My Last Duchess
Introduction: The dramatic monologue “My Last Duchess’ is regarded as the best dramatic monologue in the whole range of English Literature. The speaker is the Duke of Ferrara, an important city and cultural center of Italy. The spirit of Renaissance, its intrigues, its sensuality, its greed, and cultural qualities are presented in it.
Summary of My Last Duchess
In the parlance of an Italian Duke, who is the speaker in this short but vivid piece, had come the envoy of a count whose daughter he was negotiating to marry. The Duke was a widower, and taking his guest round the family portrait gallery, he paused before the portrait of his last Duchess and drew aside the curtain. He began to comment on the picture.
It was a fine portrait, so beautifully executed, that the form of his wife came to live in it.
Friar Pandolf who painted it had spent a lot of time and labour over that masterpiece.
At once, the Duke turned to inform his guest that he had deliberately named a Friar as the artist. This was because the look of deep and intense passion on the Duchess’s face always intrigued onlookers. It was clear that they sensed something behind that look other than love for her husband; they would have asked questions about it if only they had the courage. The mention of a Friar’s name helped to check fancies about an affair between the Duchess and the painter.
It was obvious to anyone that the look on her countenance was caused by something more than the mere presence of her husband in the studio. Its joy was so clear and bright. But it might have been caused by a casual remark from the painter; either a suggestion that her mantle should not cover her wrist so much or that it was impossible to reproduce on canvas the faint, evanescent flush that suffused her face. In her case, even such a formal, courteous remark was sufficient to call forth a bush of happiness.
She had an innocent, happy nature that could be pleased easily. Her earnest, impassioned, and yet smiling glance went alike to everyone. She who sent it knew no distinction of things or persons. Everything pleased her; everyone could arouse her gratitude. The same smile lighted her face again when he, her husband, showed her special favour as when some over-zealous fool plucked a branch of the cherry-tree rich with leaves and fruits and presented it to her. The bright sky at sunset or the white mule she rode seemed to arouse the same smile of pleasure too. It seemed to him from her manner of showing her gratitude for such simple things that she ranked his gift the “gift of a nine hundred years’ old name”, with that of everyone else.
Naturally, this outlook filled him with anger that turned soon to disgust. It was beneath his dignity to complain about such things. He could have admonished her and corrected her, and perhaps she would have submitted willingly to his wishes. But this would have meant lowering himself from his wonted dignity. All the time her attitude grew increasingly disgusting. So he decided to act. He gave the necessary orders, and she never smiled again. He put her in a state where she could worry or insult him no more. In plain words he got her killed.
Thus, having told the story of his last Duchess, the Duke turned to more immediate things. First, there was the dowry that his prospective bride was to fetch him: he knew that it would be adequate, coming as it did from such a munificent man as the count. Anyway, his main attraction was the beautiful lady and not the fortune she would bring.
With that, he turned to more down his guest. As a gesture of carelessness, intended to suggest his indifference to such things, he pointed in passing to a rare statute in bronze, the figure of Neptune taming his sea-horse.
Choose the correct answer from the three alternatives given below each question :
1. ‘My Last Duchess’ is:
(a) a dramatic monologue
(b) an autobiographical poem
(c) a dramatic lyric
2. ‘My Last Duchess’ was published in :
3. The Speaker in the poem is (a) Duke of Ferrara:
(b) Claus of Innsbruck
4. The story of the poem belongs to :
(a) Nineteenth Century
(b) Sixteenth Century
(c) Twentieth Century
5. The Duke, in the poem, is talking to :
(a) the Count
(b) a court official
(c) a messenger
6. The portrait has :
(a) smile on the lips
(b) deep passionate look in the eyes
(c) glow on her face
7. The Duke :
(a) discards the portrait
(b) hates the portrait (c) is justly proud of it
8. The Duke had :
(a) graceful nature
(b) royal nature (c) childish and foolish nature
9. The Duchess was :
(a) unfaithful to her husband
(b) overpowered by her husband
(c) free to enjoy her life
10. The portrait was painted by :
(a) Fra Pandolf
(b) Claus of lunsbruck
1. (a) dramatic monologue
2. (c) 1842
3. (a) Duke of Ferrara
4. (b) sixteenth century
5. (c) a messenger
6. (b) deep passionate look in the eyes
7. (c) is justly proud of it
8. (c) childish and foolish nature
9. (b) overpowered by her husband
10. (a) Fra Pandolf
In this section, we will let you practice to analyse and appreciate a given text and also to understand poetic devices
My Last Duchess was published in Dramatic Lyrics in late November 1842. In the collection of 1849, it was made one of the Dramatic Romances and Lyrics, and in the rearrangement of the poems in 1863, it was put under Dramatic Romances. In the first publications, it was entitled Italy, and it was in the 1849 edition that the present title My Last Duchess was given.
Browning has represented the Duchess as a pathetic, stifled figure, rendered incapable by circumstances of giving expression to her talents and feelings. It has been suggested that it is based somewhat on the life that Elizabeth Barrett, later Mrs. Browning, lived in Wimpole Street. Her talents and passions were stifled by the tyranny of her father.
