Explore the ways that Robert Browning tells the story in ‘My Last Duchess’. (21 marks)
The narrator, the Duke of Ferrara, in the dramatic monologue ‘My Last Duchess’, is speaking of his former deceased lover, whom is illustrated and reminisced from a portrait hung in his household. The dramatic monologue contains themes of dominance, control and corruption, apparent when he divulges his annoyance of his last duchess’s sincere pleasure with all within the world which he considered an insult. Browning formulates the story through his ambiguous version of events concerning his wife coinciding with blunt adjectives that suggest the Duke has undesirable personality characteristics, that only emphasises his sinister and disrespectful thoughts.
The poem is set during the 16th century during the Italian Renaissance based on historical event of Alfonso, the Duke of Ferrara whose wife died of suspicious circumstances. This was a time where morally dissolute men exercised absolute power, indicative of the Duke’s behaviour and predisposition, illustrated in the lines “That’s my last duchess painted on the wall, looking as if she were alive, I call”. The narrators use of the possessive pronoun ‘my’, gives no name to his ex wife, suggesting that he viewed her more as a possession to exert control over than an equal which in itself is disrespectful of her memory. Also, by referring to the woman as his, it suggests he has developed more of a relationship with the portrait than the woman the painting represents. His lack of emotion when stating ‘looking as if she were alive’ is ultimately disturbing to speak of a loved one in that manner, but also, to a certain extent, almost mocking that he is alive while she only exists on the wall because he allowed it, again demonstrating possessive characteristics.
It is apparent, from the very beginning of the poem that the arrogant Duke receives pleasure from asserting dominance and control over all matter: He says “since none puts by the curtain I have drawn for you, but I”, suggesting that he could not utterly control her in life – as hard as he tried – yet the curtain has now made it possible for him to choose as and when he sees her which he takes great pleasure in. The contemptuous and avaricious treatment of his wife he can now exert through means of the portrait seems to be an accomplishment he takes pride in which is particularly disconcerting. This is similarly illustrated by “her looks went everywhere”, (he most likely psychologically exaggerated this as given the form of the poem – a dramatic monologue – the recollection is biased from a single perspective only) indicating underlying jealousy that her looks were not solely upon him, however, now only existing in the portrait, through the use of the curtain, he can cease her looking anywhere all together.
‘My Last Duchess’ comprises iambic, pentameter lines in rhyming couplets, which creates a sense of light-heartedness , coinciding with the force of his personality makes horrifying information seem merely casual, ultimately contrasting the content of the poem emphasising the Duke’s…