My Last Duchess
“Her Darling One Wish would be Heard”: How Dramatic Monologue Illustrates Distorted Rationality in “Porphyria’s Lover” and “My Last Duchess”
Of the consequences of maintaining an obsessive nature, its ability to cloud rational judgements and encourage humanity to surrender to his darkest, innermost impulses serves as one of its most tragic aspects. Robert Browning explores this concept through his poems “Porphyria’s Lover” and “My Last Duchess.” Following the entry of Porphyria into the narrator’s cottage in “Porphyria’s Lover,” she verbally affirms her love for the him; as he believes Porphyria’s love will inevitably fail, the narrator turns to murder and necrophilia thereafter in an effort to preserve this moment for which her affection felt genuine. In a similar vein, the Duke of Ferrara at the beginning “My Last Duchess” reveals to his visitor, whose purpose is to negotiate the Duke’s marriage with another family, a portrait of his former spouse, who he had killed due to her inability to, in his mind, stay faithful and maintain affection towards him. Browning illustrates how the inherent obsessive and contradictory nature present in both narrators dismantles their sanity, encouraging them to rationalize their decisions, no matter the extent they violate morality.
Browning employs lustful, contradictory diction with dramatic monologue as the lens in “Porphyria’s Lover” to exhibit the underlying manic mentality within the narrator, and how he perceives his own crime as an ultimate testament to his love towards Porphyria. In the opening lines, the narrator describes her as having “made her smooth white shoulder bare…spread o’er all, her yellow hair,” and that she “worshipped” him (17-20, 33). The narrator’s unnerving focus on the minute details of Porphyria’s sensual behavior as she undresses characterizes her as an object to satisfy his lust, which from his perspective, she approves of. Following her verbal admission of affection to the narrator, he strangles Porphyria using her hair (41). The narrator, in support of his own personal yearning for Porphyria, turns to murder in the moment that she declares her love in an effort to bind her to himself eternally. This exemplifies the major contradiction within the narrator, in that while he is pleased that he has obtained Porphyria’s affection, he hates the possibility of her eventual feelings towards him weakening, and has chosen to preserve this ideal version of Porphyria instead of having to face that potential reality. The narrator additionally claims that this was a fate that Porphyria herself desired (57). The narrator interpreted her assertion of devotion to him as a definitive truth that it was her wish to be sealed in that instance of purity; this emphasizes how the narrator’s obsession with Porphyria has convinced him that his murder is a gesture that illustrates his love for her.
Moreover, Browning utilizes irony in “My Last Duchess” to highlight that while the Duke is unable to possess affectionate feelings towards anybody who fails to fit his ideal standard, he is incapable of quelling his obsession with them. In the initial lines, the Duke describes the painting of his former duchess as having “the depth and passion of its earnest glance” (7). While these comments initially suggest a positive appraisal, the remainder of the poem divulges that these words are ironic; they reveal the Duke’s innermost bitterness and displeasure towards this woman since she did not adequately comply to his view of perfection, and additionally illustrates how prominently she remains in his mind. The Duke presents himself as a captivating and personable individual through his eloquence (13-14). In spite of the Duke’s apparent lack of morality through the murder of his former wife, he still upholds a charming persona while defending his actions, which demonstrates his underlying internal obligation to control his world. Towards the end of the poem, the Duke claims that he “[chose] never to stoop” (43). The Duke chose not to profess his concerns and complaints to his wife in a confronting manner while she was alive as he believed that act would be beneath his standard; however, he instead chooses to communicate them passively following her death, which in reality, is further away from accommodating his standard.
The obsession both narrators have with their objects of aggression and their perceived lack of control over the situation instills within each of them a distorted sense of rationality, stimulating a desire to suspend love in its ideal moment that provides, in their minds, a just cause to take severe measures. The narrator characterizes the murder of Porphyria as a crime approved by God (60). In spite of this clearly amoral act, the narrator himself views it solely as a means of extending his love to Porphyria and preserving her in a state that he perceives as perfect; his belief that not even the highest authority categorizes the act as sinful exemplifies his distorted reality. Similarly, the Duke has turned his former duchess into a painting that he perceives as being an ideal image of her (13-15). As with the narrator’s desire to freeze Porphyria in a genuine condition, the Duke has done same by displaying the most optimal version of his former duchess, which illustrates that while he harbors resentment for the actual woman he had killed, he still maintains an obsession for his version of her ideal-self.
Through the obsessive and contract nature present in both narrators, Browning demonstrates how their skewed perception of rationality encourages them to take extreme measures in an effort to achieve perfection in their lives. The use of language and irony in “Porphyria’s Lover” and “My Last Duchess,” respectively, illustrate the underlying mental dismay that affects the narrators and the consequences that those have on the women they surround themselves with. The chief failing in both characters lies within their demand for power, a demand that drives them to take any means necessary to satisfy.
