Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Browning's Last Duchess

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The antagonist of Robert Browning’s poem “My Last Duchess” is a Duke from the sixteenth century. He begins his meeting with the servant of his next wife’s father. He asks or more directly orders the servant “Will’t please you sit and look at her?”  addressing a painting he had made of his last Duchess.

The Duke shows how he was not at all made happy by his young bride’s smile. He is a man who could not stand to have his wife smile upon anyone but himself.

“… Sir twas not
her husband’s presence only,
called that spot
of joy into the Duchess’ cheek”


This is the Duke asking the question he was puzzled by. This is obvious in that it seems nobody has ever asked him that question, though he is sure everyone would if only they dared. It is as if he was so confounded by the fact that she could possibly seek happiness in anything that wasn’t him.  It is evidence that he is something of an egomaniac.

In the Duke’s mind the young Duchess smiled at everything and anything, and everyone. He was sure “she had a heart too easily made glad.” The very fact that she could smile at a servant as she would have smiled at him just drove him mad with rage.

“Too easily impressed; she liked whate’er
She looked on and her looks went everywhere
Sir twas all one! My favor 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 Duke was jealous of everything. She could not be happy about any thing, not something as simple as nature, or as kind as a person who went out of his way to get her fruit. It wasn’t as if the Duchess was asking for anything from the Duke. She was merely enjoying the natural joys of life. However, the very act of her smiling was considered a disgusting act on the Duchess’ part.

“… She thanked men-good! But thanked
Somehow-I know not how- as if she ranked
My gift of nine-hundred-years-old-name
With anybody’s gift. “


The Duke was completely perplexed with the notion that any act of thanks from the Duchess should be showered upon him and him alone. He was not able to understand how she could possibly thank any commoner as profusely and as equally as she would thank him for sharing his long honored name. It is obvious that he holds nothing more valuable than his name and himself. And that very act of her not putting him above everyone else infuriated him.

“… Even had you 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”….
“- Even then would be some stooping and I choose
Never to stoop.”


To the Duke the act of trying to tell the Duchess who was young and was obviously just a kind and naive girl of what bothered him was beneath him. The notion of stooping to his wife who should know better than to put a smile forth to anything but him was just absurd. As he goes on the Dukes becomes less and less logical and more supreme in his thought of himself.

The Duke tells of how no doubt his young Duchess smiled for him as well. But he says how the smile she shared with his was not any better than that smile she shared with a commoner or the sun. Such a smile was not good enough for a man such as himself. He deserved more, in his mind, it is obvious that he was sure he deserved everything. He seemed to feel he deserved even the Duchess’ happiness.

The Duke then tells the servant visiting him,
“This grew, I gave commands;
Then all smiles stopped together.”

Then the Duke goes on to demand after sharing his warning with the servant that now he is ready to go down to meet the servant’s master. He tells him that his master is a well known man, and there will be no way that his master won’t accept a worthy dowry offering from himself for taking his daughter’s hand in marriage.

This last part where the Duke tells the servant that he will easily get the next brides hand in marriage was a way for the Duke to tell the servant, “Now you know what exactly I want. I will marry her, it is a matter of her being tamed well as to whether or not I shall stay married to her”. This is evident in;

“Notice Neptune, though,
Taming a sea-horse, though it a rarity”

Obviously, the Duke was a man who knew what he wanted and was ready to discard anything that didn’t fit his wishes.



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