC PENTMETER throughout. Find examples of at
least three different PACES established by the word choice, syntax,
punctuation.What do'es each reflect about the state of mind of the speaker?
RHYME: Although the poem is written in RHYMING COUPLETS.the reader is
rarely aware of this because of the tension between RHYTHM and SENSE.
--Find examples of end-stopped lines.Which word is emphasised and why?
--If two lines are HEARD to rhyme, what does either word gain from the
--Find examples of enjambement where emphasis is caused to fall on key words
in the following line.Why?	,,
-Find examples of the use of caesura which are significant. Why?
-Sometimes the rhymes are masculine, occasionally feminine. When? Is there
a significance in the choice of each?
ELLIPSIS are used to reveal mood.
PUNCTUATION is important throughout.
WORD CHOICE., note the key words throughout...what does each betray?
My Last Duchess Robert Browning (1812-89)
Form: Dramatic monologue, a form popularised by Browning. This combines
the effects of drama with those of poetry. One character, usually named in the
title, speaks to another, who merely listens, but whose silent reaction has an
effect on the speaker. In this poem the Duke of Ferrara is addressing an emissary
sent by a lesser Italian nobleman to arrange the dowry for his daughter's
forthcoming marriage to the Duke.
The effects of drama which the form offers are:
(a)	setting
(b)	plot
(c) characterisation
All of these combine to reveal a detailed portrait of the Duke's personality and of
the themes of the poem.
(a)	Setting: The poem is set in an upstairs, and presumably private, apartment in
the Duke's palace. The room contains works of art commissioned by the Duke*, a
portrait of his late wife - "That's my last duchess painted on the wall, / Looking
as if she were alive" - and a bronze sculpture near the door. There is a seat which
is offered to the emissary, from which to admire the painting more comfortably.
As the two prepare to rejoin the rest of the company downstairs, we have a clear
picture of the Duke's refusal to take the precedence to which his superior rank
entitles him: "Nay, we'll go/ Together down, Sir!"
All of these details suggest that the Duke is not only a wealthy man, as he is, but
a cultivated and civilised one who cares little for the stuffy conventions of court
etiquette. However closer examination, as with so much else in this poem,
suggests that things are not quite as simple as'that. The Duchess's portrait is
concealed behind a curtain which only the Duke may open: "Since none puts by/
The curtain I have drawn for you but I." Why should this be so? It appears that
the Duke is intent on controlling access to the picture. Could his seemingly
considerate offer of the seat to the emissary be another means of establishing
control? The Duke himself remains standing and therefore in the dominant
position. It is only when he thinks fit that the visitor is allowed to get up: "Will't
please you rise? We'll meet/The company below then." The fact that he cannot
resist drawing attention to the bronze leaves us in little doubt of the sort of man
,the Duke really is: "Notice Neptune, though,/Taming a sea-horse, thought a
rarity;/Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me." The Duke has clearly
commissioned the work as a symbol of his own power and authority over
Ferrara and its inhabitants. The implied egalitarianism of his insisting that his
visitor should accompany, not follow him, from the room is nothing but a sham
for appearances' sake.
(b)	Plot: Just as the details of the setting reveal a situation which is more
complex than it appears on the surface, so the plot of the poem begins
innocuously enough but develops to uncover a sinister, indeed evil, side to the
apparently civilised atmosphere of the Duke's court. The poem begins with an
initial situation: the Duke, who has presumably mentioned his late wife in
conversation, takes his visitor to the private apartment to show him her portrait:
"That's my last Duchess painted on the wall,/ Looking as if she Were alive; I call/
wife: she was someone who needed instruction in the finer points of behaviour,
who failed to meet the high standards which he expected of her and whose
failure evoked in him a strong, we would think too strong, reaction. The Duke's
attempt to reassure the Count's emissary of his feelings for his bride-to-be is
undermined by two unfortunate expressions: his reference to the girl as "my
object" and his use of the phrase "I repeat" when alluding to the dowry. The
former suggests that the next Duchess will be little more than an acquisition for
his collection; the latter makes it clear that greed motivates the man just as much
as acquisitiveness. The high incidence of first-person words, such as "I", "me"
shows the Duke's preoccupation with himself; "my" and "mine" reveal his
tendency to see everything as an extension of himself. It is no coincidence that
the poem begins "Thatis my last Duchess" and ends "cast in bronze for me."
