My Last Duchess Summary & Analysis by Robert Browning
- Line-by-Line Explanation & Analysis
- Poetic Devices
- Vocabulary & References
- Form, Meter, & Rhyme Scheme
- Line-by-Line Explanations
“My Last Duchess” is a dramatic monologue written by Victorian poet Robert Browning in 1842. 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 the objectification of women and abuses of power.
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The Full Text of “My Last Duchess”
1 That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall,
2 Looking as if she were alive. I call
3 That piece a wonder, now; Fra Pandolf’s hands
4 Worked busily a day, and there she stands.
5 Will’t please you sit and look at her? I said
6 “Fra Pandolf” by design, for never read
7 Strangers like you that pictured countenance,
8 The depth and passion of its earnest glance,
9 But to myself they turned (since none puts by
10 The curtain I have drawn for you, but I)
11 And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst,
12 How such a glance came there; so, not the first
13 Are you to turn and ask thus. Sir, ’twas not
14 Her husband’s presence only, called that spot
15 Of joy into the Duchess’ cheek; perhaps
16 Fra Pandolf chanced to say, “Her mantle laps
17 Over my lady’s wrist too much,” or “Paint
18 Must never hope to reproduce the faint
19 Half-flush that dies along her throat.” Such stuff
20 Was courtesy, she thought, and cause enough
21 For calling up that spot of joy. She had
22 A heart—how shall I say?— too soon made glad,
23 Too easily impressed; she liked whate’er
24 She looked on, and her looks went everywhere.
25 Sir, ’twas all one! My favour at her breast,
26 The dropping of the daylight in the West,
27 The bough of cherries some officious fool
28 Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule
29 She rode with round the terrace—all and each
30 Would draw from her alike the approving speech,
31 Or blush, at least. She thanked men—good! but thanked
32 Somehow—I know not how—as if she ranked
33 My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name
34 With anybody’s gift. Who’d stoop to blame
35 This sort of trifling? Even had you skill
36 In speech—which I have not—to make your will
37 Quite clear to such an one, and say, “Just this
38 Or that in you disgusts me; here you miss,
39 Or there exceed the mark”—and if she let
40 Herself be lessoned so, nor plainly set
41 Her wits to yours, forsooth, and made excuse—
42 E’en then would be some stooping; and I choose
43 Never to stoop. Oh, sir, she smiled, no doubt,
44 Whene’er I passed her; but who passed without
45 Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands;
46 Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands
47 As if alive. Will’t please you rise? We’ll meet
48 The company below, then. I repeat,
49 The Count your master’s known munificence
50 Is ample warrant that no just pretense
51 Of mine for dowry will be disallowed;
52 Though his fair daughter’s self, as I avowed
53 At starting, is my object. Nay, we’ll go
54 Together down, sir. Notice Neptune, though,
55 Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity,
56 Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me!
“My Last Duchess” Summary
“my last duchess” themes.
The Objectification of Women
- See where this theme is active in the poem.
Social Status, Art, and Elitism
Control and Manipulation
Line-by-line explanation & analysis of “my last duchess”.
That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall, Looking as if she were alive. I call That piece a wonder, now; Fra Pandolf’s hands Worked busily a day, and there she stands. Will’t please you sit and look at her?
I said “Fra Pandolf” by design, for never read Strangers like you that pictured countenance, The depth and passion of its earnest glance, But to myself they turned (since none puts by The curtain I have drawn for you, but I) And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst, How such a glance came there; so, not the first Are you to turn and ask thus.
Sir, ’twas not Her husband’s presence only, called that spot Of joy into the Duchess’ cheek; perhaps Fra Pandolf chanced to say, “Her mantle laps Over my lady’s wrist too much,” or “Paint Must never hope to reproduce the faint Half-flush that dies along her throat.”
Such stuff Was courtesy, she thought, and cause enough For calling up that spot of joy. 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.
Sir, ’twas all one! My favour at her breast, The dropping of the daylight in the West, The bough of cherries some officious fool Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule She rode with round the terrace—all and each Would draw from her alike the approving speech, Or blush, at least.
She thanked men—good! but thanked Somehow—I know not how—as if she ranked My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name With anybody’s gift.
Who’d stoop to blame This sort of trifling? Even had you skill In speech—which I have not—to make your will Quite clear to such an one, and say, “Just this Or that in you disgusts me; here you miss, Or there exceed the mark”—and if she let Herself be lessoned so, nor plainly set Her wits to yours, forsooth, and made excuse— E’en then would be some stooping; and I choose Never to stoop.
Oh, sir, she smiled, no doubt, Whene’er I passed her; but who passed without Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands; Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands As if alive.
Will’t please you rise? We’ll meet The company below, then. I repeat, The Count your master’s known munificence Is ample warrant that no just pretense Of mine for dowry will be disallowed; Though his fair daughter’s self, as I avowed At starting, is my object.
