My Last Duchess Questions and Answers
1. An Assessment as a Characteristic Poem of Browning.
Discuss how far ‘My Last Duchess’ is a representative poem of Browning.
Attempt an assessment of My Last Duchess as a characteristic poem of Browning.
Browning’s poetry is remarkable, somewhat singular, in more than one way. This is particularly true for his dramatic lyrics which combine both drama and poetry and reveal the poet’s power to bring together poetical effects and dramatic tensions. In this branch of poetical composition, Browning remains a master, almost without a peer.
My Last Duchess is one of Browning’s popular dramatic lyrics. This, like The Last Ride Together, is characterised as a dramatic monologue, although the two poems are not exactly the same. The intensity of the dramatic situation, the queer psychology of a highly interesting dramatic character, the conciseness of the dramatic turns and of poetic diction have made the poem a rare specimen of dramatic poetry, stamped with the poet’s mature craftsmanship.
There is a good deal of controversy over Browning’s source for the materials of the poem. The mention of Ferrara in the title of the poem is particularly confusing. The poet’s model here is possibly Alphanso II who was the Duke of Ferrara in Italy. The Duchess, referred to in the poem, might be Lucrezia, his first wife, who had a mysterious death of poisoning.
Of course, Browning’s Duke may not be any particular individual of historical significance. He may be a typical renaissance grandee, belonging to some very old and celebrated aristocracy of Italy. Browning may have simply represented the egoistic tyrannical nature of such a grandee.
The importance of the poem, however, has actually nothing to do with Browning’s original source. It is not a vital matter to determine how far his characters are historical. The dramatic character of the poem overshadows the controversy over its source, whatever this may be. In its dramatic subtlety and psychological suggestiveness, this is really a wonderful specimen of Browning’s dramatic poetry.
The theme of the poem is quite striking, with an exciting dramatic setting. A stern, severe, self-centred, Italian nobleman, with a long family tradition, is found to show proudly his picture gallery to the envoy of a count whose daughter he is about to marry. Standing before the portrait of his last Duchess, the arrogant duke frankly and coldly points out to the envoy, how her liberality was considered by him an infringement on his absolute right over her.
The duke admits plainly that he could not brook such a state and so gave commands for her death. The poem also stresses, in the concluding portion of the Duke’s monologue, his eagerness to have a handsome dowry from his future father-in-law and also asserts his authoritarian attitude to his bride.
The poem is a happy instance of Browning’s portrait-painting in poetry. His dramatic sketches are rich in psychological introspections and bear out his power to present character-portraits in poetry. This is found particularly in the representation of the Duke, the sole speaker of Browning’s monologue here.
Indeed, the poet’s representation of the Duke is a brilliant portrait of a vain grandee, a high brow to the core, with an extremely egoistical, vengeful and possessive instinct. He is quite proud of his high heredity and arrogant for exerting his absolute authority. He is cold to humanly feeling, extremely selfish in his possessive passion and rather intolerant in temperament.
Of course, there is a delicate hint at his patronage for liberal art, particularly of painting and sculpture. But there, again, he is proud of his rich possessions of artistic creation, and hardly shows any real love for art.
Browning’s portrait painting in My Last Duchess is not exhausted in the representation of the Duke only. There are also some subtle touches about the nature of the Duchess, his last Duchess. The Duke’s monologue refers to her tender and polite nature, her frankness and simplicity, her cordiality and naturalness. The misfortune of her life is also suggested through the dictatorial vanity of her husband, who could not brook her liberality and courtesy to any person.
The poem is really a typical work of Browning in the matter of producing a dramatic effect. It belongs to the popular class of the dramatic monologue. The poem has no high philosophy or moral instruction of The Last Ride Together and its essence lies in the dramatic conception of different situations.
