"My Last Duchess" By Robert Browning

Essay by hawleclUniversity, Bachelor'sA+, April 2003

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Robert Browning is known as the Master of Psychological dramatic monologue. In "My last Duchess" the reader only hears the Duke's story whose perverse point of view throws false accusations towards his recently deceased wife. What the reader knows about the characters is limited, so he must piece together the story on his own. The story the duke thinks he tells, of an unfaithful wife who offended his dignity, and the story he really tells, of jealousy and possessive love that leads to murder, engages the reader on a psychological level. Many of Browning's main characters are of twisted psyche and in this poem the egomaniacal duke's perception of conflict is severely distorted (Long 4).

Michael G. Miller's essay "Browning's 'My Last Duchess'" discusses how the Duke unknowingly reveals his enormous ego as he describes the painting of his last Duchess. The underlying theme is the Duke's dark secret of possessive love, obvious jealousy and resentment towards his belated wife.

Miller argues that looks can be deceiving and what someone says and what they really mean is often not the same.

Miller points out that the audience is mislead to believe that the Duchess was simple-minded and unfaithful. The misrepresentation of the Duchess begins when the duke explains what brought about the "spot of joy" on the duchess's cheek in Fra Pandolf's portrait. The Duke admits "'t was not / Her husband's presence only" (lines 13-14) caused her to blush. This statement is true but its phrasing leads to misunderstanding. The Duke tries to make it seem that "The presence of men other than her husband," caused the blush but that is not the case. When he later reveals his wife was easily amused, one can clearly see that "not her husband's presence only" really means "The presence of many...