By Robert Browning. “My Last Duchess”. Robert Browning. Married Elizabeth Barrett Browning, also a famous poet Wrote plays as well as poetry Critics claimed his poetry was too difficult to read “Perfected” the dramatic monologue. Summary.
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By Robert Browning “My Last Duchess”
Robert Browning • Married Elizabeth Barrett Browning, also a famous poet • Wrote plays as well as poetry • Critics claimed his poetry was too difficult to read • “Perfected” the dramatic monologue
Summary A man shares a painting of his “last Duchess” (ex-wife or late wife) with a guest. He points out the blush in her cheeks. He suggests his wife was unfaithful, and he could not ignore her infidelity. (Whether or not this is true, and what he did to her as a result, is subject to the reader’s interpretation.) Then he reminds his guest of his offer to marry the Count’s daughter. They return to the gathering downstairs.
Form of Poem Dramatic Monologue • Significant experience • Unknown audience • Only one side of the conversation is heard • (Like listening to someone talk on the phone) Rhyming poem that reads like free verse • Every two lines rhyme. • Aa, bb, cc, etc. • Lines wrap. • Thoughts (or sentences) end in middle of lines so the rhyme is not obvious. • Readers read the punctuation rather than the rhyme.
Dramatic Situation • Speaker: The Duke • Audience: An unknown guest • Setting: His home In a room upstairs • Occasion: He is showing the guest the painting of his former wife • Conflict: His wife was unfaithful. He stopped her, and now she is his “last duchess.”
Thought Structure • Part A, Lines 1 – 4 • Introduction • Shows a friend the portrait of his wife • Introduces his wife as his “last Duchess” • Says she “looks alive” • Part B, Lines 5 – 10 • Says this is a secret painting that few are allowed to see (he keeps it covered) • The secret nature implies foul play • Part C, Lines 11 - 24 • Introduces his wife’s infidelity • His Duchess has a “spot of joy” on her cheeks and a “half-flush” along her neck • He was not the one to “call up that spot of joy” • She was too easily “made glad” by other men and had looks that “went everywhere”
Thought Structure (cont.) • Part D, 25 – 34 • The Duke speculates on the details of her infidelity • Men gave her things that would “draw from her … approving speech” or a “blush, at least” • She thanked them “I know not how” • Part E, Lines 34 – 40 • He justifies what he did with her/ to her • He couldn’t ask her to stop, or she wouldn’t stop if he asked • He’d have to “stoop” (compromise, swallow his pride) if he ignored or accepted her actions • His justifications prompt the question: Was she really unfaithful or was he excessively jealous?
Thought Structure (cont.) • Part F, Lines 40 - 46 • He chose not to “stoop” • He commanded something, and her smiles stopped • Did he break her spirit? • Did he divorce her? • Did he kill her? • Part G, Lines 46 – 54 • He implies he killed her: She stands, in the portrait, “as if alive” • He asks his guest to return with him to the gathering downstairs • He speaks lightly of the Count’s daughter, whom he hopes to marry • Part H, Lines 54 – 56 • He asks his guest to notice the sculpture of Neptune who is “taming” a sea horse • He suggests he also “tamed” his wife
Thought Structure (cont.) • Key Lines • “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” (li. 21 – 24). • “I choose/ Never to stoop” (li. 42-43). • “I gave commands;/ Then all smiles stopped together” (li. 45-46). • These lines establish the problem and the Duke’s solution.
Emotional Structure • Tone: • Lines 1 – 41 • Scornful, resentful • The blush on her cheek and down her neck • “As if she ranked/ My gift of a nine-hundred-year-old name/ With anybody’s gift” (li. 32 – 34) • Change in Tone: • Lines 42 - 43 • Authoritative, unapologetic, jealous • “I choose/ Never to stoop.” • Lines 45 – 46 • “I gave commands;/ Then all smiles stopped together.”
Emotional Structure (cont.) • Loaded Words or Images • I think he killed her (or had her killed). • Many references to life or death. • “last Duchess” (li. 1) • “looking as if she were alive” (li. 2) • “half-flush that dies along her throat” (li. 19) • “dropping of the daylight in the West” (li. 26) • “stands as if alive” (li. 46-47) • “cast in bronze for me” (li. 56) • Irony/ Paradox • He shows his guest a portrait of his “last” wife as a preface to the new woman he is courting and hopes to marry • “The fair daughter’s self, as I avowed at starting, is my object” (li. 42-53) • He admits he already “tamed” one (portrait) and will tame another (statue)
Images Created • Title: • “My Last Duchess” implies he’s had several duchesses and/or plans to have more. • Contrasts or Parallels: • Images of red (signifying blood) on white • Spot of joy (blush) on her cheeks • Half-flush on throat • A heart too soon made glad • Dropping of daylight (sunset) • Bough of cherries while riding a white mule
Images Created • Figurative Language: • Metaphor and Literary Reference • “Notice Neptune, though, /Taming a sea horse” (li. 54-55) • Neptune, the god of the sea, taming a sea horse • Man, the superior, taming his wife • Hyperbole • “My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name” • Giving her his last name in marriage • He thought it the greatest gift in the world • She treated it as trivial • Inference • Readers are left to decide for themselves what happened to the duchess. They are also left to decide whether the duchess was really unfaithful or if the duke was just jealous.
Theme • The Duke likes possessing things (art) and people (wives). • Although the wife might have been unfaithful, the Duke is a tyrant. He craves control, is excessively jealous, and allows his pride to dictate his actions. • Stay away from relationships that involve people like the Duke or Duchess! • Be weary of jealousy. • Marry for love, not position or power. • Be careful of tyrants—especially when they readily admit this fault.
Text Connection Explanation of Connection: “The Chair” is also a dramatic monologue. In this song, the speaker is a man in a bar having a conversation with a woman whose chair he “accidentally” took. “The Chair” by George Strait http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ghnEDbxArdE