My Last Duchess by Robert Browning is a dramatic monologue about a duke who is showing the portrait of his first wife, the duchess, to a servant of his future father-in-law, the Count. In a dramatic monologue, the speaker addresses a distinct but silent audience. Through his speech, the speaker unintentionally reveals his own personality. As such, in reading this poem, the reader finds the duke to be self-centered, arrogant, controlling, chauvinistic and a very jealous man. The more he attempted to conceal these traits, however, the more they became evident. There is situational irony (a discrepancy between what the character believes and what the reader knows to be true) in this because the duke does not realize this is what is happening. Instead, he thinks he appears as a powerful and noble aristocrat.
Robert Browning, the poet, uses iambic pentameter throughout the poem. He breaks up the pattern so that every two lines rhyme. Aside from being a dramatic monologue, the poem is also considered lyric poetry because it is a poem that evokes emotion but does not tell a story. The poem is being told in the speaker's point-of-view about his first duchess, also as revealed in the title, The Last Duchess. The setting is important because the duke's attitude correlates to how men treated women at that time. The theme of the poem appears to be the duke's possessive love and his reflections on his life with the duchess, which ultimately brings about murder and his lack of conscience or remorse.
In the first several lines (1-8) of the poem , the duke is addressing an unknown listener. He only uses the pronoun "you" so it is never clear until the ending who the intended listener is. He begins by pointing out the portrait on the wall of his "last Duchess" and mentions, not in the least bit sad, that the Duchess is "Looking as if she were alive." This immediately tells the reader that the Duchess is no longer living, but the Duke doesn't stop for a moment. He just continues on to brag about who the painter was by mentioning his name more than once (Fra Pandolf's hands Worked busily a day…I said "Fra Pandolf" by design…") This not only shows his apathy, but his arrogance too. The Duke goes on to say that "since none puts by The curtain I have drawn for you, but I," (9-10) he is telling the listener that he doesn't open the curtain on the portrait for just anyone. Of course, he is already beginning to show his controlling nature when he makes sure the viewer knows he is privileged to see the portrait. As well, it shows that he wants to have power over his wife in the portrait, which he did not have when she was alive.
As the Duke continues (11-21), it is obvious he was angry about others paying attention to the Duchess. He thought she should be for "his presence only." when he says "Sir, 'twas not Her husband's presence only, called that spot Of joy into the Duchess' cheek:" And then pointed out several comments made by Fra Pandolf, the artist...