Exploring Love and Its Corruption: My Last Duchess, Andrea Del Sarto & Two in the Campagna
In both My Last Duchess and Andrea del Sarto, Robert Browning explores the notions of love and its capacity to corrupt an individual’s character and potential through his signature diegetic form; the dramatic monologue. While the form of these two poems is based around an implied audience, the primary agent and core subject matter is the narrator, rather than the subjects they speak on. The form itself requires that the reader complete the dramatic scene from within, through the use of inference and imagination, using the clues provided by Browning’s narrators in regard to their obsessions and preoccupations. In a differing manner, Two in the Campagna varies in metrical poetic structure, and consists mainly of iambs, but as this consistency disintegrates, a parallel symbolism is created, as the ideas and love of the narrator, as well as the language required to express them, are each identified as unobtainable.
Variant perceptions and attitudes regarding the nature of loyalty and jealousy within relational dynamics are explored in both My Last Duchess and Andrea Del Sarto. The overwhelming jealousy and possessive nature of the narrator (the Duke) in My Last Duchess is adumbrated within the title of the poem, with the possessive pronoun “my” used by Browning to reveal the Duke’s disposition, and his regard for the Duchess as being an object within his control. In contrast to this, the eponymous narrator in Andrea Del Sarto, whilst being aware that his wife is in an adulterous relationship with the “Cousin”, opts to revert to the comfort of his relationship, rather than oppose dominance and control within the marital dynamic. The pleading tone of “Must you go?” is used by Browning in order to highlight the desperation of the narrator in maintaining the status quo, but his ultimate inability to enforce the boundaries he desires upon his partner, evidenced by the use of a question, rather than a commanding imperative form. While the disloyalty of the partner in Andrea Del Sarto is objectively present, the Duke in My Last Duchess notes the same trait within the Duchess, but with a distinct absence of empirical proof. The adverb “perhaps” presupposes the imaginative nature of the evidence for the Duchess’ unfaithfulness, therefore corrupting the credibility of the Duke’s suggestions that the “spot of joy [on] the Duchess’ cheek “ was brought about by other men. When confronted with the adultery he perceives, the Duke acts violently, ordering the execution of the Duchess, asserting his ultimate control over the Duchess, literally objectifying and constraining her to the bounds of a painting. Conversely, the narrator of Andrea Del Sarto, despite his hesitations, uses his only imperative of the poem “Go, my Love” in a manner not asserting control within his relationship, but instead allowing her to continue behaving in the same manner as previously. This command is used by Browning to highlight that the control exercised by the narrator is entirely facile, and that within his own relational dynamic, the power remains with his partner.
Much like in Andrea Del Sarto, the narrator of Two in the Campagna struggles to exhibit control over both love and his ideas, highlighting their transient nature. In order to experience a spatio-temporal paradigm in which love can be tamed and controlled, the narrator invites his listener to imagine the open fields of the “Champaign”, being the Campagna that surrounds Rome. Symbolically, this land is used by Browning to represent a liminal zone in which social convention no longer applies and permissiveness is possible. The structure of the poem subverts this liminality, however, as even when the narrator speaks of the Campagna, the stanzas remain five lines long, with the first four in tetrameter and the final in trimeter. Browning therefore reflects that even while in the realm of alterity and separation from social norms, the restrictions of the human experience and mortality continue to apply. These notions are reflected in the existential frustration evident at the conclusion of the poem, in which reference is made to the “old trick”, a colloquial expression used by Browning to comment upon the illusory nature of reality experienced by the narrator, due to the deceptive connotations of “trick”. In a differing manner, the narrator of Andrea Del Sarto, despite his temporal considerations, instead accepts the nature of his human experience, commenting, “Since there my past life lies, why alter it?” The use of the question as a rhetorical device by Browning illuminates the narrator’s struggle to overcome the restrictions of time itself, and to instead opt to resign himself to the position of inactive agent in the temporal paradigm.