The Duke is addressing the envoy of a Count whose daughter he is going to marry. He draws his attention to the portrait of his last Duchess, now dead. He calls it a portrait done by Friar Pandolf, and then qualifies his statement with the remarks that he did so by design, because he had noticed that visitors were intrigued by the expression on the Duchess’s face, and almost wanted to ask what caused it. Most of them restrained that curiosity because they dared not wound his feelings.
The Duke means that often people, observing the expressions of passion on the Duchess’s face, were suspicious of an affair between her and the painter. He generally, therefore, attributed the painting to one Friar Pandolf, since a clergyman’s name would remove all suspicion. He was also particular that no one but he drew the curtain to display the portrait.
He remarks on her nature. Instead of understanding her amiable nature, he says that she was a silly childish woman who was readily impressed and pleased. She treated all favours alike with a smile ready for everyone. The Duke tells the envoy that the sweet smiles on the lady’s face were not for her husband alone. The bright redness visible on the lady’s cheeks was very unique. The Duke explains why the portrait of the Duchess has a blush on her cheeks. Many people think that the blush appeared on her cheeks because her husband the Duke was present there when the portrait was being made. The Duke tells the envoy that the blush on her face was not because he was present there. There was some other reason for it, perhaps some compliment by the artist occasioned that happy spot on her face. The artist might have complimented her on her dress. He might have said that her loose cloak covered her wrist too much.
The poem shows us the inside of a typical Renaissance character typified by an unscrupulous and proud Duke. Talking to the envoy of a Count whose daughter he wishes to marry, the Duke shows him the portrait of his previous wife who is dead. He remarks on her nature. Instead of understanding her amiable nature, he says that she was a silly childish woman who was readily impressed and pleased, who treated all favours alike with a smile ready for everyone.
The Duke was annoyed with the Duchess because she did not feel thankful to him for the honour he bestowed on her by marrying her. Even the gifts to her by other people and those given by him made her equally happy. She thanked both with equal warmth. The Duke failed to understand how she could equate his gifts with everybody’s gifts. The Duchess was graceful for the least kindness done to her and when she thanked the people, the Duke, though he did not get angry at that, did not however feel happy. Being absolutely unaffected by such feelings of gratitude towards others, the Duke naturally could not understand or appreciate her attitude.
The Duke did not mind that she thanked people for their good acts. But she did not give him a special treatment while thanking others. He was her husband and belonged to a family of 900 years standing and reputation. He was shocked that she treated him on par with other people. Thus she disgraced his royal name and lineage. It was a mean act by the Duchess. He could have pointed it to the Duchess who might have corrected if she thought it fit. But then he did not like to do that. It would have been his insult had he done so.
The Duke tells the Count’s envoy that the reputation which the Count has for splendid generosity is enough to guarantee that all his claims regarding dowry will be granted. The Duke further clarifies his remarks lest he should be misunderstood. He tells the envoy that even though his first and foremost attraction is the charming daughter of the Count, still he has mentioned about the dowry because he has great faith in the generosity of the Count. While going down he draws the envoy’s attention to a bronze-statue of Neptune-the sea-god. He tells the envoy that this pose of Neptune taming a sea-horse is a rare one. He also informs the envoy that the bronze-statue was made for the Duke by Claus of Innsbruck. The Duke wants the dowry to be worthy of his status, or at least what he considers it to be. It is significant that Browning makes him speak first of the dowry and then of the lady. That shows which is more important to him. Obviously, love has no place in such contracts entered into by him. We expect that in a short while he would treat his second wife in the way he treated the first. The same fate awaits her.
The Dramatic Monologue was used by Browning with amazing skill and success. Browning did not invent the dramatic monologue, but he made it specially his own, and no one else has ever put such rich and varied material into it.
In other words, he could dispense with all, ‘external machinery’ of action and plot, and concentrate his attention on, “the incidents in the development of a soul”. Unhampered by the limitations of the stage, he could now depict, “the phenomena of the mind”. Browning made this form entirely his own, because it suited his genius, and also because it had a number of other advantages. It is an oblique or indirect mode of expression, and so the poet could freely express his views without fear of hostile criticism. The views were expressed by other characters, and so they could not be imputed to him. Moreover, he knew that advice is given directly, “glances off athwart the mind,” while truths expressed indirectly set men thinking and so have their due effect. The form enabled him to exercise his dramatic bent freely, as well as to play effectively his role as a teacher.
The Dramatic Monologue is, ‘dramatic’, because it is the utterance of imaginary characters and not of the poet himself, and because in it character is developed not through any description on the part of the poet, but through a conflict between the opposite thoughts and emotions of the character himself. It is a ‘monologue’ because it is a conversation of a single individual with himself (Mono’ means ‘one’, and ‘Logue’ means ‘conversation’). The form is also referred to as monodrama.
bronze: a metal compounded out of copper and brass
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