Pride And Ego Essay, Research Paper
Pride and Ego
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. In the first four lines of Robert Browning s beautifully written poetic monologue, The Last Duchess, the reader is introduced to the Duke s haughty and nonchalant attitude toward his deceased first wife. This outlook is carried through the entire piece, as I observe his obvious admiration of his beloved portrait and his eventual disclosure that his Duchess did not die of natural causes. The Duke alludes to the fact that he ordered the murder of his wife simply because his enormous ego was affronted. His obvious need for her undivided attention and complete control over her every move provoked him to have this deed carried out.
One can almost hear the Duke s true feelings of indignance, as he describes the Duchess to his guest. Sir, twas not/Her husband s presence only, called that spot/Of joy into the Duchess cheek: Her countenance and demeanor illustrated a true love of life, as it seems to have affected the way she treated those she encountered. It is as if she looked upon everyone as equal in stature, with no regard to status. Regrettably for her, this included the Duke, whose idea of respect is to be placed above all else and treated reverentially. 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. Unfortunately, because she seemed to be enchanted with her surroundings and not completely focused on her husband, the Duke s warped ideas of respect and subservience were insulted.
Since he is the Duke of Ferrara and a prominent figure in society, he expects to be shown complete reverence and be the center of attention. He demands nothing less from his wife, although it seems as if that particular demand eludes him. The notice she receives from others apparently threatens him and detracts from the attention that he feels she should be lavishing on him. 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. The Duke was completed insulted and irritated with the idea that anyone or anything could compete with his grand presence. Heaven forbid a gift from someone other than the might Duke would bring the Duchess joy and happiness. How disrespectful!
As one of the Duke s possessions, the Duchess can never be treated as his equal. Although her behavior distresses him, he refuses to confront her, as that would be admitting that she is an equal companion, not subservient chattel. He says, E en then would be some stooping; and I choose/Never to stoop. Since it is unthinkable that he would contend with her regarding her behavior, his only recourse is to arrange for her murder. I gave commands;/Then all smiles stopped together. This act was his only way to tame and have complete control over her, as he could not seem to squelch her spirit while she was alive. As he observes the portrait with his visitor, it seems as if it becomes the embodiment of what he believes a wife of his should be a trophy whose beauty is admired only under his complete control. He now determines when and if anyone is allowed to see her, as he keeps her image behind a curtain for his pleasure only.
By controlling who is able to view the painting, the Duke fulfills his need to exhibit his power. He must show others how powerful he is, but he is rather cowardly in this respect because he does not flaunt this to those who may be more powerful than he. He does not tell his story of the last Duchess to the Count himself, but to his servant who would probably never tell the Count. Perhaps the servant would advise the Count’s daughter as a warning so that she would live in fear and awe of the Duke.
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.
Not only does he want his next wife s rather large dowry, he will undoubtedly want her to be the perfect wife. Based on the story of his first wife, she will either be obedient and bend to his enormous ego, or suffer the fate of the last duchess.
Browning, Robert. My Last Duchess. The Bedford Introduction to Literature. Ed. Michael Meyer. Boston/New York: Bedford/St. Martin s, 1999. 821-822.