My last Duchess by Robert Browning
My lastDuchess by Robert Browning
My last Duchess is a poem written by Robert Browning in the 16thcentury. The Poem is one of the ancient classical works that narratethe situation in ancient England and captures a key element of familyrelations. The Duke, recently widowed, was hosting an envoy of thefuture Duchess. Through the discussion, we learn that the Duke hadplanned the death of the Duchess for allegedly flirting with othermen and tainting the nine-hundred-years-old title of a Duchess. Thechoice of words by the Duke in describing the painting of the lateDuchess suggests that he compares the beauty of the painting to thejoy of conquering a battle that never was of controlling thesexuality of the late Duchess.
The Duke takes his time to describe the painting in very flowerylanguage to his guest to decorate his achievement. He is very keenand proud to introduce his guest to the late Duchess in the painting.This is the main reason that the Duke has retained the painting inhis house. Instead of the beautiful painting causing him pain andanger or possibly regret over his actions, he takes pride in it. Heeven takes his guest around the house to show him the painting. Tothe Duke, the painting is not a souvenir or a memorabilia of his wifebut rather a war trophy, a war that only existed in his mind. He wasin a struggle to control the sexuality of his wife and the paintingwhich he valued allowed him to view and fix the sexuality of his wifeas he desired.
It is clear that the Duke values the painting not because of itsaesthetic value but because of the story behind it. It is for thisreason that the Duke goes on a dramatic monologue that allows him tomimic the words and feelings of both the painter, Fra Pandolf, andthe late Duchess. This he can only achieve with the help of thepainting given that he relies on the finer details of the painting tocreate the monologue. He mimics Pandolf and says “Paint Must neverhope to reproduce the faint Half-flush that dies along her throat”(17-19). Here he shows his bitterness against supposed admiration ofthe Duchess by Pandolf.
The painting is a selfish reminder to the king that he conquered adisgraceful wife. He even mocks the painting by saying “That’s mylast Duchess painted on the wall, Looking as if she were alive”(1). His choice of words captures his satisfaction and hisachievement. He says of the “Duchess painted on the wall” and notactually a ‘painting of the Duchess.’ This shows that the Duketreats the painting as the defeated Duchess and not just as paintingof the Duchess to remind him of her late wife. The Duke got hissatisfaction from having to stare at the painting every other day andknowing that he had won against his ‘enemy.’
The Duke uses the opportunity to warn the envoy about the dangers ofcheating expecting the same would be communicated to the potentialfuture wife. He does this explaining in depth the reasons that led tothe death of the Duchess. He states “Sir, ’twas not (13) Herhusband’s presence only, called that spot (14) Of joy into theDuchess’ cheek:” (15). The ‘Spot of joy’ in this contextimplied the Duchess blushing which was not caused by the presence ofthe Duke but was directed towards the painter. He was thuscommunicating the message to the future wife that such behaviors ofentertaining or flirting with other men were not tolerated orexpected of the future Duchess. The painting would also serve as astark reminder to the future wife the fate that awaited them in casethey harbored thoughts of other men except the Duke.
The Duke was imagines unfaithfulness to synonymous with women. In hermarriage with the Duchess, he appears to be a person with a desire tomold and control the sexuality of the Duchess. He views this pursuitof control over a woman’s sexuality as a battle to be won. Themanner in which he describes the painting to his envoy shows that heis spoiling for another battle. He is using the envoy to spreadpropaganda to scare the future Duchess to cede her sexuality to theDuke. “He says his grew I gave commands Then all smiles stoppedtogether. There she stands As if alive.”
The poem uses the narration of the King to show his heartless sideand drive home a very deep message. He does not substantiate theclaims that the late Duchess was unfaithful or just flirted with men.He felt that the Duchess had committed a grave crime and deserved tobe punished and even humiliated in death. This was because he waslosing the battle to control the sexuality of his wife such as theblushing. The final solution to the Duke was only to command that shebe killed. The act of displaying the painting to the envoy andexplaining what happened to the Duchess only shows that he was readyto embark on another battle to control the sexuality of the futureDuchess.
Robert Browning“My last Duchess”