A Comparison of 'My Last Duchess' by Robert Browning and 'Ulysses' by Alfred Lord Tennyson
These two poems, or monologues, were written by Robert Browning (My
last Duchess) and Alfred Lord Tennyson (Ulysses), in the 19th century
during the reign of Queen Victoria. Many other influential writers
were also born in this period. During this time, Britain’s population
doubled from 17.5 million to 37 million. Britain was a very powerful
nation with a strong economy, and had a very large empire that covered
the globe. This brought on an air of pride and confidence. Creature
comforts, such as transport, sanitation and housing were improving
during this time. More men had the vote than ever before, although
women were still not allowed to vote. All was not well however,
begging, drunkenness and child exploitation were extremely common.
Many people were hypocrites: they said one thing but did another. This
period was also one of political unrest.
In My Last Duchess, the Duke has power, importance, prominence, wealth
and control over his life. We know this as he is a “duke” and has many
possessions. He is also looking for more status by marrying into an
even more powerful family than his own, thus gaining more power and
possibly more wealth. In this poem there is a silent listener who is
the servant of the Count of Tyrol.
In Ulysses the speaker also has power, wealth, importance and
prominence. Ulysses has not gained his power through inheritance like
the Duke, but rather by his own exploits on the battlefield. He is not
looking for a new wife, but instead is trying to return to his current
wife. Ulysses is also trying to lose his power, the opposite of the
Duke, and will do this by standing down from power and passing the
“sceptre and the isle” to his “son” who he introduces to his kingdom
The worlds of both speakers are evoked by the presence of silent
listeners, a feature of the dramatic monologue. In the case of My Last
Duchess the silent listener is a servant of the Count of Tyrol who has
come for marriage negotiations with the Duke and to see if he would be
a suitable husband for the Count’s daughter. The Duke has control over
the servant through veiled commands; for example, “Will it please you
to sit” is actually a command to sit. In Ulysses the silent listener
changes throughout the poem. Some examples of the silent listeners in
this poem are his kingdom and his fellow mariners.
Robert Browning presents the power of the Duke through his attitude to
others. At the beginning of the poem he refers...