My Last Duchess By Browning Essay Research

My Last Duchess By Browning Essay, Research Paper

One of the greatest Victorian poets and masters of the dramatic monologue,

Robert Browning was born in London on the seventh of May in 1812. His father was

a clerk at the Bank of England and mostly educated Browning at home. He attended

London University in 1828, but withdrew after his second term. After his first

publication in 1833, Pauline: A Fragment of a Confession, he received little

attention and only random criticism of his later works. It was not until 1869

when The Ring and the Book was published that he received recognition and began

to build his reputation. Prior to his success, he married Elizabeth Browning

against her father?s wishes and stayed deeply devoted to her until her death

in 1861. While married to Elizabeth, he lived in Florence, Italy, where he did

some of his finest work. Nearly all of his companions and acquaintances

considered him a sociable person and a gracious host, as he was well known for

his dinner parties. Browning continued to publish volumes of poetry until his

death on December the twelfth of 1889. Robert Browning is remembered for his

mastery at capturing the essence and power of the dramatic monologue. Through

symbolism, structure and technique, Browning creates the model of the ideal

dramatic monologue in the poem, "My Last Duchess." "My Last

Duchess" was published in 1845. "Ferrara" is the subtitle of the

poem and assists in disclosing the design of the poem, a portrayal of Alfonso

II, the fifth Duke of Ferrara. The historical life of Alfonso II fits

intricately with the events and happenings within the poem. Alfonso II married

Lucrezia de? Medici who is the daughter of the Duke of Florence. The Duke?s

family has a long credited name and wealth that had been around for ages. The

affluence and power of the duchess?s family had been newly acquired, and when

comparing the two families, the Duke?s was much more significant, at least in

his eyes. The Duchess of Alfonso II died of poisoning in 1561. Three short years

later the Duke arranged to marry Barbara, a niece of the Count of Tyrol. The

speaker of the dramatic monologue is an egotistical and pompous Duke. He speaks

to an envoy of the Count throughout the monologue. At the beginning of the poem,

he slowly draws back the curtain and reveals a portrait. This portrait, he

asserts, is his "last Duchess?looking as if she were alive"

(lines1-2). The Duke continues by addressing the look upon her face and the many

reasons for her blushing cheeks. Continuing the description, he depicts the

duchess?s ways, including her virtues of innocence and unspoiled beauty.

Examples are given by the Duke of how easily she is impressed by nature and the

simple pleasures of life. He claims he is disgusted by her ability to see

natural beauty as an equal delectation with his name and matrimony. Then very

subtly he tells the envoy how he gave orders to have "all smiles stopped

together" (line 46). The envoy is completely aware of the truth about the

ordered killings and the Duke?s greedy reasoning for marrying the niece of the

Count. The contemptuous way of the Duke is made perfectly clear to the envoy,

and the envoy begins to leave. The delegate is completely aware of the truth

about the ordered killings and the Duke?s greedy reasoning for marrying the

niece of the Count. The Duke elaborates his reasoning for marrying the duchess,

by declaring it is only for the dowry. The last few lines of the poem reveal the

full essence of the Duke and how he sees himself as powerful and godlike.

"My Last Duchess" contains multiple symbols throughout the poem. A few

of the symbols in the poem are said by the Duke pertaining to the duchess. The

Duke gives examples of things she was enamored by such as the "the dropping

of the daylight in the West" (line 26), the "bough of cherries"