Nay, we’ll go Together down, sir. Notice Neptune, though, Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity, Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me!
“My Last Duchess” Symbols
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The Statue of Neptune
“my last duchess” poetic devices & figurative language.
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“my last duchess” vocabulary.
Select any word below to get its definition in the context of the poem. The words are listed in the order in which they appear in the poem.
- Fra Pandolf
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Form, Meter, & Rhyme Scheme of “My Last Duchess”
Rhyme scheme, “my last duchess” speaker, “my last duchess” setting, literary and historical context of “my last duchess”, more “my last duchess” resources, external resources.
Robert Browning's Answers to Some Questions, 1914 — In March of 1914, Cornhill Magazine interviewed Robert Browning about some of his poems, including "My Last Duchess." He briefly explains his thoughts on the duchess.
Chris de Burgh, "The Painter" (1976) — Chris de Burgh (a Northern Irish singer-songwriter, best known for "Lady in Red") wrote a song from the perspective of the Duke of Ferrara about his former wife, in which the duchess was having an affair with Fra Pandolf.
My Last Duchess Glass Window — The Armstrong Browning Library and Museum at Baylor University has a stained glass window inspired by "My Last Duchess."
Julian Glover performs "My Last Duchess" — Actor Julian Glover performs "My Last Duchess" with a suitably dramatic tone of voice. Note how he emphasizes the conversational quality of the poem.
Nikolaus Mardruz to his Master Ferdinand, Count of Tyrol, 1565 by Richard Howard, 1929 — This poem by American poet Richard Howard provides the Ferrara's guest's perspective on the meeting between himself and the duke.
LitCharts on Other Poems by Robert Browning
A Light Woman
Among the Rocks
A Toccata of Galuppi's
A Woman's Last Word
Home-Thoughts, from Abroad
How they Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix
Life in a Love
Love Among the Ruins
Love in a Life
Meeting at Night
Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister
The Bishop Orders His Tomb at Saint Praxed's Church
The Last Ride Together
The Lost Leader
The Lost Mistress
The Pied Piper of Hamelin
Women and Roses
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GCSE English Poetry Level 9 Model Essay - 'Tissue' vs. 'My Last Duchess'
Age range: 14-16
Resource type: Assessment and revision
22 November 2020
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I got a level 9 in GCSE English Literature after revising from this essay!
An exceptional-quality poetical comparison essay written by a level 9 GCSE Student in accordance with the AQA English Literature syllabus. This essay has been marked as level 9. The resource is also suitable for other exam boards such as Edexcel and OCR.
‘Tissue’ by Imtiaz Dharker is compared with ‘My Last Duchess’ by Robert Browning on the theme of power. Both poems are part of the AQA poetry anthology in the Power and Conflict section.
Useful for both individuals and classes- to analyse the points, language and structure of the essay in order to help one to understand the quality and techniques that AQA are looking for in the GCSE English Literature exam.
Key Terms: Level 9, Grade 9, AQA, English Literature, Exemplar Essay, Example Essay, Model Essay, OCR, Edexcel, The Charge of the Light Brigade, London, Tissue, My Last Duchess, Checking Out Me History, Bayonet Charge, Power and Conflict, Poetry, GCSE, analyse, learn, mark, 9-1
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**I got a level 9 in GCSE English Literature after revising from these essays!** Save 31% (subject to prices changing)- an excellent offer considering that several essays on here cost that much individually, and you get 3! Three exceptional-quality poetical comparison essays written by a level 9 GCSE Student in accordance with the AQA English Literature syllabus. This essay has been marked as level 9. The resource is also suitable for other exam boards such as Edexcel and OCR. Useful for both individuals and classes- to analyse the points, language and structure of the essay in order to help one to understand the quality and techniques that AQA are looking for in the GCSE English Literature exam. All poems are part of the AQA poetry anthology in the Power and Conflict section. Titles: - ‘Compare the ways poets present ideas about power in ‘Tissue’ and one other poem in the Power and Conflict anthology.’ - Compare how Blake’s presentation of the power of humans in ‘London’ compares with that of one other poet in the Power and Conflict anthology. - Discuss the presentation of the reality of war in ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ and one other poem from the Power and Conflict anthology. See individual resources for more information. Key Terms: Level 9, Grade 9, AQA, English Language, Literature, exemplar, model, new GCSE, OCR, Edexcel, GCSE, analyse, learn, mark, 9-1
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Literary Theory and Criticism
Home › Literature › Analysis of Robert Browning’s My Last Duchess
Analysis of Robert Browning’s My Last Duchess
By NASRULLAH MAMBROL on March 30, 2021 • ( 0 )
My Last Duchess
“My Last Duchess” appeared in Browning’s first collection of shorter poems, Dramatic Lyrics (1842). In the original edition, the poem is printed side-by-side with “Count Gismond” under the heading “Italy and France,” and the two poems share a similar concern with issues of aristocracy and honor. “My Last Duchess” is one of many poems by Browning that are founded, at least in part, upon historical fact. Extensive research lies behind much of Browning’s work, and “My Last Duchess” represents a confluence of two of Browning’s primary interests: the Italian Renaissance and visual art. Both the speaker of the poem and his “last Duchess” closely resemble historical figures. The poem’s duke is likely modeled upon Alfonso II, the last Duke of Ferrara, whose marriage to the teenaged Lucrezia de’ Medici ended mysteriously only three years after it began. The duke then negotiated through an agent to marry the niece of the Count of Tyrol.