Browning’s dramatic monologue is looked upon as the poetry of situation. The situation here is really dramatic. The Duke is found standing along with the envoy before the picture of his last duchess. The very life-like portrait of the dead Duchess leads him to recall her memory, and he expresses the whole story relating to herher simple and timid nature and her cruel death under the order of her tyrannical husband.
Browning’s dramatic monologues are remarkable for the two-fold element, the dramatic situation and the psychological representation of the main character. Both these elements are found perfectly executed in My Last Duchess.
Written in a well concentrated diction, with balanced imagery and rhythm, the Duke’s monlogue carries a number of images. Such images, no doubt brief but clear and relevant, are quite impressive. The nature of the Duke as also the Duchess is well given out through some delicate hints and touches. The rhythm of the poem is rather intricate, but it is balanced well with the poet’s subtle imagery and tense theme. In the ultimate analysis, the poem testifies to Browning’s technical rarity as the author of dramatic poetry and creator of poetical character-drawing.
2. My Last Duchess as Dramatic Monologue
[Examine and illustrate My Last Duchess as a dramatic monologue.]
A dramatic monologue is a dramatic piece in the first person, expressing the experience or inclination, feeling or mood, thought or realization of an imaginary narrator-a man or woman. In it, a character is placed in a dramatic situation and made to give out his or her thought and feeling, aroused in that situation.
What constitutes the chief element of the dramatic monologue is the novelty of its technique. A character is placed in a situation, full of dramatic suspense and sensation, and the eventful history of his or her soul is brought out through his or her monologue. The dramatic monologue is no drama of the external action. This is a drama of the inner world. There is no external conflict, but the internal conflict is well emphasized. It is classed as objective poetry, although it represents mainly the subjective aspect of a character, that is, the narrator.
of the English poets of the dramatic monologue, Robert Browning has a formidable position. Two essential factors in his dramatic monologue are : a situation, that is dramatic enough, and a psychologically interesting character. The dramatic monologue, as already indicated, places a character in a highly tense or exciting situation and makes him or her give out his or her monologue which reveals his or her psychology, interesting though somewhat novel.
Browning’s My Last Duchess, like his The Last Ride Together, is one of his definitely remarkable dramatic monologues and fully bears out the specific features that are relevant to it.
My Last Duchess is, indeed, an apt instance of a dramatic monologue. This is not exactly a love-poem, but it bears the story of conjugal jealousy of an abnormal person who has a sort of Othello complex. It is, at the same time, a typical example of Browning’s dramatic monologue, both in the dramatic situation conceived and in the psychological interest evoked.
The hero of the poem is an Italian lord, extremely conscious and proud of his high heredity and aristocratic superiority. The theme is his tyrannical dealing with his first wife, a young, simple and innocent lady. The situation is his proud demonstration of his picture gallery to the envoy of the count whose daughter he proposes to marry next.
The poem begins in a dramatic fashion with a good deal of dramatic suspense. The sole speaker is the proud Duke who shows to the envoy the portrait of his last Duchess which leads the Duke to address the envoy and recalls his last Duchess, her timid and liberal nature and his own oppressive attitude to her. The situation is, no doubt, immensely dramatic, but not sufficiently intense for the Duke, as this is all plain to him.
The Duke refers, without the least mark of remorse, to his egoistic approach to the Duchess’s frankness and courtesy. He is frank in his admission that he could not tolerate that his wife should equate him, with a long tradition behind, with any average being. In his monologue, he admits how he crumbled within for her liberal and generous attitude to all. The entire monologue well represents the Duke’s grave discontent with his Duchess for her polite dealing with others, even while admitting the same as a mere act of courtesy.
The dramatic aspect of the monologue appears more precise and pointed in the concluding section of the poem. The Duke’s egoistic feeling that he should not stoop to anything or warn the Duchess openly on such a petty issue is explicitly admitted. His abnormalcy is well indicated here. This results in his tyrannical order to do away with her smile altogether. The execution of the whole affair, cruel and hard enough, is given out with a highly dramatic significance :
“This grew ; I gave commands ; Then all smiles stopped together.”
