'My Last Duchess' by Robert Browning
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That's my last Duchess painted on the wall,
Looking as if she were alive.I call
That piece a wonder, now: Fr Pandolf's hands
Worked busily a day, and there she stands.
Will't please you sit and look at her? I said
``Fr Pandolf'' by design, for never read
Strangers like you that pictured countenance,
The depth and passion of its earnest glance,
But to myself they turned (since none puts by
The curtain I have drawn for you, but I)
And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst,
How such a glance came there; so, not the first
Are you to turn and ask thus.Sir, 'twas not
Her husband's presence only, called that spot
Of joy into the Duchess' cheek: perhaps
Fr Pandolf chanced to say ``Her mantle laps
``Over my lady's wrist too much,'' or ``Paint
``Must never hope to reproduce the faint
``Half-flush that dies along her throat:'' such stuff
Was courtesy, she thought, and cause enough
For calling up that spot of joy.She had
A heart---how shall I say?---too soon made glad,
Too easily impressed; she liked whate'er
She looked on, and her looks went everywhere.
Sir, 'twas all one! My favour at her breast,
The dropping of the daylight in the West,
The bough of cherries some officious fool
Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule
She rode with round the terrace---all and each
Would draw from her alike the approving speech,
Or blush, at least.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.Who'd stoop to blame
This sort of trifling? Even had you skill
In speech---(which I have not)---to make your will
Quite clear to such an one, and say, ``Just this
``Or that in you disgusts me; here you miss,
``Or there exceed the mark''---and if she let
Herself be lessoned so, nor plainly set
Her wits to yours, forsooth, and made excuse,
---E'en then would be some stooping; and I choose
Never to stoop.Oh sir, she smiled, no doubt,
Whene'er I passed her; but who passed without
Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands;
Then all smiles stopped together.There she stands
As if alive.Will't please you rise? We'll meet
The company below, then.I repeat,
The Count your master's known munificence
Is ample warrant that no just pretence
Of mine for dowry will be disallowed;
Though his fair daughter's self, as I avowed
At starting, is my object.Nay, we'll go
Together down, sir. Notice Neptune, though,
Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity,
Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me!
Editor 1 Interpretation
An Analysis of Robert Browning's "My Last Duchess"
As one of Robert Browning's most famous and studied poems, "My Last Duchess" presents a complex and morally ambiguous portrait of a powerful man and the woman he has lost, all seen through the lens of a dramatic monologue. In this paper, I will explore the themes, language, and symbolism of the poem, as well as its historical context and the ways in which it challenges the reader's perceptions and assumptions.
"My Last Duchess" was first published in 1842, part of Browning's collection Dramatic Lyrics. The poem is set in Renaissance Italy, specifically in the palace of the Duke of Ferrara. At the time, Italy was a collection of city-states, and the wealthy and powerful families that ruled them were often embroiled in political intrigue, power struggles, and alliances. Marriage was often a tool for cementing alliances and gaining wealth and status, and women were frequently treated as little more than pawns in this game. Against this backdrop, the Duke's attitude towards his last wife can be seen as typical of the time, but also as a reflection of the patriarchal and possessive attitudes that still persist today.
One of the central themes of "My Last Duchess" is power and control. The Duke of Ferrara is a man who is used to getting what he wants, and who expects complete obedience from those around him. He sees his wife as a possession to be controlled, rather than a person with her own desires and needs. He resents her for what he perceives as her lack of gratitude for his generosity, and for her ability to bring joy and beauty into the world without his help. In his mind, she must be punished for these sins, and he does so by having her killed.
Another important theme of the poem is art and aesthetics. The Duke is a patron of the arts, and his palace is filled with paintings and sculptures. He takes pride in his collection, but also sees it as a reflection of his own taste and refinement. He sees his wife's beauty as a work of art that he can possess and control, rather than an expression of her own individuality. The painting of her that he shows to the messenger is not a portrait of a living woman, but a frozen image that he can manipulate and display as he sees fit.
Language and Symbolism
Browning's use of language and symbolism in "My Last Duchess" is particularly striking. The poem is written in iambic pentameter, with rhyming couplets that give it a formal and structured feel. This is in contrast to the Duke's own speech, which is less formal and more colloquial. This creates a sense of tension between his desire for control and his inability to fully express himself.
One of the most powerful symbols in the poem is the painting of the Duchess. The Duke describes it in great detail, pointing out the way in which the artist has captured her beauty and innocence. However, he also notes that the painting is incomplete, and that he had the artist stop working on it when he discovered that the Duchess was smiling at someone else. This suggests that the Duke's need for control extends even to the realm of art, and that he is willing to sacrifice the beauty of the painting in order to punish his wife.
Another important symbol in the poem is the statue of Neptune taming a sea-horse. The Duke describes this statue to the messenger, and notes that he had it commissioned in order to show his power and control. This echoes his own desire to control his wife, and suggests that he sees himself as a powerful force of nature, capable of bending others to his will.
