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My Last Duchess Essay Research Paper 2

My Last Duchess Essay, Research Paper

The Haunting Aristocrat

In his dramatic monologue, Robert Browning uses irony, diction, and

imagery to achieve a haunting effect.

Robert Browning frequently wrote dramatic monologues to enhance the

dark and avaricious qualities in his works. Browning?s use of this particular

style is to ?evoke the unconstrained reaction of a person in a particular

situation or crisis? (Napierkowski 170). A poem may say one thing, but when

mixed with dramatic monologue, it may ?present a meaning at odds with the

speaker?s intention?(Napierkowski 170). This change may show the reader

more insight into the poem without directly stating the underlying facts. The

reader is allowed to ?isolate a single moment in which the character reveals

himself more starkly? (Napierkowski 171). Browning?s use of dramatic

monologue ?disposes the reader to suspend moral judgement? (Napierkowski

171) causing a haughtiness to hover over many of his works.

Browning uses irony in conjunction with dramatic monologue to produce

a sinister and domineering effect. Irony, much like dramatic monologue, can

make the reader question the true underlying meaning of the passage. This

brief confusion causes an eeriness to be brought about in the work. In ?My

Last Duchess,? verbal irony is demonstrated when the Duke says to his guests,

?even had you skill in speech . . . which I have not?(35-36). Throughout the

poem the Duke proves that he is ?quite a polished speaker?(Markley 172). The

Duke is not a modest man, but him making this seemingly humble statement in

the midst of all his power stricken remarks establishes situational irony.

Dramatic monologue can make an unforseen ironic statement have an

ominous surrounding that totally encompasses the reader?s attention. An

individual may initially become very disturbed if an unannounced late night

visitor knocked on their door, just as the Duke?s unanticipated remark brought a

weary feeling to the reader.

Throughout ?My Last Duchess,? Browning uses diction to further increase

the haunting effect of his dramatic monologue. His precise and scattered word

choice is meant to make the reader recognize the underlying haughtiness in his

speech to the Count?s emissary. The Duke refers to his former wife?s portraits

?depth? and ?passion? in order to place a cloudiness over the realism of the

painting. This, along with the ?faint? and ?half-flush? appearance that ?dies

along her throat,? brings about an overcast appearance to the poem. The

Duke?s ?trifling? lack of ?countenance? is evident in his jealousy of the

Duchess?s kindness toward others. Her benevolence ?disgusts? the Duke, and

causes him to ?stoop? down to spouting off ?commands? in her direction. The

Duke?s abrasive word choice intensifies the dominating effect in the poem ?My

Last Duchess.?

Browning?s use of imagery escalates the haunting effect in ?My Last

Duchess.? Throughout the poem the Duke proves to be the type of man that

has to be in control. His need for control is displayed when he tells his guest

that no one may draw ?the curtain . . . but I?(10). A portrait of his previous wife

is covered by this curtain. The Duke paints his own image of her through this

dialogue. Everything the reader hears about the lady is ?filtered through the

mind and voice of the Duke?(Charles 278). He is obsessed with being in

control. He didn?t have full control over his previous wife, and that is why he

refers to her as ?looking as if she were alive?(2) in the portrait. The dominating

image the Duke paints of himself by describing his last wife creates an eerie


The poem ?My last Duchess? concludes with one distinct domineering

image. The Duke draws his guest?s attention to a statue of Neptune taming a

seahorse in order to show that he will demand complete obedience from his

future wife. ?The Duke sees himself as a God?(Charles 279), who will not yield

to a subordinate for any reason. The image of the powerful god, taking control

of the seahorse demonstrates the Duke?s desired relationship between him and

any woman. Also, the Duke is showing the emissary that he will rule ?his

kingdom . . . with an iron fist?(Charles 279) just like Neptune. The Duke?s

overbearing statements prove that he will put fear into his wife through his

haunting tactics.

Robert Browning presents a creepy feeling through his dramatic

monologues. In ?My Last Duchess,? he shows the reader the Dukes

overbearing need for control and power through imagery, and he causes a

weariness to overcome the reader through irony. Browning?s use of precise diction

also contributes to the eerie developments throughout the poem. By combining

dramatic monologue, irony, precise diction, and imagery together, Browning is able

to produce his desired haunting effect.