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my last duchess
My Last Duchess

In this poem, Browning creates a character of chilling coldness and cruelty. The speaker is a Duke who is conducting negotiations for a bride, a new duchess. He is talking with the representatives of potential father in law. Almost casually, he shows them the picture of the ‘last’ duchess whom he had killed because he could not dominate her.

imagine this scene
Imagine this scene…
  • A stately home
  • A rich, devastatingly handsome Duke, flowing dark hair, bright blue eyes, a velvet jacket, an ornately embroidered waistcoat with gold buttons, a walking cane adorned with jewels.
  • An envoy – a man sent to meet the Duke – a lesser man, smartly dressed but does not have the Duke’s money or charisma and the Duke knows it.
  • The Duke takes the envoy around his home to show off his art collection, including a portrait of his late wife, the Last Duchess.
  • How will the Duke speak to the envoy? Consider not only what he says but how he will say it.
  • How does the Duke move around the home?
  • How does the Duke look at the envoy?
  • How will the Duke describe the portrait of the Last Duchess?

That’s my last duchess painted on the wall,

Looking as if she were alive. I call

That piece a wonder, now: Fra Pandolf’s hands

Worked busily a day, and there she stands.

Will’t please you sit and look at her? I said

‘Fra Pandolf’ by design, for never read

Strangers like you that pictured countenance,

The depth and passion of its earnest glance,

But to myself they turned (since none puts by

The curtain I have drawn for you, but I)

And summed as they would ask me, if they durst

Are you to turn and ask thus. Sit, ‘twas not

Her husband’s presence only, called that spot

Of joy into the Duchess’ cheek: perhaps

Fra Pandolf chanced to say ‘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:’ such stuff

Was courtesy, she thought, and cause enough

For calling up that spot of joy. She had

A heart – how shall I say? – too soon made glad,

Too easily impressed; she liked whate’er

She looked on, and her looks went everywhere.

Sir, ‘twas all one! May favour at her breast,

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. She thanked men, - good! but thanked

Somehow – I know not how – as if she ranked

My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name

With anybody’s gift. Who’d stoop to blame

This sort of trifling? Even had you skill

In speech - (which I have not) – to make your will

Quite clear to such a one, and say, ‘Just this

‘Or that in you disgusts me; here you miss,

‘Or there exceed the mark’ – and if she let

Herself be lessoned so, nor plainly set

Her wits to yours, forsooth and made excuse,

- E’en then would be some stooping; and I choose

Never to stoop. Oh sir, she smiled, no doubt,

Whene’er I passed her; but who passed without

Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands;

Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands

As if alive. Will’t please you rise? We’ll meet

The company below, then. I repeat,

The Count your master’s known munificence

Is ample warrant that just no pretence

Of mine for dowry will be disallowed;

Through his fair daughter’s self, as I avowed

As starting, is my object. Nay we’ll go

Together down, sir. Notice Neptune, though,

Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity,

Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me.

  • Who is the Duke of Ferrara talking to in the poem?
  • Why is his guest visiting the Duke of Ferrara?
  • Who painted the picture of the Duke’s late wife?
  • The Duke was not entirely pleased with his late wife, the Last Duchess. Explain why and what he did about it.
  • What impression of the Last Duchess do you get from the poem? Write about her as you imagine she might have been.
  • Write about the character of the Duke and compare it with the character of the poisoner in ‘The Laboratory’. Then compare these two characters with the characters in ‘Hitcher’ by Simon Armitage and Education for Leisure by Carol Ann Duffy.