True to the title of the volume in which the poem appears, “My Last Duchess” begins with a gesture performed before its first couplet—the dramatic drawing aside of a “curtain” in front of the painting. From its inception, the poem plays upon the notion of the theatrical, as the impresario duke delivers a monologue on a painting of his late wife to an envoy from a prospective duchess. That the poem constitutes, structurally, a monologue, bears significantly upon its meaning and effects. Browning himself summed up Dramatic Lyrics as a gathering of “so many utterances of so many imaginary persons, not mine,” and the sense of an authorial presence outside of “My Last Duchess” is indeed diminished in the wake of the control the duke seems to wield over the poem. The fact that the duke is the poem’s only voice opens his honesty to question, as the poem offers no other perspective with which to compare or contrast that of the duke. Dependence on the duke as the sole source of the poem invites in turn a temporary sympathy with him, in spite of his outrageous arrogance and doubtlessly criminal past. The poem’s single voice also works to focus attention on the duke’s character: past deeds pale as grounds for judgment, becoming just another index to the complex mind of the aristocrat.
In addition to foregrounding the monologic and theatrical nature of the poem, the poem’s first dozen lines also thematize notions of repetition and sequence, which are present throughout the poem. “That’s my last Duchess,” the duke begins, emphasizing her place in a series of attachments that presumably include a “first” and a “next.” The stagy gesture of drawing aside the curtain is also immanently repeatable: the duke has shown the painting before and will again. Similarly, the duke locates the envoy himself within a sequence of “strangers” who have “read” and been intrigued by the “pictured countenance” of the duchess. What emerges as the duke’s central concern—the duchess’s lack of discrimination—also relates to the idea of repetition, as the duke outlines a succession of gestures, events, and individuals who “all and each/Would draw from her alike the approving speech.” The duke’s very claim to aristocratic status rest upon a series—the repeated passing on of the “nine-hundred-years-old name” that he boasts. The closing lines of “My Last Duchess” again suggest the idea of repetition, as the duke directs the envoy to a statue of Neptune: “thought a rarity,” the piece represents one in a series of artworks that make up the duke’s collection. The recurrent ideas of repetition and sequence in the poem bind together several of the poem’s major elements—the duke’s interest in making a new woman his next duchess and the vexingly indiscriminate quality of his last one, the matter of his aristocratic self-importance and that of his repugnant acquisitiveness, each of which maps an aspect of the duke’s obsessive nature.
This obsessiveness also registers in the duke’s fussy attention to his own rhetoric, brought up throughout the poem in the form of interjections marked by dashes in the text. “She had/a heart—how shall I say—too soon made glad,” the duke says of his former duchess, and his indecision as to word choice betrays a tellingly careful attitude toward discourse. Other such self-interruptions in the poem describe the duke’s uncertainty as to the duchess’s too easily attained approval, as well as his sense of being an undiplomatic speaker. On the whole, these asides demonstrate the duke’s compulsive interest in the pretence of ceremony, which he manipulates masterfully in the poem. Shows of humility strengthen a sense of the duke’s sincerity and frank nature, helping him build a rapport with his audience. The development of an ostensibly candid persona works to cloak the duke’s true “object”—the dowry of his next duchess.
Lucrezia de’ Medici by Bronzino, generally believed to be the subject of the poem/Wikimedia
Why the duke broaches the painful matter of his sordid past in the first place is well worth considering and yields a rich vein of psychological speculation. Such inquiry should be tempered, however, by an awareness of the duke’s overt designs in recounting his past. On the surface, for instance, the poem constitutes a thinly veiled warning: the duke makes a show of his authority even as he lets out some of the rather embarrassing details surrounding his failed marriage. The development of the duchess’s seeming disrespect is cut short by the duke’s “commands”—almost certainly orders to have her quietly murdered. In the context of a meeting with the envoy of a prospective duchess, the duke’s confession cannot but convey a threat, a firm declaration of his intolerance toward all but the most respectful behavior.