Structure: The structure of the poem mirrors well one of its main themes. At
either end we have a reference to a work of art commissioned by the Duke; we
have a bit of "name-dropping" in his reference to the artists, just in case his
visitor has missed the point; we have the overtly polite request to the man to sit
while he admires the picture and to stand when the Duke has decided that it is
time to go downstairs. This means that the poem begins and ends in the same
way, in a world in which reverence for the arts and courtly behaviour are of great
importance. At the heart of the poem a more sinister aspect of this same world is
revealed: it is a world in which a powerful man can and does behave in a most
tyrannical and unfeeling way, a world in which an innocent young woman is
devoid of rights, in which her very life is regarded as disposable at the whim of
her jealous and mistaken husband. On the surface we are presented with a
picture of Renaissance Italy which shows it as one of the highpoints in the
history of civilisation. At its core it is rotten, despite, outward appearances.
Rhythm and Rhyme: The poem is written in rhyming couplets of iambic
pentameters, that is to say in a fairly constricting metrical scheme. Yet Browning
goes to considerable lengths to disguise the fact. There are very few end-stopped
lines, and none which draws attention to the rhyme. The iambic pulse is
frequently interrupted by mid-line caesuras, so as to reproduce the effect of
natural, though educated speech. Why does Browning do this? Difficult to say,
but two possibilities are a) to show that poetry, like painting and sculpture, is an
art form which demands the highest standards of technical accomplishment
from its practitioners; b) so that the poem, like the character whom it so vividly
depicts, is not all that it seems on the surface, but is a complicated and intricate
affair, which only gradually yields up its secrets.
Subject/themes: Clearly the poem is one which gives a detailed picture of an
interesting, though wicked, character. It also gives an insight into two seemingly
incompatible aspects of Renaissance life. It shows how civilised manners and an
appreciation of the arts can mask criminality, that murderous behaviour is not to
be encountered only among the Bill Sykeses of the world. In this way it manages
to transcend both the period in which it is set and the period (19th cent) in which
it was written. Murder in high places, abuse within marriage, the infringement
of women's rights, possessiveness, greed are unfortunately common to all
societies. The fact that the Duke is for most of the time such a plausible
^ That piece a wonder, now." The impression is of a fond widower proudly
displaying a treasured memento of his late wife. A complication is introduced
when it becomes evident that the Duke's feelings towards his wife were of
another sort altogether: "Just this or that in you disgusts me" he would have
liked to tell her. This complication leads on to the climax when he reveals that
he gave instructions for her death: "This grew; I gave commands;/Then all
smiles stopped together." The climax is followed by the denouement in which
the Duke recovers the suave composure and self-control of the opening: "There
she stands/ As if alive. Will't please you rise? We'll meet/The company below
then." The, plot, like the setting, shows that initial or surface impressions can be
deceptive: a seemingly polished facade can conceal something rotten.
(c) Characterisation: Browning's characterisation of the Duke, like his treatment
of setting and plot, functions at two different levels. The Duke's personality is
revealed by his speech, his actions, the setting in which he lives and the way in
which he treats or refers to others, most notably his late wife. Two distinct
pictures emerge: the Duke as he . sees himself (and is seen by the Count's
emissary?); and the Duke as the readier perceives him. Both pictures emerge from
precisely the same information.,/ Browning does not intrude a comment or
appear to direct the reader's opinions.
The initial impression of the Du^e which emerges is as follows. He is clearly a
connoisseur of art. He has commissioned contemporary artists to produce work
for him. He regards Fra Pandolf s portrait of his; wife as "a wonder" and is clearly
proud of Claus of Innsbruck's bronze1 of Neptune "thought a rarity". He treats
the Count's emissary with respect and courtesy, even deference, addressing him
politely, offering him a seat, tal&hg 'ftialt ifitd -his confidence and refusing to take
precedence over him: "Nay, we'll go togetherdbwn, Sir". His speech shows him
to be a highly educated man; the furnishings of his palace suggest a wealthy, but
altruistic patron of the arts. And yef'this same mode of speech, together with his
references to the last Duchess, gradually reveal a man of a much less attractive
and civilised stamp. His constant use of first person words: "Thaf s my last
Duchess"; "I chuse never to stoop"; "I gave commands"; "which Claus of
Innsbruck cast in .^onze for me" betrays a self- centred, self-opinionated man.
