14 Apr 2022


Critical analysis: "My Last Duchess."

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Robert Browning’s poem, “My Last Duchess,” is an excellent dramatic monologue written in 1842. As the poem unravels, the readers discover that the poem’s speaker, Duke Ferra, is having a talk with a representative of his wife’s family. Duke is talking while standing before a portrait belonging to that of his last wife who is deceased. The theme of the Duke’s talk focuses on the woman’s imperfections and failings. The poem’s irony becomes conspicuous as the readers learn that the ‘faults’ of the young lady was as a result of her kindness (Kuiper & Merriam-Webster, Inc. 1995). The lady is said to have qualities such as politeness, companion, delight in simple desires, humbleness, and courteous to servants. In this poem, “My Last Duchess” poet Browning explores the theme of power, jealousy, and madness. 

The actions of the Duke can be compared to a personified green-eyed monster. He is a perfect metaphorical figure for jealousy. He feels jealous of any attention his wife shows to other people; even if what she does is to show gratitude to them for getting her some cherishes. Dukes gets consumed with jealous whenever his wife smiles and blushes either intentionally or unintentionally, to somebody. He is jealous to the point that he cannot afford to engage his wife in a discussion about her manners. No wonder he chooses murder as the only solution to his inner troubles. Duke’s jealous feelings are not just because of romantic attention, but rather he feels that the Duchess does not accord him the desired fear (Lee, 2009). 

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Initially, the speaker was not happy with his wife’s painting. He claims that “I call/That piece a wonder, now” (line2 & 4) (Domhnall, 1992/2009). In the end, the ‘now’ version indicates that he was not satisfied with the painting previously. He was jealous because he was not the one who designed the “spot of joy in the Dutchess’ cheek,” (line 13) but rather the artist. Towards the end, the speaker points towards a Neptune statue suppressing a sea horse. Here, the speaker compares his condition to a gigantic, powerful man suppressing a minute, little creature like his fiancée. He is leading a contented life for having disciplined his wife. I find the picture of a giant person suppressing a tiny creature unusual and cruel (Domhnall, 1992/2009). 

Madness is the only term that can describe Duke’s actions. It is an abomination to see a husband murdering his wife just because she smiles and blushes at everyone, even though these smiles are involuntary and undoubtedly entirely blameless. His actions portray him as completely an abusive and commanding husband. Dukes is mad at everything his wife does. He feels jealous when his wife thanks people for presents. His behaviors are beyond abuse, and can only be compared to the madness. Personally, efforts to control somebody is abuse; however, thinking that since a person smile and blushes she must be having an affection and the only solution is killing is totally unreasonable and senseless (“Overview: ‘My Last Duchess,’” 2016). 

Further, the madness of the speaker is more subtle. The Duke seems suspicious and kills his wife. However, the manner he describes his condition indicates that he is a prophet of his insanity. He sounds weird because he exposes himself to the marriage broker and readers inadvertently, uses modesty and controverts himself simultaneously. The Duke can neither control his actions or mouth. He has a problem with his wife’s behaviors, which readers can see usual. To sum-up, happiness, playfulness and innocence in the Duke’s spheres are promiscuous, discourtesy and inappropriate (MacMahon, 1996/2009).

Browning’s poem “My Last Duchess” focuses much on power. The Duke strong and unwavering power in both social and political circles. He rules his marriage in an autocratic way, and he extends this form of leadership to his entire land. He commands his private and public spheres with an iron fist. According to the speaker’s perception, everything in his possession, including people under authority, present an opportunity to grow his muscle. The Duke’s belief that husbands dominate wives, servants serve the authority and portraits in his art gallery portray’s males’ notion at that time. As per Efird (2010), the masculinity of the 19thcentury was marred with rigid male control and self-discipline considered suitable for conventionality to the dominance of patriarchy parameters. Hence, the Dukes attitudes conformed to many men at that time. Above all, emotions, joy, and kindness are nothing but threats to his oppressive leadership (MacMahon, 1996/2009).

The Duke proves too powerful after murdering his wife. The Duchess is being commemorated in a portrait owned by the Duke. He reduces the Duchess into an artwork hidden behind a curtain. He can draw the curtain if he wishes to, “since none puts by/The curtain drawn for you, but I” (line 9) (Domhnall, 1992/2009). While alive, she would make her decisions independently. But since she is dead, the Duke controls every aspect of hers. The speaker is contended with her wife’s painted version. In a few instances, he says that “looks as if she were alive” (line 5) or “There she stands/As if alive” (line 2). To the Duke, the painting is his fiancée in a more passive form (“Overview: ‘My Last Duchess,’” 2016). 

It is indisputable; the Duke is a total psychopath. His obsession with autocratic authority is enough proof to defend this argument. Personally, I wonder whether the speaker was indeed a human- he punishes anybody, including the guiltless or nearly guiltless ones with the most inhuman penalties. Secondly, the speaker is a jealous man. A reader does not require a specialist to help establish the innocence of the Duke’s wife. The Duke is green-eyed because of the way the Duchess is treating other people. It does not imply that he loves the lady and needs to attract attention, but he wants her to notice his influence over her. The Duke of Ferrara is a unsecure man. The insecurities he harbors in his heart makes him misinterpret his wife’s actions. He fears to confront people and put clear his expectations about their expectations, including his wife- maybe for fear of losing her. 


Domhnall, M. (2009). Browning's 'My Last Duchess.' Explicator, 50 (2), 74-75. In M. Lee (Ed), Poetry Criticism . Vol. 97. Detroit: Gale . (Original work published 1992).

Efird, T. (2010). Anamorphosizing' male sexual fantasy in Browning's monologue. Mosaic: a journal for the interdisciplinary study of literature, 43(3), 151-166.

 Kuiper, K., & Merriam-Webster, Inc. (1995).  My Last Duchess. In Merriam-Webster's encyclopedia of literature . Springfield, Mass: Merriam-Webster.

Lee, M. (Ed). (2009). My Last Duchess. In Poetry Criticism. Vol. 97. Detroit: Gale.

MacMahon, B. (2009). Indirectness, Rhetoric and Interpretative Use: Communicative Strategies in Browning's 'My Last Duchess.' Language and Literature, 5 (3), 209-223. In M. Lee (Ed), Poetry Criticism. Vol. 97. Detroit: Gale. (Original work published 1996).

Overview: ‘My Last Duchess.’ (2016). Gale Online Encyclopedia. Detroit: Gale. 

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