But the presence of an underlying threat cannot fully account for the duke’s rhetorical exuberance, and the speech the poem embodies must depend for its impetus largely upon the complex of emotional tensions that the memory calls up for the duke. As critic W. David Shaw remarks, the portrait of the last duchess represents both a literal and a figurative “hang-up” for the duke, who cannot resist returning to it repeatedly to contemplate its significance. So eager is the duke to enlarge upon the painting and its poignance that he anticipates and thus helps create the envoy’s interest in it, assuming in him a curiousity as to “how such a glance came” to the countenance of the duchess. The duke then indulges in obsessive speculation on the “spot of joy” on the “Duchess’ cheek,” elaborating different versions of its genesis. Similarly, the duke masochistically catalogues the various occasions the duchess found to “blush” or give praise: love, sunsets, cherries, and even “the white mule/She rode with round the terrace.”
Language itself occupies a particularly troubled place in the duke’s complex response to his last duchess and her memory. The duke’s modesty in declaiming his “skill/In speech” is surely false, as the rhetorical virtuosity of his speech attests. Yet he is manifestly averse to resolving the issue through discussion. In the duke’s view, “to be lessoned” or lectured is to be “lessened” or reduced, as his word choice phonetically implies. Rather than belittle himself or his spouse through the lowly practice of negotiation, the duke sacrifices the marriage altogether, treating the duchess’s “trifling” as a capital offense. The change the duke undergoes in the wake of disposing of his last duchess is in large part a rhetorical one, as he “now” handles discursively what he once handled with set imperatives.
The last lines of the poem abound in irony. As they rise to “meet/The company below,” the duke ominously reminds the envoy that he expects an ample dowry by way of complimenting the “munificence” of the Count. The duke then tells the envoy that not money but the Count’s daughter herself remains his true “object,” suggesting the idea that the duke’s aim is precisely the contrary. The duke’s intention to “go/Together down” with the envoy, meant on the surface as a kind of fraternal gesture, ironically underscores the very distinction in social status that it seems to erase. “Innsbruck” is the seat of the Count of Tyrol whose daughter the duke means to marry, and he mentions the bronze statue with a pride that is supposed to flatter the Count. But the lines can also be interpreted as an instance of self-flattery, as Neptune, who stands for the duke, is portrayed in the sculpture as an authorial figure, “taming a sea-horse.”
“My Last Duchess” marks an early apex of Browning’s art, and some of the elements of the poem—such as the monologue form, the discussion of visual art, and the Renaissance setting—were to become staples of Browning’s aesthetic. “My Last Duchess” also inaugurates Browning’s use of the lyric to explore the psychology of the individual. As many critics have suggested, character for Browning is always represented as a process, and the attitudes of his characters are typically shown in flux. The duke of “My Last Duchess” stands as a testimony to Browning’s ability to use monologue to frame an internal dialogue: the duke talks to the envoy but in effect talks to himself as he compulsively confronts the enigmas of his past.
Further Reading Bloom, Harold, ed. Robert Browning. New York: Chelsea House, 1985. Bloom, Harold, and Adrienne Munich, eds. Robert Browning: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1979. Chesterton, G. K. Robert Browning. London: Macmillan, 1903. Cook, Eleanor. Browning’s Lyrics: An Exploration. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1974. Crowell, Norton B. The Convex Glass: The Mind of Robert Browning. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1968. De Vane, William Clyde, and Kenneth Leslie Knickerbocker, eds. New Letters. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1950. De Vane, William Clyde. A Browning Handbook. New York: F. S. Crofts and Co., 1935. Drew, Philip. The Poetry of Robert Browning: A Critical Introduction. London: Methuen, 1970. Jack, Ian. Browning’s Major Poetry. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1973. Jack, Ian, and Margaret Smith, eds. The Poetical Works of Robert Browning. New York: Oxford University Press, 1983. Wagner-Lawlor, Jennifer A. “The Pragmatics of Silence, and the Figuration of the Reader in Browning’s Dramatic Monologues.” Victorian Poetry 35, no. 3 (1997): 287–302. Source: Bloom, H., 2001. Broomall, PA: Chelsea House Publishers.
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My Last Duchess and La Belle Dame Sans Merci Comparison
Coursework Power Dynamics In The Two Love Poems Due 05 February, 2009
My Last Duchess and La Belle Dame Sans Merci are two poems that explore a wide range of power dynamics that result from love. Patriarchal power is a key theme that is explored in these two poems, with conflicting views on each. La Belle Dame sans Merci tells of a sorry tale of how a knight, a typically powerful figure, is cast away by a woman who had no love for him. This theme is almost mirrored in the other poem; however the other poem, My Last Duchess seems to exert a more male perspective, focusing more on patriarchal power. A women to Her Lover, seems to be a blend of the two poetic styles of the previous two poems, as it both states the various patriarchal powers, and then proceeds to tear down these beliefs, and also tear down the conventions which were typically seen as the norm of the day.