(line 27) and the white mule. She enjoys and treasures the sunset for its

beauty; this the Duke finds trivial. The cherry branch given to her by a servant

is white and pink which could be representative of her youth and innocence. The

white mule she would ride is something that gives her pleasure, she finds it

exotic and interesting. All of these gifts of nature he finds to be elementary

and insignificant, but to her they are beautiful and extraordinary. The symbols

told by the Duke also echo her natural splendor and her innocent ways, since she

is so taken by the simple things in life. Furthermore, the Duke could not

understand how she could compare and find equal the nine hundred year old name

he has given her to a sunset. "I know not how – as if she ranked my gift of

a nine- hundred- year-old name with anybody?s gift" (lines 33-34). These

various symbols of the duchess deeply contrast with the Duke, for he is only

given pleasure by the intriacte and high-priced things in life. Symbols of the

Duke?s pleasure are the statue cast in bronze specifically for him and the

portrait of the late duchess. These two symbols represent his control, power and

refined taste. The portrait is symbolic of how his duchess has been nothing more

than a possession to be put on display and looked at when he feels it fit to do

so. The title even become symbolic, for the usage of the word "my" has

a possessive tone, and he considers her his property. Symbols of the duke?s

control are scattered throughout the poem. When the duke draws the curtain, he

remarks how that is his power alone and no one else of the household would even

dare to ask to pull back the curtain. This proves his arrogance at the opening

of the monologue and his extreme control. The last few lines of the poem contain

some very vital symbols in the form of characterization and meaning. The primary

symbol is displayed when the duke exclaims, "Notice Neptune, though, Taming

a sea horse, thought a rarity, Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for

me" (lines 54-56)! When he directs the envoy?s attention to the statue,

he describes the god of the sea as taming the sea horse. This can be interpreted

in many different ways. One of the interpretations is that the Duke represents

the god, and the duchess is symbolic of the sea horse that he controls and

tames. This interpretation leaves room to say that the sea horse is not just the

duchess but any women the Duke encounters. He will always see them as just a

possession to control and use to his desires at will, for he believes he is

superior and godlike. The second interpretation is the Duke is Neptune, and the

sea horse is the envoy. The Duke manipulates the envoy?s mind and controls him

throughout the monologue. The Duke directs him to do everything, and the envoy

obeys without much question. When the Duke asks him to look at the painting and

later to slow his pace so they leave together and can further discuss the

arrangements, the envoy complies. Nearly all of the crucial symbols represent

his reasoning for his cruel actions or his supreme control. One of the essential

techniques Browning uses is language. Through the format, word choice, and

speech the intensity of the dramatic monologue is felt. Browning uses specific

words to convey his tone and characterization. When the Duke refers to the

"officious fool" (line 27) who brought the cherry branch to the

Duchess, he initiates a time period and region. Those choices of words proves

the Duke?s arrogance and ego, but also shows his status in society. He was

part of the aristocratic society in, which people were excepted to have a

certain amount of pomposity. When the Duke talks of how the Duchess disgusts him

that also implies explicit word choice to provide accurate characterization.

Those lines grant a dramatic monologue to come alive and breath contempt for the

character. "E?en then would be some stooping; and I choose never to

stoop,(lines 42-43)" this choice of words shows how the character views

himself. In his mind killing her was the only way of going about it, for if he

asked her to change that would make him inferior and powerless. The language

Browning uses in the monologue provides the historical background to become

evident. It also allows the reader to make amends for the Duke?s actions,

beliefs and behaviors because of the period and culture. The language and

specific words chosen give the dramatic monologue a realistic tone and sense of

understanding for the era and the Duke. One could argue that the Duke was merely

a product of his times and environment. When taking a psychological approach in

interpreting and analysising the Duke many theories exist. One being he is

insane or another is that he was conditioned by society to do everything in his

power to fulfill himself without consequence. Another technique used to develop

the monologue is by using the aside seen twice in the poem. The aside reaffirms

the duke?s arrogance and his ego is revealed. Also the sentence variety

displayed gives another opening for interpretation of the Duke. "This grew;

I gave commands; Then all smiles stopped together.(line 45-46)" This line

is filled with semi colons and brief, short phrases that deeply contrast his

prior sentences that where lengthy and very elaborate. The sentence variety can

also be viewed as symbolic of the events and characters. When he uses the long

winded, detailed sentences he displays his arrogance and conceit. The short,

choppy sentences could represent the shot lived life of the duchess that was

taken in only moments. The format is very vital in developing the dramatic

monologue. "My Last Duchess" is composed of rhyming couplets.

Enjambment is also used throughout the poem to off set the rhyme scheme to

therefore give a sense of natural speech. The format and language is necessary

to elaborate the essence of "My Last Duchess" and without those

techniques the dramatic monologue would lose some of its richness embodied by

the dissection of the human mind and the penetration of thought. "My Last

Duchess" is a dramatic monologue that tries to dive into the reasoning of

the human mind. The monologue also presumes an effect over the reader by the

techniques used. The language, style, and form manipulate the readers thoughts

and emotions. Furthermore, the symbols that are scattered throughout the poem

give intensity and depth. Without the abundant symbolism, certain structure and

specific techniques; "My Last Duchess" would not have the power it

beholds as a dramatic monologue.


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