My Last Duchess

Essay by PaperNerd ContributorHigh School, 10th grade September 2001

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I am going to discuss the poem "My Last Duchess" by Robert Browning. The poem follows a conversation between the Duke of Ferrara of Italy and an envoy from the father of the Duke's future wife. In the conversation the Duke tells the envoy about his previous wife who had died. Through this conversation we can paint a picture of the Duke and his personality.

Throughout the conversation the Duke expresses exasperation at the fact that his wife gradually lost respect for him. This feeling portrays perhaps the Duke's worst fault: pride. He feels that his wife should thank him for his "900 year old name", but she does not. This shows him also to be arrogant and pretentious towards people; he treats servants on a par to objects. He feels indignant towards his servants, as the Duchess speaks to them more than to the Duke himself. He mentions also the fact that he told his wife she aggravated him with her actions, but she did not listen, at least from his point of view, which in turn is likely to be biased.

Although the Duke is so manipulative towards people he possesses an even darker side to his character: cunning, violence and cruel-heartedness. A good example of these points is the fact that the Duke indirectly states that he ordered the death of his wife. At this point Browning uses short sentences to portray the Duke as a frank and powerful man; "I choose never to stoop" and "I gave commands; then all smiles stopped together". However, in this part of the poem the Duke feels that he had to kill his wife and perhaps she threatened him more with her defiance than any man or blade ever could. The fact that her picture still adorns the wall is...