This drama, through the Duke’s monologue, continues thereafter to reveal his vanity further. He feels no shame for his inhuman act, but boasts of a life-like portrait, advises the envoy to come down with him and reminds him of his expectation of a handsome dowry from his master. In conclusion, he draws the envoy’s attention to a bronze statue of Neptune, taming a sea-horse, with the implication of his authoritative dealing with his proposed new bride.
The entire poem is conceived with a highly dramatic mobility. It well testifies to Browning’s poetry of situation. But what is more important here is the psychological interest which the poem has sufficiently dwelt upon. The dramatic monologue is actually no drama of external action, but rather a drama of the inner world of a man or woman. Of course, in the Duke’s character there is no internal conflict.
He is not at all ashamed or repentant of his criminal conduct with his young wife. Nevertheless, his monlogue well serves to bear out his psychology in which vanity, egoism, selfishness and possessive instinct dominate. Indeed, the poem reveals the psychology of a tyrannical lord, rather somehow abnormal, who places his ego and selfish authority over all human considerations and moral feelings.
3. Psychological Element in the Dramatic Monologue.
[Bring out the psychological element in Browning’s dramatic monologue with reference to ‘My Last Duchess’.
Or, Browning’s dramatic monologue reveals the story of a soul. Discuss with illustrative references to the poem ‘My Last Duchess’.
Or, ‘My Last Duchess’ is an explanation of the psyche of a demented person. – Discuss.
One of the cardinal features in Browning’s dramatic monologue is the revelation of the psychology of an imaginary speaker, a man or woman, who speaks out the monologue. Under the impact of an intensely dramatic situation in which the character is placed, he or she, in course of his or her talk, reveals his or her inner world, the inexplicable trends of human psychology. This revelation of psychology in a dramatic setting is specifically a novelty in Browning’s dramatic monologue.
My Last Duchess is universally admitted as an effective dramatic monologue from Browning. This is a monologue of a Duke, who, while showing the portrait of his last duchess to an envoy of another Duke, whose daughter he proposes to marry, unveils his mind. While speaking on his dealing with his last Duchess, her nature and his
candid ruthlessness in handling her whims, the proud Duke reveals the core of his mind. The Duke’s monologue exposes him, above everything else, as a haughty, arrogant man, full of intense egoism and feudal vanity. He belongs to a high family, with a long tradition, and possesses much hereditary riches and reputation. All this has made him vain, and this is well evident in his monologue in a situation, dramatic enough, but not tense sufficiently for him.
The Duke’s arrogance and ego come out in the very way in which he speaks out while exhibiting his picture-gallery and the portrait of his last Duchess to the envoy. He asserts, in particular, that the portrait was drawn by an eminent painter, Fra Pandolf. This aspect of his psychology is expressed in his frank way of confession of his strange aversion to his wife’s way to equate him with the commoners.
He attaches a great importance to his nine hundred year old hereditary reputation, and cannot tolerate anyone to be made equal to him. Indeed, the Duke’s psychology is quite interesting and reveals him as a villainous tyrant. He is basically selfish, acquisitive with a strong possessive instinct. He looks upon his wife as an absolute possession, and does not like that she should be courteous, kind, or liberal to anyone except his own self.
His egoistic possessive instinct was touched by her genial smile to everybody. His point of interrogation—”But who passed without much the same smile!”-well indicates his arrogant selfish egoism. This, indeed, shows the nature of a man who cares for nothing other than his own status and superiority.
The Duke’s psychology, however, is found strange, rather abnormal. While feeling repulsion at his wife’s frank and liberal behaviour with others, he could not be clear and straight-forward to her. He did not even warn her or express his disapproval of her conduct by any word or hint.