One of the key questions that arises from "My Last Duchess" is how we are meant to view the Duke himself. Is he a sympathetic character, a man who has been wronged by a disobedient wife? Or is he a villain, a cold and calculating murderer who sees his wife as nothing more than a possession to be disposed of when she no longer serves his purposes?
It is possible to argue that the Duke is sympathetic, at least to a certain extent. He is clearly a man who has been hurt by his wife's behavior, and who is struggling to maintain his power and control in the face of threats from both internal and external sources. However, his actions are ultimately indefensible. He has his wife killed, simply because she does not fit into his narrow vision of what a wife should be. This is a cold and calculating act, one that shows him to be more concerned with his own ego than with the lives of those around him.
At the same time, however, it is difficult to simply dismiss the Duke as a villain. He is a product of his time and his culture, and his attitudes towards women are not entirely uncommon. Moreover, his desire for control and his love of art are both understandable and even admirable in their own way. This creates a tension within the poem, one that challenges the reader to consider the complexities of human behavior and motivation.
In conclusion, "My Last Duchess" is a powerful and thought-provoking poem that explores themes of power, control, and aesthetics. Through the character of the Duke of Ferrara, Browning presents a complex and morally ambiguous portrait of a man who is both sympathetic and deeply flawed. The use of language and symbolism in the poem is particularly effective, creating a sense of tension and unease that lingers long after the poem has been read. Ultimately, "My Last Duchess" challenges the reader to consider the complexities of human behavior and motivation, and to question the assumptions that we make about ourselves and others.
Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation
My Last Duchess: A Masterpiece of Dramatic Monologue
Robert Browning's "My Last Duchess" is a poem that has captivated readers for over a century. It is a masterpiece of dramatic monologue, a form of poetry that Browning helped to popularize. The poem tells the story of a Duke who is showing a visitor around his palace and pointing out a portrait of his late wife, the Duchess. Through the Duke's words, we learn about his relationship with the Duchess and the events that led to her death. In this analysis, we will explore the themes, structure, and language of "My Last Duchess" and examine why it continues to be a beloved and studied work of literature.
One of the central themes of "My Last Duchess" is power. The Duke is a man who is used to getting what he wants, and he wields his power over the Duchess with a cruel and controlling hand. He resents her for being too friendly with other men and for not showing him the proper respect that he feels he deserves. He says, "She had a heart—how shall I say?—too soon made glad, / Too easily impressed; she liked whate'er / She looked on, and her looks went everywhere." The Duke's jealousy and possessiveness are a reflection of his desire to control everything around him, including his wife.
Another theme that runs throughout the poem is art. The Duke is proud of the portrait of his late wife, which he shows to the visitor. He talks about the artist who painted it and how he captured the Duchess's beauty and personality. However, the Duke's relationship with art is complicated. He sees the portrait as a way to control the memory of his wife and to show off his wealth and status. He says, "Notice Neptune, though, / Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity, / Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me!" The Duke's appreciation of art is not for its own sake but for what it can do for him.
The structure of "My Last Duchess" is a dramatic monologue, which means that the poem is spoken by a single character who is not the poet. In this case, the speaker is the Duke, and we only hear his side of the conversation. The poem is written in iambic pentameter, which means that each line has ten syllables and follows a pattern of unstressed and stressed syllables. This gives the poem a rhythmic quality that makes it easy to read aloud.
The poem is divided into rhyming couplets, which means that each two lines rhyme with each other. This gives the poem a sense of order and symmetry, which is appropriate for a poem about a man who values control and order above all else. The rhyming couplets also give the poem a sing-song quality that is at odds with the dark and disturbing subject matter.
The language of "My Last Duchess" is rich and complex. The Duke speaks in a formal and elevated style, which is appropriate for a man of his status. He uses words like "countenance," "munificence," and "earnest glance" to describe his wife and his own feelings. However, the language is also full of irony and ambiguity. The Duke says things that are clearly meant to be taken one way but can also be interpreted in another way. For example, when he says, "I gave commands; / Then all smiles stopped together," he is implying that he had his wife killed. However, he never comes right out and says it, leaving the reader to infer what happened.
The language of the poem is also full of symbolism. The Duke talks about the portrait of his wife as if it were a living thing. He says, "Will't please you sit and look at her? I said / 'Fra Pandolf' by design, for never read / Strangers like you that pictured countenance, / The depth and passion of its earnest glance." The portrait becomes a stand-in for the Duchess herself, and the Duke's relationship with it is a reflection of his relationship with his wife.
"My Last Duchess" is a poem that rewards close reading and analysis. It is a complex work that explores themes of power, art, and language. The structure and language of the poem are carefully crafted to create a sense of order and symmetry that is at odds with the disturbing subject matter. The Duke's words are full of irony and ambiguity, leaving the reader to infer what happened to the Duchess. "My Last Duchess" is a masterpiece of dramatic monologue that continues to captivate readers and inspire new interpretations.
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