’s My Last Dutchess Essay, Research Paper

In his poem, My Last Duchess, Robert Browning uses the description of a

painting as the premise through which he paints his own subtle portrait of the

speaker. Through his self-absorbed rambling monologue concerning his former

wife, the Duke inadvertently reveals much more about himself than he does (as the title would suggest) his last Duchess. With his opening line, That s my last Duchess painted on the wall,/ Looking as if she were alive, the Duke of Ferrara begins a long speech that ultimately exposes his true character as jealous, possessive,materialistic, arrogant, insecure, and, perhaps, even that of a remorseless murderer. However, one may need look no further than this first line to reach that sameconclusion.

The tone with which the Duke opens his narrative is frank, matter-of-fact,

and supremely commanding. Without a trace of emotion in his voice, he begins to

describe to an intentionally unidentified guest (probably a servant of the waiting count) the exquisite portrait of his dead wife that decorates his wall. The very language he uses seems to purposely blur the lines between the Duchess as an actual(former) human being, and the Duchess as a work of art, a mere configuration of paint and canvas. In stead of referring to the thing on the wall as it, he repeats personal pronouns, such as she and her. To him, she and the painting are the same thing, a piece of artwork to be prized as a possession, an object that can be owned, controlled, and even discarded when it ceases to please its owner. While Fra Pandolf s skillful hands may have captured her well enough to make her appear as if she were still alive, she is nevertheless an inanimate object, fixed in a

frozen pose, completely devoid of the spirited and vivacious personality that had formerly defined her. The Duke, who could never truly control her in life, finds great satisfaction in his ability to control and posses her in death. To him, the Duchess in the portrait represents her in her most ideal form — silent, passive, and beautiful.

The Duke s possessive tyrannical nature is further revealed though his choice

of words when referring to his late wife. That s my last duchess, he boasts with characteristic arrogance, always careful to include the possessive adjective my, to emphasize his complete ownership of both the painting and the woman in it. Furthermore, he never once mentions her real name, always substituting the title of Duchess, which was, notably, a title granted to her by her marriage to him. It is in this manner that the Duke is able to further dehumanize his wife, while, at the same time, asserting ownership and distancing himself from the reality of the Duchess as an individual and, also, from his role in her (presumed) murder.

In, My Last Duchess, Browning presents us with a not-so-subtle portrait

of an insecure, powerless man who feels an irrepressible need to assert his

supremacy over others and to dominate and control. He might be a tragic figure,

but we can feel no sympathy. With every word from his mouth, we understand him

more and more as a truly evil bastard, capable of nearly anything, even murder.

And that is only the beginning. . . remember, we ve only examined one line.


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