The title of the poem is typically an indicator of what to expect from the poem, and in what vein it will be written. My Last Duchess is no exception as it immediately gives the reader a sense that the narrator, The Duke, see’s his late wife as a possession. He refers to her with the possessive pronoun ‘My’ to try, it appears; to regain a certain degree of control over her. This wanting of control is further explored when he says that ‘The curtain I have drawn for you,’ which portrays the sense that he feels he is the one who is giving others the right to see his wife. During the Renaissance (a period which Browning based his characters society as) was a time that was largely seen as patriarchal, and so the duke would typically want to conform to this norm. Furthermore, it may be this possessiveness that leads to his jealousy when she is seen as accepting a ‘bough of cherries’ from someone who he regarded as an ‘officious fool’. He also felt that she had a heart which was ‘too soon made glad’ and that it wasn’t only her ‘husband’s presence’ that she appeared to crave. These lines seem to be the Duke commenting on how her rather flirtatious and outgoing nature, not typical of women in that period, displeased him greatly. Furthermore, it seemed that he wanted her to end this affiliation with the other people, and this gave rise to the suspicion that he killed her, to end the constant barrage of seeming embarrassment and discomfort from his wife’s various exploits.
In those days there were always certain classed that would always be prejudiced against. Therefore, this incidence could have been regarded as his wife trying to exert some egalitarian power, by making the ‘officious fool’ feel like an equal, and also by riding round on a ‘white mule’, something which was often seen as a past time of the poor, as they could not afford to buy a proper horse. This form of power did not seem to go down well within the constraints of the love relationship. The duke seemed particularly afraid of this form of power as he proceeded to mention the fact that he thought that she felt that she ‘ranked’ his ‘nine-hundred year old name’ with anyone’s ‘gift’. This shows that he feels that the social classes should stand as they are. This is quite ironic, as this is set in the Renaissance period where it was said that people were becoming more scientific and were ready to embrace new ideas. This is at odds with what actually happens in the poem, with the man defecting to the typical view of women being ‘slaves’ to the men, but during a very socially obligated period.
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As well as this, the poem also manages to explore the power of love itself. This is shown with the infatuation of the widowed husband over the picture, as is demonstrated when the Duke believe that there is ‘depth’ in the painting, and that the women portrayed in the painting still holds some ‘passion’ for him. This could either be the power of the love, or, in fact, the power of the painting. This could, however, represent the actual mentality of the Duke, as he falls in ‘love’ with a painting of a woman who is deceased. This displays the underlying power of the love that had blossomed between these two individuals, and how the power of the painting was so influential that up to this point (in the poem), he still feels the attraction of the painting. However, this is at odds with what he says later on in the poem, written using enjambment to make it a more conversational style, when he talks about how he ‘tamed’ her, and rather uncharacteristically he uses a metaphor, perhaps to inject some frivolity into the proceeding so as to avert any fear of being caught. However, he also mention ‘I gave commands’, perhaps referring to getting her killed, and then he goes on to say that ‘all smiles stopped together’. This form of power could also be regarded as patriarchal power or perhaps more accurately as sheer male strength over the opposite gender.
The poetic techniques used are also pivotal to understanding what types of power are being explored. A key feature used in the poem is the iambic pentameter, which is a meter typically associated with a more male poem, due to the stressed single syllable at the end of a line. This is often attributed to the fiercer and fierier poems, which are to be said with an earnest, thus it being seen as a more masculine form of rhyme. As well as this enjambment is used, meaning that all of the lines follow on from each other, giving the poem a more conversational tone. This is quite odd, as the Duke himself comes across as a very contrite kind of person, but this could be due to the Duke trying to appear more powerful in his own home, or estate, meaning hierarchal power is something that is quite high up on his agenda, probably because he feels that hierarchal power is the only way he could have got this relationship.
Overall, this poem is mainly based on patriarchal power, and despite the fact that it does include a few instances of other forms of power, such as egalitarian power, patriarchal power seems to take an overbearing role. It is written from the perspective of someone very high up on the social ladder, and thus would include references to this form of power, inherited, or hierarchal power. La Belle Dame sans Merci on the other hand is a poem which almost admits to a person of rather high importance, the knight, being led astray by a woman. This poem is set in the medieval period. Various power dynamics are explored throughout the poem, mainly the various struggles between the desire of the man, and the simple want of pleasure for the woman.
The atmosphere is largely controlled by the weather displayed in the poem. This poem first begins by thinking of the power of nature and how this seems to coincide with the mood of the narrator, creating a pathetic fallacy. He is described by the visitor as ‘alone’ and ‘palely loitering’, and to add to the rather sombre starting, the atmosphere is seen as in the winter, where the ‘sedge’ has ‘withered’ away ‘from the lake’. This displays how the rather somber natural world seems to effect on his recovery from his painful loss of his girl. The weather seems to dampen his spirits and this is almost confirmed when it says that ‘no birds sing’, or that there is no sign of happiness. This power is quite strong as it is unavoidable, and can have an effect on his love for the woman as he may ponder on the relationship more. However, this is only one power dynamic that may have an effect on his love for the woman, and his overall love outlook. This power is far less prominent in ‘My Last Duchess’ with the atmosphere merely created through the dramatic monologue. Also, the main atmosphere is created through the ranting of the Duke.