He considered such a warning or frank statement much below his dignity. Constantly haunted with a sophisticated sense of selfish dignity, the Duke seems to be blind to human nature and the softness of human relationship. He seems to suffer from a strangely complex psychology that is both vain and authoritarian.
As a matter of fact, the Duke’s monologue reveals the psychology of a somewhat criminal, who thinks only of himself, and is ready to do everything to appease his own ego. So his simple innocent Duchess had to die. He does not appear to have felt any sense of sorrow or prick of conscience in his cruel method of dealing with her. He rather proudly declares, without the least of remorse, to the envoy
“This grew ; I gave command, Then all smiles stopped together”.
His cruelty is shameless and psychology, basically criminal.
The Duke presents an interesting character study that not only unfolds the inner traits of an individual but attempts to grasp the general trend of a particular age that was feudal, egoistic and, above anything else, unabashedly protective of its aristocratic identity. The Duke hence, in the short span of the poem, brings one face to face with the vast panorama of yester years.
1. My Last Duchess as a Dramatic Monologue.
The dramatic monologue is a self-expression by a character, a man or a woman, in a highly tense situation that stirs him or her violently and brings out of him or her an inner story or experience of his or her life. This is a sort of monologue, given out in a tense dramatic situation.
My Last Duchess, however, is exactly no monologue. The Duke here actually speaks to an envoy, while showing him the portrait of his last Duchess. He speaks of her and his cruel murder of her to appease his feudal ego of possessiveness.
2. The poet’s objective in the poem.
The poet’s objective in the poem is to expose the thoughtless vehemence of sexual jealousy of a vain egoist. The proud and possessive feudal lord in the Duke could not bear his innocent Duchess’ liberal and frank attitude to all categories of people. Haunted with his proud possessive instinct, he, therefore, killed her.
3. The Sense of Ferrara.
Ferrara, supposed to be the home of the celebrated Italian author, Ariosto, was one of the centres of the cultural activities during the Renaissance. It was a well fortified city in Lower Lombardy. It was held by the Este family, sometimes under the Pope’s suzerainty, sometimes independently, from the thirteenth to the sixteeenth Century
4. The Sense of the Expression, “I give commands….”
A rare example of the economy of words to signify an important decision. The sense is the Duke’s cruel order for the execution of his last Duchess under his egostic posessiveness. He grew violent, tyrannical and did not hesitate to kill his innocent wife.
5. Fra Pandolf and Claus of Innsbruck-Who were they?
They are no real, historically known figures but the inventions of the poet. Fra Pandolf is represented by the poet as a celebrated painter, who drew the portrait of the last Duchess of the poem. Claus of Innsbruck is a sculptor who made for the pleasure of the Duke the bronze statue of the sea-god Neptune, taming an unruly sea-horse.
6. What is the Duke’s request to the Envoy ?
After the Duke’s monologue about his last Duchess, he reminds his compainon, the envoy of a count, whose daughter he proposes to marry, of his expectation of a handsome marriage dowry. He even indirectly threatens that no pretext for the refusal of the said dowry will be entertained by him.
7. “Notice Neptune, though
Taming a sea-horse-“
Who is Neptune? Who is the speaker? What does he imply here? Neptune, according to the Greek mythology, is the god of the sea.
The implication here is the requirement of the proposed bride’s absolute obedience to the Duke to remain alive.
The speaker here is the cruel Duke.
8. ‘This grew, I gave commands’ – Who gave the commands and what?
The Duke gave the commands to kill his last duchess.
9. “…. But who passed without
Much the same smile”.
Whose smile is referred to here? What consequence followed the smile?
The smile of the last duchess of Browning’s poem My Last Duchess is referred to here.
The consequence of that smile led to the execution (RUSI) of the duchess at the Duke’s command.
10. What does the Duke of Ferrara expect from the Count’s known munificence ?
The Duke of Ferrara expected from the count’s ‘known munificence’, a handsome marriage dowry. He, however, pretends that his main object is to marry the count’s daughter.