My Last Duchess

My Last Duchess

by Robert Browning

That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall,
Looking as if she were alive. I call
That piece a wonder, now: Frà Pandolf’s hands
Worked busily a day, and there she stands.
Will’t please you sit and look at her? I said
“Frà Pandolf” by design, for never read
Strangers like you that pictured countenance,
The depth and passion of its earnest glance,
But to myself they turned (since none puts by
The curtain I have drawn for you, but I)
And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst,
How such a glance came there; so, not the first
Are you to turn and ask thus. Sir, ‘twas not
Her husband’s presence only, called that spot
Of joy into the Duchess’ cheek: perhaps
Frà Pandolf chanced to say, “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.” Such stuff
Was courtesy, she thought, and cause enough
For calling up that spot of joy. She had
A heart – how shall I say? – too soon made glad,
Too easily impressed: she liked whate’er
She looked on, and her looks went everywhere.
Sir, ‘twas all one! My favor at her breast,
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. She thanked men, – good! but thanked
Somehow – I know not how – as if she ranked
My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name
With anybody’s gift. Who’d stoop to blame
This sort of trifling? Even had you skill
In speech – (which I have not) – to make your will
Quite clear to such an one, and say, “Just this
Or that in you disgusts me; here you miss,
Or there exceed the mark” – and if she let
Herself be lessoned so, nor plainly set
Her wits to yours, forsooth, and made excuse,
– E’en then would be some stooping; and I choose
Never to stoop. Oh sir, she smiled, no doubt,
Whene’er I passed her; but who passed without
Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands;
Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands
As if alive. Will’t please you rise? We’ll meet
The company below, then. I repeat,
The Count your master’s known munificence
Is ample warrant that no just pretense
Of mine for dowry will be disallowed;
Though his fair daughter’s self, as I avowed
At starting, is my object. Nay, we’ll go
Together down, sir. Notice Neptune, though,
Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity,
Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me!

Summary of My Last Duchess

  • Popularity of “My Last Duchess”: Robert Browning, a famous English poet, and playwright, wrote ‘My Last Duchess’, a famous dramatic monologue of a duke about a heinous act of killing his former wife. It was first published in Browning’s Dramatic Lyrics in 1842. The poem comprises the sentiment of the speaker whose mistress could not survive his severity. It also provides an insight into the psychological state of the speaker. However, its popularity lies in the presentation of a realistic picture of the Victorian era.
  • “My Last Duchess” As a Representative of Jealousy: The poem presents a monologue of a duke who is telling about the demise of his last duchess. At the outset, he displays the painting of his late wife and talks about her character traits. First, he acknowledges the mastery of the painter for painting a lifelike picture of his mistress. Then, accuses his mistress of having a heart that was “too soon made glad” and “too easily impressed.” He did not like her soft, impartial and polite manners. Therefore, he blames her for being so gentle and kind. Although her death is suspicious, the duke gets away with her murder on account of his status and power. Thus, the poem exhibits the vicious, psychotic and controlling mind of the duke, who hated his wife due to her positive nature.
  • Major Themes in “My Last Duchess”: Jealousy, hatred, and power are the major themes of this poem. Browning has presented the character of a duke who wants to rule his woman with an iron fist. He talks about his late wife and details the reasons why he did not like her. He could not tolerate the idea that his wife was easily attracted toward the strangers and responded them happily. It is due to this behavior his wife is not alive.  That is why he seems to be a psychopath, jealous and self-centered man who not only wishes to control his kingdom but also wants to govern the lives of his near and dear ones.

Analysis of Literary Devices in “My Last Duchess”

Literary devices are tools the writers use to create meanings in their texts to enhance the poems or stories and connect the readers with the real message of the text.  The analysis of some of the literary devices used in this poem has been detailed below.

  1. Assonance: Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in the same line such as the sound of /o/ in “Her wits to your, forsooth, and made excuses” and the sound of /i/ and /o/ in “Of mine for dowry will be disallowed”.
  2. Symbolism: Symbolism is using symbols to signify ideas and qualities, giving them symbolic meanings different from literal meanings. The painting of the Duke’s last Duchess symbolizes how he objectifies women as property or possessions. “White mule” symbolizes her innocence and purity. “Taming a sea-horse” is a symbol of Duke taming his wife.
  3. Enjambment: Enjambment refers to the continuation of a sentence without the pause beyond the end of a line, couplet or stanza such as:

“The Count your master’s known munificence
Is ample warrant that no just pretense
Of mine for dowry will be disallowed;”

  1. Consonance: Consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line such as the sound of /t/ in “Together down, sir. Notice Neptune, though” and the sound of /n/ in “The Count your master’s known munificence.”
  2. Irony: Irony is a figure of speech in which words are used in such a way that their intended meaning is different from the actual meaning of the words. The title is ironic because the dead mistress is not his last lady, as he is going to marry again.
  3. Simile: Simile is a device used to compare something with something else to make the meanings clear. There is only one simile used in this poem. For example,

“That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall,
Looking as if she were alive.”

  1. Hyperbole: Hyperbole is a device used to exaggerate a statement for the sake of emphasis. The poet has used hyperbole in the line twenty-four, “She looked on, and her looks went everywhere.”
  2. Alliteration: Alliteration is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line such as the sound of /d/ in “The dropping of the daylight in the West” and the sound of /s/ in “Then all the smiles stopped together There she stands”.
  3. Euphemism: A euphemism is a polite expression used in place of words or phrases that might otherwise be considered harsh or unpleasant. For example,

“Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands;
Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands.”

Analysis of Poetic Devices in “My Last Duchess”

Poetic and literary devices are the same, but a few are used only in poetry. Here is the analysis of some of the poetic devices used in this poem.

  1. Stanza: A stanza is a poetic form of some lines. There is one long stanza in the poem having fifty-six lines in it.
  2. Iambic Pentameter: It is a type of meter having five iambs per line. The poem follows iambic pentameter such as, “looking as if she were alive I call”.
  3. End Rhyme: End rhyme is used to make the stanza melodious. The examples of end rhyme in the poem are, “wall/call”, “hands/stands” and “meet/repeat”.
  4. Heroic Couplet: Heroic couplet is a pair of rhymed lines with iambic pentameter. The poem consists of twenty-eight heroic couplets. For example,

“Strangers like you that pictured countenance,
The depth and passion of its earnest glance,”

Quotes to be Used

The lines stated below can be used when praising the artistic skills of a painter. These can also be used by a lover to praise the beauty and delicacy of his mistress.

“That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall,
Looking as if she were alive. I call
That piece a wonder, now; Fra Pandolf’s hands
Worked busily a day, and there she stands.”