A woman’s power over a man is not often accredited, however it is brought to light in this poem with the woman who he (the knight) see’s as a ‘faery’s child’, or in essence a woman with an abundance of beauty. This power of the woman over him may have resulted in him becoming quite ‘haggard’ and ‘woe-begone’ meaning his gradual degrading of state, because of his insistence that ‘she did love’ him, even though he believes she does, although she never explicitly stated those words, and this is backed up later in the poem when he admits she said it in a ‘strange’ ‘language’, which he believed said that she ‘love[d]’ him, even though it was quite plain to see that she did not in fact love him, but was there to be pleasured. This shows that the woman used her power to manipulate what was the result. However, another power that is used to some extent, is matriarchal power, on a more philosophical sense, as the knight imagines the lady wearing a ‘garland’ that could be seen as him trying to believe that the ‘sacred’ woman is still angelic, however, this is contradicted when he describes her as ‘wild’ and that he could only ‘shut her eyes with kisses four’. This shows that he had such an infatuation with his prospective wife that he looked past these slight niggles, as he was blinded by the power of love, which is essentially what under lied all of the events that occurred in the whole poem. The first poem on the other hand instead looks at the woman as someone who should be at the hand of the man to answer to his every need, not someone who should be able to have fun when she wants, and in this poem the woman is allowed to freely go, whereas in the first poem, she comes to an arguably, sinister end. Furthermore, in ‘My Last Duchess’ the woman is not given much power except those that come with the name, and of course her egalitarian power. Apart from this, ‘My Last Duchess’ has few similarities with this poem with regards to the way women are treated; aside from the fact that the knight believes she should be obedient to him.
Strangely, it seemed that hierarchal power was of not much importance to the two, as despite the promise of power, the woman still left him ‘alone and palely loitering’. This was also unconventional, rather like most of the events that occurred in this narrative, where the woman didn’t jump at the option of gaining some power, but instead just left him. It seems that the woman was just there for the power of the promise of being made love to, but not hierarchal power. Instead this poem seems to focus only on the aspects of love, unlike the first poem which makes sure that the reader is aware of the hierarchal integrity that is needed. This is at odds with ‘My Last Duchess’ which focuses heavily on how the status brings power to the family, and it is essentially this that makes the Duke so incensed by the bad behavior of his wife.
However, this poem doesn’t use the masculine pentameter, instead it has the last two syllables unstressed, which gives the impression of having a much softer, and morose feel to the poem, which is quite suited to the overall theme of the poem. This is in stark contrast to the more conversational, but still fiercer style of the first poem.
Conclusively, the power dynamics explored in the first poem are far more diverse, and it appears that there are much more powerful components involved in the rather complex relationship, and it showed the power of the relationship that the man was ready to kill, or silence his wife. This is contrary to the second poem where the knight seems to be rather constrained and polite at all times, and in this case it is the woman who has control over the man, unlike the trends of the time. Overall, the power dynamics behind love in the first poem varies greatly; largely going down to hierarchal power, but the second poem is a relationship of courtly love, which is not based on true unabated love.
The third poem is a strange mix of the previous two poems, with both patriarchal and matriarchal poems being discussed. A woman to her lover offers a refreshing insight into the inner workings of a woman’s mind. It begins by listing all the conventions, particularly how males usually dominate society. She openly attacks these conventions, by saying that if he wants to ‘make of [her] a bond slave’ then she simply ‘refuse[s]’ him. This is quite odd, as the poem was written at a time, when everything that she is trying to repress was actually the norm of the day, so it is seen as quite unconventional that a woman is being able to exert so much power of a man, by actively refusing to follow the current conventions of the time. This matriarchal power trying to quell the patriarchal power is evident. This is in stark contrast to ‘My Last Duchess’, where the main forms of power explored are those which are typically more to do with patriarchal powers, in a male dominated society. For example, the Duke feels that she should respect his ‘name’. However, this poem does bear some resemblance to the second poem, in the way that both seem to respect that women do have some power over men, however limited and unconventional it may be.
However, this poem is largely egalitarian power, as it largely displays how men and women should be treated as equals, and this is demonstrated when she pleads to her lover, that she wants to be treated as a ‘comrade’, and a ‘friend’. This shows that this woman firmly believed that she was in an equal position to the man, and, despite it being said otherwise in the unwritten law of the land; the woman feels that she should be at the same level as the man. The narrator uses phrases such as ‘o husband’, and ‘I am yours forever’ to try and show that she has submitted to him, and to try and restore some order, with the male again being the more dominant one. This is surprisingly similar to ‘My Last Duchess’ as both women in the poems try to make them equal with the opposite gender, seemingly oblivious to the opposite gender.