His description of,his.,wife's imagined shortcomings and in particular of her
modest expression of gratitude, to well-wishers - "all and each/Would draw from
her alike the apprpybig speech,/Or blush, at least" suggests to us not the
shameless philanderer: of the Duke's imagining, but a shy girl grateful for'any
sign of affection or appreciation, signs which, we sense she never received from
him. His desire to;control the Duchess's portrait - "since none puts, by/The
curtain I have drawn for you but I" - is in marked contrast to his failure to
understand her needs whence was alive. It reveals his possessiveness, which
can be seen also in his desire^o, keep his,wife away from any contact with other
men during 'her'-life^d ifi ^/dosing' reference to the bronze "which Claus of
Innsbrtick'c^st-in^phfg	.Even the; circumstances of the sittings for the
portrait,Ahis grattdl^^;lA^lr% onthe point : that Fra Pandolf, a religious, was the
artist who sat alone with her and his seeming need to forestall any questions
about the expression on his wife's face feveal'a deeply suspicious and jealous
man: "perhaps/Fra Pandolf chanced to say 'Her mantle laps /Over my lady's
wrist too much'"
This jealousy goes hand in hand with intolerance, not
only of his wife's sharing an innocent smile with a portait painter, but of those
who clearly do admire her and offer her small tokens of their esteem. He speaks
of "The bough of cherries some officious fool/Broke in the orchard for her" and
is so arrogant that he will not even tell his wife how irritating he finds these
misdemeanours: "E'en there would be some stooping, and I ehuse/Never to
stoop." This arrogance is also seen in his failure to understand that, for his wife,
his "gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name" was no more important than
anybody's gift. This combination of selfishness, jealousy and arrogance leaves
the Duke no choice, in his own mind at any rate, but to do away with the
unworthy and ungrateful recipient of his favours. His ruthlessness when
displeased is revealed at the climax of the poem: "This grew; I gave
commands;/Then all smiles stopped together." His complete lack of conscience
is shown by his ability to turn directly from this chilling revelation to a
discussion of the dowry for his next marriage, though it is clear that he has
already made his view of what is required perfectly clear: "I repeat,/The Count
your Master's known munificence/Is ample warrant that no just pretence/ Of
mine for dowry will be disallowed." This clear indication of his greed and his
inadvertent reference to his future bride as his "object" - a slip which parallels
his earlier reference to "that piece" when speaking of his late wife's portrait make
it clear that, for him, people, like his impressive art collection, are merely
extensions of himself, indications to the outside world of his own importance
and power. Any pretence to the contrary is insincere. It is no accident that we
are left with the reference to "Neptune, taming a sea-horse" the symbol of this
despotic tyrant's sway over Ferrara and its inhabitants.
Syntax: The syntax of the poem, like its other stylistic features, presents an
ambivalent picture of the Duke. On the one hand the confident fluency of his
speech suggests a man at ease with himself and the world, a man who is also in
control of his emotions. Yet, as he continues to speak of his late wife and of her
shortcomings, he seems to lose this control of himself at times. Significantly,
two of these times occur when he is trying to explain his wife's behaviour. The
syntax falters in its smoothness, revealing Ferrara's failure to understand natural
affection: "She had/A heart... how shall I say?...too soon made glad,/Too easily
impressed." The syntax breaks down again when he tries to understand the
simple gratitude the Duchess felt for small tokens of regard: "She thanked men, -
good; but thanked/Somehow... I know not how... as if she ranked/ My gift of a
nine-hundred-years-old name/With anybody's gift." The smooth surface is
ruffled in a more sinister way when, at the climax of the poem, the Duke reveals
that he has had his late wife murdered. Here the clipped,, emotionless style of his
speech shows the ruthlessness which his cultivated exterior is designed to
conceal: "This grew; I gave commands;/Then all smiles stopped together." The
fact that he immediately recovers his composure and his normal fluency and
charm cannot erase from the reader's mind what he has by then unwittingly or
unwittingly revealed.
Word choice: Browning uses this device also to point up significant aspects of
the Duke's character or attitudes. His reference to "that piece" shows his
emotional detachment from his wife's portrait. The expressions "lessoned",
"miss the mark" and "disgusts" give an insight into the Duke's attitude to his

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