In the Poem My Last Duchess by Robert Browning the heartless and haughty speaker explains a painting of his last wife while inadvertently revealing a darker side to his last marriage than one might view from they outside. The poem depicts a dense stream of conscious feel to it by using language and sentence structure common to conversation earlier to the time period it was written. The use of “’twas not” , and the English spelling of “favour” suggests the poem occurred in a time period in which husbands held power over their wives with such things as “nine-hundred-years-old names” and money.
Browning’s great usage of dated speaking style creates a historical medium from which the event which slowly unfold. The poem is masked in a conversation with one person speaking in a dramatic monologue about his beloved portrait of the last duchess he married. The rhetorical questions “Who’d… this sort of trifling” and end rhymes in the couplets throughout the poem “wall… call” and “had… glad” drive the poem from one line to the next .
These techniques create motion in the poem much like the anger and arrogance that the Duke exerted towards his deceased wife to control her.
The diction of this poem mirrors the force with which the Duke ruled his house as well as the social male norms at the time. The poem My Last Duchess is told from first point of view by a selfish man admiring his late wife’s smiling portrait. As the Duke entertains his guest, “you”, he tells of “My favour” after contemplating “how shall I say? ” that his wife flirted with all she encountered. The biased first person account of the death of the duchess leads the reader into the center of the man’s thoughts and allows for a more in depth understanding of his desire for control toward his wife even in death.
His dramatic monologue gives perhaps more information concerning the specifics of his involvement in wife’s death than he realizes. The quotations incorporated within the poem such as “Just this or that in you disgusts me” and “Her mantle laps over my Lady’s wrist too much” as well as the direct address “Sir, ’twas all one” to the guest shows the Dukes self-important attitude and his high regards for the thoughts which he believes others are thinking. The Duke boasts that he now holds the power to let others see the smile of the portrait that was meant only for him.
He gets so enthralled with his own story of his wife he reveals that his “commands” ended the duchess’s smiles and possibly her life. The first person point of view for this poem explains further the thirst for power and self-love which the Duke honors himself with by controlling the women and people in his life of which he feels superior. Browning illustrates the complexity of the controlling Duke by showing his carelessness and arrogance by the words he uses to impress his guest.
The “Duchess painted on the wall” has a “countenance” that only can be seen by the “command” of the Duke. When the Duke believes the Duchess finds interest in other people beside her husband, The Duke, “gave a command” which stopped “all” her smiles to everyone. When the Duke could not obtain complete power over and tame his young wife, she died in a manner which is not fully explained. The “Duke” with the “nine-hundred-year” old name is meeting with a man that is offering the Duke his “daughter” another young maiden for marriage.
This offer of marriage is gladly accepted by the Duke no doubt is eager to attempt to tame yet another “sea-horse” of a wife. For the Duke this marriage is a trial of the subservience of women to their wealthy and powerful husbands. The details given in this poem bring forth the conclusion that the Duke got rid of his last Duchess and is now ready for a new one. The title of the poem My Last Duchess suggests that the Duke had had more than one Duchess.
Had the poem illustrated the Dukes first wife it could have been titled My First Duchess. The startling “command” line toward the end of the poem lets the reader realize that this man has the power to make a woman be remembered by nothing more than a portrait controlled by the master of the house. This poem has themes commonly found in the local color movement and associated with feminism. Browning gives the audience a picture of the dark and distorted beginning of a new couple and marriage.