Another key aspect of this poem is the way in which it is written, such as organization, and poetic techniques. Firstly, it is written using enjambment, creating a more conversational style to the poem. This means that the woman does not appear to be dominating too much, and is, as a result, courting him on equal terms, emphasizing the fact that she feels that it should be a ‘level playing field’ for them. It is also quite clever in the way it manages to make the things that it is trying to crack down on come first and then it brings them down by saying what she would actually like. This is clever because it sticks in the person’s mind, and creates a stronger argument. The technique of enjambment is similar to the first poem, where it manages to create a conversational style so as to appear to converse with the other messenger, while realistically the Duke isn’t very sociable. However, none of these literary techniques are echoed in the second poem, La Belle Dame Sans Merci, which is probably due to the problem of both being written in completely different styles, with one being a more sorrowful poem, and the other being a more commanding and endearing poem.
Conclusively, the three poems all share a variety of power dynamics that are all explored. The most common theme was that of which gender was more dominant and which gender was controlled. This was mostly explored in ‘My Last Duchess’ and ‘A woman to her lover’. Inevitably this led on to the topic of equality, and it is in this way that egalitarian power was brought to light. Even ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’ explored how the woman and the man were both equal as they could both enter and leave the relationship as they did please. However, poetic techniques were used to further enhance the message of the poem; with all the poems using a different poetic technique to enhance and improve it’s delivery of different love and power dynamics. In the end, the power of love seemed to encompass all the poems, as all three showed how love took control of the.
- Word Count 2849
- Page Count 7
- Subject English
my last duchess
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Home — Essay Samples — Literature — My Last Duchess — The difference between “Ozymandias” by Percy Shelley and “My Last Duchess” by Robert Browning
The Difference Between "Ozymandias" by Percy Shelley and "My Last Duchess" by Robert Browning
- Categories: My Last Duchess Ozymandias Percy Bysshe Shelley Robert Browning
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Published: Feb 12, 2019
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London and My Last Duchess: GCSE Poetry Comparison and Sample Essay
London by William Blake and My Last Duchess by Robert Browning both feature in the AQA Power and Conflict anthology for GCSE English literature. They are fascinating poems containing some difficult themes, not least poverty, corruption, murder, gender-based violence… and the conflict that arises from the misuse of power.
London is often seen as one of the most difficult poems to analyse and compare in the entire anthology. While it certainly can be challenging, there are loads of links you can make with the other poems. To help kickstart your thinking, I’ve written a sample essay comparing London with My Last Duchess .
If you’re feeling uncertain about either of these poems, it’s helpful to listen to a reading first (there’s plenty on YouTube ). After you’ve listened to the poems, there’s a great guide to My Last Duchess available on SparkNotes as well as a fab discussion of London and it’s themes by the rapper Akala.
Here it is:
Once you’ve familiarised yourself with the poems, come back to this essay. Have a read through and think about how you’d improve it. Does it meet the AQA assessment objectives ? And if not, why not?
Ready? Let’s go.
In London , William Blake explores ideas about the abuse of power. Compare this with one other poem of your choice ( My Last Duchess ).
In London by William Blake and My Last Duchess by Robert Browning, both poets delve into the theme of the abuse of power. While Blake focuses on the misuse of power by individuals in “palaces” and “churches” through his depiction of London, Browning presents a personal exploration of a wealthy Duke’s potential involvement in the murder of his wife.
In London , as the narrator walks through the “chartered” streets, he observes “marks of weakness, marks of woe” on every face he encounters. This powerful statement suggests the people of London are trapped in a perpetual state of misery. The word “mark” can also be interpreted metaphorically as a brand, symbolising how people are forcibly marked and confined to their societal positions. Instead of a powerful capital, London becomes a backdrop for widespread suffering with people held-back by their own “mind-forged manacles” as well as those in power. The repetition of words like “every” emphasizes the scale of this affliction, while auditory imagery captures the cries and fears of every individual, regardless of age or social standing.
Similarly, My Last Duchess explores the misuse of power, but from a gender-based violence perspective. The poem begins with the possessive pronoun “my” in reference to the Duke’s deceased wife. This indicates his desire to claim her as a possession, much like the artwork adorning his walls showcasing his wealth and control. The Duke’s focus on the reputation of artists, such as “Fra Pandolf” and “Claus of Innsbruck, reveals his prioritisation of their fame over the woman in the painting. While Blake presents the abuse of power in terms of economic and social divisions, Browning portrays it through gender dynamics. The Duke’s description of the “faint half-flush that dies along her throat” creates a sinister tone, employing fricative alliteration and words (such as “dies” and “throat”) semantically associated with murder.
