My last duchess 4

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DOMINATION OF THE DUCHESS Robert Browning’s poem “My last Duchess” is spoken from the perspective of the Duke and conveys the Dukes personality through the literary form of a dramatic monologue. It involves a fictional account of the Duke addressing an envoy from the Count to talk of details for the hopeful marriage to the Count’s daughter. The subtitle of this monologue is “Ferrara,” which suggests an historical reference to Alfonso II, the fifth Duke of Ferrara in Italy in the mid-sixteenth century. The objective of the Duke is to attempt to sway the envoy’s opinion of himself to obtain the maximum dowry possible in pursuit of this marriage.

The reader is directed to imagine the Duke walking with the envoy through his art gallery and the Duke stops to show him a painting of his last Duchess that is presently covered by a curtain. “Since none puts by / the curtain I have drawn for you, but I” (9-10).

This curtain is the first reference to the Dukes selfish, jealous, and protective traits. The Duke uses the curtain as a method of controlling his wife, even after her death. Other men admiring her beauty was unacceptable, so by hiding the painting behind a curtain, he controls who is allowed to gaze upon her. “Sir, ‘twas not / her husband’s presence only, called that spot / of joy into the Duchess’ cheek” (13-15). The Duke mentions the blush on the cheek that the duchess has in the painting and assumes that FràPandolf, the painter, was attracted to the Duchess and possibly paid her a compliment.

“Her mantle laps Over my lady’s wrist too much,’ or ‘Paint Must never hope to reproduce the faint Half-flush that dies along her throat.” (16-19) The Duke assumes that FràPandolf was most likely flirting with the Duchess and that she was flirting back with him. This demonstrates that the Duke was extremely jealous and could not stand to have his wife admired by other men.

The Duke is not happy with the manner in which his wife portrayed herself around others. He could not accept her civility towards those of unimportance and “a heart…how shall I say? …too soon made glad, / too easily impressed” (22-23). The Duke states that the Duchess was easily pleased by a compliment and through small favors from a servant or other insignificant people, a quality that the Duke could not tolerate.

“The dropping of the daylight in the West, The bough of cherries some officious fool Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule She rode with round the terrace—all and each Would draw from her alike the approving speech, Or blush, at least.” (26-31) The Duke felt that any pleasure she experienced should be drawn from him and that he should be the one single object of importance to her. This demonstrates his conceited nature that he should be the only focus of her life. “Oh, sir, she smiled, no doubt, / whene’er I passed her; but who passed without / much the same smile” (43-45)? The Duke views the Duchess as someone who would be courteous to all no matter what status they held. He does not share this opinion with the Duchess and he feels that no one of lower status should even be noticed. “She thanked men,--good; but thanked / somehow…I know not how…” (31-32). The Duke assumes that the Duchess gave men favors of herself and accuses her of being unfaithful to him. This reveals his jealousy towards other men and his paranoia that his wife would behave in such adulterous conduct.

The Duke is also very arrogant in his ways, a birthright that his title and name allow. He is not pleased that the Duchess does not see him in this manner and is rather bitter about it. “As if she ranked / my gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name / with anybody’s gift” (32-34). He resents the Duchess for not being grateful to have his name bestowed upon her and glory in the high social rank into which she married, but “who’d stoop to blame / this sort of trifling” (34-35)? His arrogance is verified by his conduct. "I choose never to stoop” (42-43) never to discuss what she did that annoyed him; he instead decides to take action. The Duke “gave commands; / then all smiles stopped together” (45-46). The Duke could no longer accept the behavior of his wife so he casually mentions that he had her killed, the ultimate demonstration of his power. This is an example of his conceit that no one else would ever again be able to gaze upon her beauty except him. In his next breath the Duke mentions to the envoy that they should rejoin the company below. The Duke does not even pause to show his sorrow for having his wife murdered. This demonstrates the Dukes shallowness and ill concern towards the vicious and unprovoked elimination of the Duchess.

As the Duke and the envoy make there way down to join the rest of the party he makes it clear to the envoy in mentioning: “no just pretence Of mine for dowry will be disallowed; Though his fair daughter’s self, as I avowed At starting, is my object. (50-53) The Duke states that he knows of the Counts munificence (generosity) but that the dowry is of no importance, he is merely interested in his daughter. The manner in which he states this is rather particular. He seems to make it obvious that he knows he has a rather large sum of money coming his way but he attempts to diminish this by stating that his only interest is the company of a new wife. I believe this to be a manipulative statement by the Duke that again represents his shallowness as he attempts to hide his greedy nature; he is most definitely interested in the dowry. As they pass by another piece in his gallery the Duke casually says. “Notice Neptune, though, / taming a sea-horse” (54-55). This final allusion to Neptune taming the sea horse is a direct comparison to the Duke himself; known to be a controlling man. This is a hint that the Duke will control his wife just as Neptune controls the sea horse.

This monologue as spoken by the Duke represents many definitive traits that the Duke encompasses in his character. The manner in which he views his deceased Duchess demonstrates his egotistical view of himself. His selfish, jealous, protective, greedy, paranoid persona is displayed by his act of killing his wife. He could not control his Duchess as he wanted so his arrogance and his shallowness got the better of him until he could no longer do anything except kill her. The painting represents a wife that he can control until the day he died. His repeated manipulative habits continued as he influences the envoy to view the circumstances of this future marriage as being solely for the purposes of companionship. This is not the case; the Dukes greed is his only concern, a wife to dominate as he wishes and sufficient dowry to amplify his wealth. The character of the Duke is established as one of a man who believes he is the center of the universe. This man does not accept anything less than being seen as exactly that, the center of the universe.