Very enlightening. Anyone looking to write a paper analysing Robert Browning's Duke.
|Done by: Ashley Mussbacher of WJ Mouat Secondary School Abbotsford
"My Last Duchess": A Deeper Read into Robert Browning's Duke
Robert Browning was born May 7th, 1812, in Camberwell, London. His parents, Robert Browning and Sarah Anna Wiedermann, were very well off and invested countless amount of time, effort and money into educating Browning Jr. (Frank Kermode, 1278). His father owned a massive library in which he spent most of his time. Browning was educated largely at home, and it was not until, age fourteen, he was given a small pirated edition of Shelley’s poems that later on influence him to write his own poetry. Then, in 1828 he was enrolled into the University of London (Frank Kermode, 1279) only to drop out in his second term. He wanted to learn at his own pace and had a desire to rebel against his father’s wishes. This disappointed his father. He wanted Browning to become a scholar like himself, but Browning was “unusually attached to his mother,” (Frank Kermode, 1278) and her views dominated Browning’s views on society. Browning’s mother was an ‘evangelical protestant’, and “her religious views were to remain vital in Browning’s consciousness,” (Frank Kermode, 1278). Browning’s rebellion against society influenced his writings greatly (Frank Kermode, 1278). It was then that he began to write his famous dramatic monologues. “My Last Duchess” is just one of Browning’s most famous, in which the Duke demonstrates greater appreciation for the artificial than the real.
To begin, the Duke’s need to dominate over the Duchess intensifies throughout the poem. As the Duke tells his painter, Fra Pandolf: “Her mantle laps over my ladies wrists too much,” (line 15). This is implying that his Duchess needs to be more conservative in regards to her appearance. The Duke is possibly annoyed by the behaviour of the Duchess when she is as pleased by her servants as she is by him: “The Duchess takes as much pleasure in a bough of cherries as she does in a white mule or in a sunset,” (Allingham, 1). This lack of distinction is insulting to the Duke or quite possibly threatening to a man that is so well known from his social position “nine-hundred-year-old name,” (line 33). As the Duke explains to the Count of Tyrol’s envoy, “all smiles [to be] stopped,” (line 46), it is evident that at his order the Duchess’s life is ended. As explained, this is “the Duke’s attempt to dominate his former Duchess,” (Kermode, 1278). Now that he can hide her behind a certain and see her whenever he pleases, he has succeeded in domination. Not only is he able to control her, he is able to appreciate the excellence of her painter’s skill (Blackburn, 173).
In addition, the Duke does not recognize that “love is not only creative in itself, but divine in creativity as well,” (Allingham, 3). Love is absent from the Duke’s thoughts. As explained by Philip Allingham, the Duke is preoccupied with other objects of his life and love is not one of them:
Browning sees the Duke as characteristic of the political leaders of the epoch: power, art, sophistication, pitiless tyranny come together in one splendidly drawn figure (3).
Like many dictators of that time period, the Duke thinks highly of himself when he mentions his “gift of a nine-hundred-year-old name,” (line 33). Browning implies that “[the Duke] is blind to his own repressive, sterile nature,” (Kermode, 1289). “E’en then would some stooping and I choose never to stoop,” (line 42). The Duke gives the impression that he does consider murder over stooping and that loving the Duchess for who she is would be compared to murder.
Furthermore, “the Duke appreciates objects of art more than he appreciates their subjects,” (Domhall, 90). This is supported when the Duke describes the Duchess’s painting to the emissary of the Count of Tyrol:
That piece a wonder, now: Fra Pandolf’s hands
Worked busily a day, and there she stands (2-4).
The use of the word ‘now’ confirms it is only now that the Duke manages to forget the person he has killed and admire the perfection of the portrait and the skill of it’s painter. “The depth and passion at its earnest glance,” (line 8), suggests that the Duke finds the painting more beautiful than the life he had to take to make it. His wife is converted into an object of art, and he refers to his next bride as “my object,” (line 53). “The Duke wrongly elevates art to a position where it becomes more important than life,” (Domhall, 90).
Next, Browning’s Duke strongly resembles that of Alphonso II of Ferrara, his likely historical parallel, who “satisfied [his] obsession for luxury and money by borrowing and arranging substantial marriage dowries,” (Allingham, 2). In the poem, the Duke is negotiating for the niece of the Count of Tyrol. The Duke implies that he collects art as well as wives and dowries. His former Duchess literally turned into a collectable piece of artwork so that she can “no longer mar her beauty by unseeming behaviour or emotion,” (Allingham, 1).
In conclusion, the aesthetic appreciation that the Duke so graciously prides, is achieved at the expense of a part of divine creation:
The image of the painter creating life in a day inevitably calls to mind God’s creation of the world as it is described in the book of Genesis (Domhall, 74).
As Thomas Blackburn explains, “My Last Duchess” highlights the complexity of life in about sixty lines (173). The Duke is ignoring God’s creation and is evidently “taming,” (54) the divine in order to satisfy his need to control. He makes himself an object of art, “Neptune,” (54), and his Duchess, more literally, in order to avoid an absence of meaning in his world, marriage and himself. Neptune is doing what the Duke cannot do. Since the “later can only have ordered to be ‘cast’,” (Berman, 85), it represents a symbol of his wanting to ‘tame’ the Duchess. This proposes that his accomplishments in art are impossible in his life.
Thank you for reading...please rate or review this work.
I actually used this essay as an English 12 research assignment and recieved 88% on it. So, I can safely say that I am very proud of it.