My Last Duchess is part of the anthology of poems that need to be studied at English A level. Below is a complete analysis of Robert Browning’s poem taking out the key ideologies, quotes and facts about the poem which includes the personality of the Duchess, what the poem is actually about and lots more on the form, language and structure too. Feel free to skip to the parts most relevant to you.
The poem is about a Duchess which went against the Duke (the voice of the poem) and therefore killed her for it. However, from the description of her actions, it can be seen that she did nothing to have caused the husband to kill her. This makes the Duke seem very controlling and obsessive. The scene of the poem is palace on the staircase where the husband to the Last Duchess is touring an Envoy of the Count (administrator or important person) around the place. The subject of the Last Duchess comes up due to the picture on the wall of herself. Below are bullet points of everything you need to know about the poem with in depth analysis to every part of the poem (in chronological order for your convenience):
- The title ‘My Last Duchess’ can suggest this might not have been his first Duchess. He may have in the past misuse and abused his power over others.
- The Duke uses ‘my’a lot throughout his monologue (speech), ‘That’s my last Duchess’. This helps in objectifying her.
- The fact he has a painting of her on the wall displays how happy he is with the appearance of the Duchess. In his eyes, she is perfection as she cannot back chat, argue or defend herself but just look pretty (which is what he wanted when she was alive).
- His obsessive quality appears, ‘Will’t please you sit and look at her?’ By asking people to look at her painting makes the Envoy appreciate the artistic side to the painting. This makes clear that he wants people to join in on his obsession of her.
- He also uses ‘I’ a lot to display his selfishness and greed which we assume has caused the Duchess to die and his power to become corrupted.
- He tells the Envoy of the artist who drew her, Fra Pandolf, and what he said ‘Her mantle laps Over my lady’s wrist too much’. The fact that he can remember what he said shows he’s obsessed with what people said to her.
- The Duke believes the Last Duchess gave her heart too easily away, ‘too soon made glad, too easily impressed’. This makes the Duke sound like an unreliable narrator as this whole poem is from his perspective. However, the Duchess may have just been generally nice to people.
- It is clear he doesn’t like being out of control, ‘The bough of cherries some officious fool Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule’, criticizing everyone else.
- ‘She thanked men – good! but thanked’. These bursts of memories about her in the past clearly illustrates how he writes a mental list of the activities of the Duchess.
- His personality continues to show when he brags about his power and his ancestral name, ‘My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name With anybody’s gift. Who’d stoop to blame This sort of trifling?’ he knows the answer to this question already which he believes it is the Duchess’s fault. As well as this, he wants his gift to be treated differently to others which the Duchess was not doing.
- He thinks she’s imperfect, ‘Herself be lessoned so’, telling the Envoy that she should have allowed him to teach her.
- There is emphasis on ‘choose’ in ‘I choose Never to stoop’ showing how he is a perfectionist.
- ‘But who passed without Much the same smile?’ He wanted to smiled at differently and felt that he deserved special attention not only because he was jealous but because she was nice to everyone especially men.
- ‘I gave commands; Then all smiles stopped together’. This is where he ordered her formality to die. The fact he gave a command makes him be looked upon as devious as he doesn’t feel the need to get his hands dirty: arrogant trait. More importantly, the decision to kill her was half way through line 45 making it a caesura ( a stop/hesitation in the middle of poetry to create an effect) which strengthens his decision making the impact to the reader more devastating.
- ‘At starting, is my object. nay, we’ll go’ A caesura is places here to change the subject. This shows his arrogance again from the way the reader will be shocked how he has changed the subject of conversation so quickly.
- ‘The Count your master’s known munificence’. This talks about the Envoy of the Count and how the Duke intends to marry the daughter of the Envoy.
- ‘Notice Neptune, though, Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity, Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me’. Here, he is warning the Envoy that he is controlling and will tame anyone that goes against him just like the Last Duchess.
- The whole poem is a dramatic monologue to the Envoy.
The poem has a iambic pentameter rhythm. This makes it sound more like he is speaking naturally (persiflage or casually). It follows the rhythm of U – / U – / U – / U – / U – / where the ‘U’ is not a stress and the ‘-‘ is a stress.
The Moral to ‘My Last Duchess’
Browning is talking about the abuse of power that wealthy individuals have which makes them thing they have control and can run society and ‘things’ (sorry for using ‘things’) such as the Last Duchess. He wanted to mould her to his ideas.