DOMINATION OF THE DUCHESS
Robert Browning’s poem “My last Duchess” is spoken from the perspective of the Duke and conveys the Dukes personality through the literary form of a dramatic monologue. It involves a fictional account of the Duke addressing an envoy from the Count to talk of details for the hopeful marriage to the Count’s daughter. The subtitle of this monologue is “Ferrara,” which suggests an historical reference to Alfonso II, the fifth Duke of Ferrara in Italy in the mid-sixteenth century. The objective of the Duke is to attempt to sway the envoy’s opinion of himself to obtain the maximum dowry possible in pursuit of this marriage.
The reader is directed to imagine the Duke walking with the envoy through his art gallery and the Duke stops to show him a painting of his last Duchess that is presently covered by a curtain. “Since none puts by / the curtain I have drawn for you, but I” (9-10). This curtain is the first reference to the Dukes selfish, jealous, and protective traits. The Duke uses the curtain as a method of controlling his wife, even after her death. Other men admiring her beauty was unacceptable, so by hiding the painting behind a curtain, he controls who is allowed to gaze upon her. “Sir, ‘twas not / her husband’s presence only, called that spot / of joy into the Duchess’ cheek” (13-15). The Duke mentions the blush on the cheek that the duchess has in the painting and assumes that Frà Pandolf, the painter, was attracted to the Duchess and possibly paid her a compliment.
“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.” (16-19)
The Duke assumes that Frà Pandolf was most likely flirting with the Duchess and that she was flirting back with him. This demonstrates that the Duke was extremely jealous and could not stand to have his wife admired by other men.
The Duke is not happy with the manner in which his wife portrayed herself around others. He could not accept her civility towards those of unimportance and “a heart…how shall I say? …too soon made glad, / too easily impressed” (22-23). The Duke states that the Duchess was easily pleased by a compliment and through small favors from a servant or other insignificant people, a quality that the Duke could not tolerate.
“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.” (26-31)
The Duke felt that any pleasure she experienced should be drawn from him and that he should be the one single object of importance to her. This demonstrates his conceited nature that he should be the only focus of her life. “Oh, sir, she smiled, no doubt, /...