My Last Duchess and Other Poems by Robert BrowningThe Victorian poet Robert Browning (1812 –1889) is perhaps most admired today for his inspired development of the dramatic monologue. In this compelling poetic form, he sought to reveal his subjects true natures in their own, often self-justifying, accounts of their lives and affairs. A number of these vivid monologues, including the famed Fra Lippo Lippi, How It Strikes a Contemporary, and The Bishop Orders His Tomb at Saint Praxeds Church, are included in this selection of forty-two poems.
Here, too, are the famous My Last Duchess, dramatic lyrics such as Memorabilia and Love among the Ruins, and well-known shorter works: The Pied Piper of Hamelin, Home-Thoughts, from Abroad, Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister, and more. Together these poems reveal Brownings rare gifts as both a lyric poet and a monologist of rare psychological insight and dramatic flair.
My Last Duchess
In the poem, the Duke of Ferrara uses a painting of his former wife as a conversation piece. The Duke speaks about his former wife's perceived inadequacies to a representative of the family of his bride-to-be, revealing his obsession with controlling others in the process. Browning uses this compelling psychological portrait of a despicable character to critique to the objectification of women and abuses of power. She thanked men—good! There she stands.
The poem was published in the year in the third series of Bells and Pomegranate. The particular series was called as Dramatic Lyrics. It was the first time the world witnessed this poem and the series also contained The Pied Piper of Hamelin , another well-known poem by Robert Browning. The poem is set in the Italian town Ferrara during the Renaissance period. The Duke [who is also the speaker] is supposedly Alfonso the second.
This poem is loosely based on historical events involving Alfonso, the Duke of Ferrara, who lived in the 16 th century. As he shows the visitor through his palace, he stops before a portrait of the late Duchess, apparently a young and lovely girl. The Duke begins reminiscing about the portrait sessions, then about the Duchess herself. As the Duke and the emissary walk leave the painting behind, the Duke points out other notable artworks in his collection. The lines do not employ end-stops; rather, they use enjambment —gthat is, sentences and other grammatical units do not necessarily conclude at the end of lines.
A perfect example is his dramatic monologue, "My Last Duchess," which is dark and a daring portrait of a domineering man. Though written in , "My Last Duchess" is set in the 16th-century. And yet, it speaks volumes of the treatment of women in the Victorian time of the Brownings. The misogynistic character of the poem is also a severe contrast to Browning himself who was a master of 'negative capability. Elizabeth Barrett Browning's most famous sonnet asks, "How do I love thee? Let me count the ways? On the other hand, "Porphyria's Lover," an infamous poem that was written by Elizabeth's husband, would count the ways in a very disturbing and unexpected manner.
The Duchess died under very suspicious circumstances. She was married at fourteen and dead by seventeen. Browning uses these suspicious circumstances as inspiration for a poem which dives deep into the mind of a powerful Duke who wishes to control his wife in every aspect of her life, including her feelings. Browning, of the Victorian age, wrote real life poetry that reflected upon some of the darkest aspects of Victorian life. One of those aspects, of course, being the treatment of wives by their husbands.