Portrait Of A Murderer: My Last Duchess Essay, Research Paper
Susan FerrellJuly 29, 1998 Portrait of a MurdererAn Analysis of the Duke inRobert Browning s, My Last Duchess Robert Browning s poem, My Last Duchess is probably his most famous dramatic monologue and is an excellent example of this form of poetry (Landow). Dramatic monologue is a one-sided literary composition in which the speaker gradually reveals his character (Browning). The speaker in this poem is the duke of Ferrara, who is addressing a second character, an agent of a count whose daughter he plans to marry. My Last Duchess is an extraordinary portrait of an aristocratic murderer who would have been offended had anyone called his conduct criminal (Landow). My Last Duchess opens with the duke of Ferrara showing the agent a portrait of his previous duchess. In telling the count s agent about his last wife, the duke reveals a great deal about his own character. He begins by calling attention to the blush on the duchess cheek and proceeds to demonstrate his unreasonable (and probably unwarranted) jealousy of his wife. The duke s innuendo that Brother Pandolf might be the cause of the blush is a good indication that he is a jealous man. Her husband s presence only, according to the duke, would be the only acceptable reason for the blush. His insinuations about her smiles to other people, her easily impressed heart, and her thanking men good do more to show his jealousy, than her infidelities. Possibly, the best evidence of his jealousy comes after the duchess death, when he keeps her portrait behind a curtain that no one pulls back but him. The pride and arrogance of the duke also become obvious during his conversation with the agent. The duke explains that his last duchess thought of his favor the same way she did her mules. He is intensely proud of his nine-hundred-years-old name and implies that the last duchess did not show the proper reverence for the gift of his name. Rather than [stooping] to blame a wife that should know better, he allows his jealousy to grow and turn into murder. I gave commands; then all smiles stopped together. Blandly revealing to the count s agent that he had ordered the last duchess death shows the arrogance that comes from being born an aristocrat. The duke is apparently unconcerned that his actions are criminal.
The duke of Ferrara is a man who sees nothing wrong in using his dead duchess to negotiate the dowry for his new duchess. By using innuendo and veiled threats, he makes it clear what behavior he expects from his new wife and the consequences if she does not respect his wishes. The duke never plainly says what happened to the last duchess and never openly negotiates for a dowry. The duke seats the count s agent in front of the portrait, which is a rather devious way to show that the count s daughter, could also end up on the wall. The faint half-flush that dies on her throat is a veiled threat that the duke leaves for the agent to figure out. He pretends ignorance by saying, I know not how or how shall I say? and lets the agent draw his own conclusions. At the same time, he is leading the agent where he wants him to go. My Last Duchess concludes with the duke casually pointing out one of his works of art, a bronze statue of Neptune taming a sea horse. This is not a casual or friendly gesture. The duke is again using innuendo to emphasis what he expects from the count s daughter. He is comparing himself with Neptune and his prospective wife with the sea horse. This act alone speaks volumes about how the dukes sees himself in comparison to the rest of the world. By likening himself to a god, he is setting himself above the laws and morality of man. It is not surprising that he can order a murder and still be offended when called a criminal.
Browning, Robert. My Last Duchess. The Riverside Anthology of Literature. 3rd ed. Ed. Douglas Hunt. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1997. 656-7.Browning, Robert. Microsoft Encarta 97 Encyclopedia. Microsoft Corporation, 1993-1996.Landow, George P. Dramatic Monologue: An Introduction. The Victorian Web. http://126.96.36.199/ eng/English_Literature/19th_c/dm1/html (22 Apr. 1998).