Here’s a short essay on ‘My Last Duchess’ poem by Browning which explores why it is important that the only voice heard is of the Duke. Enjoy the read!
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The Duke in ‘My Last Duchess’ comes across as an arrogant, controlling and possessive man from the way he describes his past lover, of which he doesn’t give a name. This alone shows his arrogance and the way he objectifies his last Duchess. With the Duke as the only voice illustrates there is nobody to stop him when he become out of control. This makes him describe the Duchess in a very detailed manner. He repeats the use of ‘she’ and ‘my’ a lot giving him the trait of being controlling and self centred. He wanted her to mould around to his ideas which from her being dead, she didn’t do. His speech or dramatic monologue sounds natural from the way the rhythm is an iambic pentameter rhythm and the use of persiflage. This makes the poem itself sound more natural and casual. Browning also uses caesuras to emphasise the coldness and suddenness of his command and formality, ‘I gave comments, Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands…’ making the Duke sound even more arrogant.
By having the Duke the only voice creates a biased view upon the Duchess. We believe the Duchess must have done something awful for the Duke to be acting in this way. Yet, we learn she didn’t do anything and was generally nice to everyone and was ‘too soon made glad’. This makes the reader realise the Duke is actually obsessed about the Duchess. He doesn’t like the fact she gives the same amount of gratitude to him she does to others. He wants to be different because his arrogance makes him think he deserves something special: a trait which caused his obsession. These characteristics are translated into the dramatic monologue itself. The Duke in the poem is talking to an Envoy of a Count who we gather has a daughter which the Duke may marry. He brags about himself, ‘nine-hundred-years-old name’ and is arrogant enough to even warn the Envoy of the Count that he is controlling and will ‘tame’ anyone that will go against him.
The form of the poem portrays the Duke as someone cold blooded who has the ability to forget tragic events quickly. For the majority of the poem, he talks about the Duchess in great levels of detail and what he had to do to her. He then changes the subject extremely quickly like he is tossing the Duchess and her tragedy aside and moving on with his tour of his Palace. From the reader’s point of view, this is horrific and shows the Duke’s cruel side. At the start of the poem, he talks about the painting of the Duchess on the wall and described her ‘as if she were alive’. The Duke here is happy with the painting by Fra Pandolf because in his eyes, its perfection. She cannot chat back, let him down or do anything that could go against the Duke. She, in the painting, is in the complete control and power of the Duke which is what the Duke always wanted. She is just a pretty painting in the eyes of the Duke. For the Duke to be truly happy only when the Duchess is just art gives signs of an unnatural relationship the Duke had with the Duchess.
The Duke throughout the poem is significant from the way he is willing to open up about what cruel things he has done in the past. With his voice the only voice heard, we only hear things through his perspective. It also strengthens the traits of the Duke who is someone proud, self centred and possessive. He wants to be the only voice heard. He wanted to show how he kept his dignity through ordering the Duchess to be murdered. He wanted to show that when the Duchess was alive, she was always his and when he thought she wasn’t he threw her away. This domination of the Duke in ‘My Last Duchess’ is a clear representation the type of man he had been, is in the poem and will be in the future, ‘Notice Neptune, though, taming a sea-horse, through a rarity Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me!’