Blake’s narrator expresses shame over the stark contrast between the powerful and the impoverished within the city. In contrast, the speaker in My Last Duchess exudes pride and arrogance about his own power. Browning skilfully reveals the Duke’s underlying insecurities with his long monologue, however, leaving readers questioning the extent of his true power. He ironically states that even if he had “skill in speech”, he wouldn’t stoop to say “just this or that in you disgusts me; here you miss, or there exceed the mark”. His inability to express his emotional needs suggests the woman held true power in their relationship. Sadly, this conflict culminates in the ultimate abuse of power, when the Duke recalls “then all smiles stopped together”. This short, declarative statement implies the Duchess was killed at his behest.
In Blake’s poem, short declarative sentences also highlight the abuse of power. When he describes how “the hapless Soldier’s sigh / runs in blood down Palace walls,” the vivid metaphor of dripping blood symbolises the sacrifices of the poor to safeguard privileged palace residents. The additional juxtaposition between the “cries” of child chimney sweepers and the ringing of church bells further reinforces the image of the powerful (in this case, religious elites), suppressing the populace.
Both poets also use structural devices to reinforce themes of power and its misuse. Blake’s meticulous observations of London are heightened by the regular alternate rhyme scheme and carefully constructed quatrains. The ABAB rhythm mirrors his fastidious steps as he observes each street and its inhabitants. Moreover, each stanza builds on the previous one. The first stanza focuses on misery, the second on people’s inability to challenge power, the third on the sacrifices made by the poor, and the final stanza presenting a bleak view of the destructive power of corruption (“How the youthful Harlots curse / Blasts the new-born Infants tear / And blights with plagues the Marriage hearse”). Similarly to London’s strong narrative voice, in My Last Duchess , Browning uses caesura and enjambment to create a dramatic monologue that vividly mimics the flow of the Duke’s thoughts. Despite his apparent lack of self-control (ranting at length), the poem maintains a regular rhyming structure with rhyming couplets and iambic pentameter. This adds another layer of facade to the Duke’s character. Like the poem itself, he appears carefully-composed on the surface but harbours more sinister intentions and abuses of power beneath.
Over to you…
This essay is missing a conclusion and context about each poem. How would you finish it off?
Here are some notes on context to help… good luck!
My Last Duchess: Context
Robert Browning was a poet in the Victorian period. His family were very wealthy, but he never felt comfortable with elite London society. Despite the disapproval of both sets of parents, Browning travelled to Italy to marry his love and fellow poet Elizabeth Barrett. They were unable to marry in England because of Elizabeth’s overprotective father in particular.
- Can you link controlling male figures with the events in My Last Duchess?
My Last Duchess is loosely based on the real Duke of Ferrara (Alfonso II d’Este). In 1558 (at the age of 24), he married Lucrezia di Cosimo de’ Medici, the 13-year-old daughter of Cosimo I de’ Medici. Lucrezia was well-educated, and the Medicis were considered “nouveau riche” in comparison to the venerable Este family.
- How does this deepen your understanding of the poem? Hint – Alfonso II d’Este’s remark regarding his gift of a “nine-hundred-years-old name” clearly indicates he considered his bride beneath him socially.
Lucrezia came with a sizeable dowry . Despite this, the Duke of Ferrara abandoned her two years before she died on 21 April 1561, at age 16. Although there was a strong suspicion of poisoning, it’s likely the cause of death was tuberculosis. The poem is written from the Duke’s perspective, spoken to an unknown messenger about his next marriage.
- What does this reveal about the conflicts in the Duke’s character and how much he really cared for his wife?
William Blake was a Romantic poet in the Victorian/Georgian period. He wrote many poems in two anthologies titled Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience . The Songs of Innocence poems were often simple, naive and positive. Conversely, the Songs of Experience poems were often cynical, bitter and pessimistic.
- Can you guess which anthology London featured in? Why do you think this?
London was published in 1794, when child labour, poverty, death, disease and malnutrition were all high in English industrial cities. Women also had very little rights and the poorest in society were often forced into prostitution to earn a small living. The industrial revolution resulted in many people moving from the countryside into cities, to work in large factories for low wages. William Blake’s poetry often angrily argued against this capitalist corruption and exploitation.
- What references to exploitation, corruption and problems in society do you see in the poem?
This period witnessed the French Revolutionary Wars: a series of sweeping military conflicts lasting from 1792 until 1802, resulting from the French Revolution. During this revolution, the French people overthrew and executed their king. The revolution was meant to ensure equality and freedom for all in society. This contrasted with Britain, a country with an established monarchy and aristocratic classes firmly in power. The wars pitted France against Britain, Austria, Prussia, Russia, and several other monarchies.
- Do you think William Blake is encouraging people in England to throw off their “mind forged manacles”, just like the French?
More Power and Conflict sample poetry essays:
- A comparison of Exposure and Charge of the Light Brigade
- A comparison of Storm on the Island and The Prelude
- A comparison of Ozymandias and Kamikaze
- A comparison of Tissue and The Émigrée
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