In opposition to the narrators of Andrea Del Sarto and Two in the Campagna, who each display an awareness of the temporal limitations provided throughout life itself, the Duke in My Last Duchess achieves his ultimate goal only in the realm death, separated from such limitations. Unable to quell the perceived disloyalty of his partner and to confirm her as his prized possession, the Duke’s simile that the painting depicts the Duchess “looking as if she were alive” is used by Browning to demonstrate that his late partner has observing those around her in the same manner as during life. However, her ekphrastic entrapment renders her under the control of the Duke, a control he was not able to attain during the Duchess’ life. The narrator of Andrea Del Sarto observes similar potential to achieve his aspirations in death, commenting “In heaven, perhaps, new chances, one more chance”, with the “chances” being dissonant with the narrator’s previous assertion that he “regret[s] little” and “would change still less”. The narrator’s fantastical consideration of the afterlife is included by Browning to reveal Andrea Del Sarto’s acknowledgement of his failure to achieve his potential artistic greatness in life, but his desire to achieve them in death. The narrator in Two in the Campagna holds a distinctly separate perspective upon the afterlife, stating “heaven looks from its towers!” Emphasized by the exclamation mark, the possessive pronoun “it” embodies heaven itself as a singular force, and the symbolism of the “towers” is used by Browning to suggest that the afterlife serves as a judgement for the narrator and his lover, due to the physical dominance inherent within the height of towers.
Depiction Of Sexist Mistreatment Of Women In My Last Duchess By Robert Browning
At the time the Browning’s poem My Last Duchess was published, the concept of ownership in marriage was still very prevalent; Browning develops the central theme of his poem around these notions of inequality and male dominance in a direct attempt to explore the concept of sexism within marriage.
The poet conveys this through the use of possessive diction throughout the poem; at the beginning the Duke parenthetically mentions that “none puts by the curtain I have drawn for you, but I”, symbolically indicating his control over the viewers of the painting which mimics his control over who saw her in reality. The use of possessive diction continues throughout the work, as the Duke comments on how he “gave commands” and “then all smiles stopped together”. These lines evoke catharsis from the audience, causing the reader to sympathize for the Duchess. The final section reveals the proposed marriage arrangement with the Count’s “fair daughter” who is his “object”. Through his objectification of the girl by diminishing her worth to merely her physical attributes, the Duke reveals his shallow and patriarchal views that were common amongst the men of Victorian society. The Duke recalls the memory of his former Duchess and her bothersome qualities, accusing her of having a heart “too soon made glad” and “too easily impressed”. The Duke continues to recount the flaws in the Duchess’ character, claiming that she values “the boughs of cherries some officious fool broke in the orchard for her” and her “white mule”, to the same extent with which she values his expensive gifts. The connotations with “cherries” in literature are typically associated with forbidden sexual acts, potentially alluding to the concept that the last duchess was not faithful to her husband. This sexual reference gives rise to gender issues of sexuality during the Victorian area.
The Duke addresses his difficulty in communicating with his wife, “Even had you skill /In Speech which I have not”; however, his use of enjambment presents otherwise, showing his inability to stop talking to the listener and the Duke’s reluctance to develop communication with her. The brief use of direct apostrophe, in reference to “Even had you skill In speech — (which I have not) — to make your will,” illustrates the Duchess’ lack of ability to respond to such accusations, which are coupled with the lack of speech female characters express within the work, to emulate the powerless view on women in Victorian society. The speaker uses allusion to “Neptune”, comparing his love to “taming a sea-horse”; the evident degradation of his previous wife through diction associated with animals, further iterates the dominant role men assumed within marriage.
Initially the Duke is portrayed as someone trustworthy, with well-mannered qualities, repeatedly addressing his guest as “sir” to gain the reader’s trust and act as a representation of the common married man in Victorian society. It is soon revealed, however that the poet employs an unreliable narrator who speaks openly about his wife’s “crimes”; his belief that he has carried out justifiable murder due to her inappropriate behaviour contrasts with conventional societal morals, thus the Duke’s persepective shapes the story to his own version and bias, causing the reader to question his reliability as a narrator, as well as similar sexist mistreatment prevelant in Victorian society.
Comparative Analysis Of Robert Browning’s My Last Duchess And Michael Ondaatje’s In The Skin Of A Lion
“We are all storytellers. We all live in a network of stories. There isn’t a stronger connection between people than storytelling.” When u see this quote, you can probably come up with an image of people in society, in our everyday lives, telling each other stories of what they have been through that day or what happened in the past, which creates a connection, a better insight about that person. However, another way a connection can be formed between people through storytelling is through different textual forms. The two texts that I am comparing today are Robert Browning’s poem, My Last Duchess and Michael Ondaatje’s In the Skin of a Lion. And through these 2 texts, as the reader, we can form a connection with the composers and understand the message they are trying to get across to us by storytelling, via various methods, in this case, a novel and a poem. After analysing these two texts, one of the themes I felt that the composers had tried to convey was the social hierarchy experienced in these relative texts.
Robert browning’s poem, My Last Duchess, questions societal views towards women in the 19th century Victorian England. Set in the Italian renaissance, My Last Duchess, highlights its patriarchal society and welcomes the readers to criticise the values presented. Browning shares a dominating males outlook on women through dramatic monologue, showing the possessive nature of the duke who objectifies the duchess in the painting, “that piece a wonder, now”. His controlling character is further expressed with the painting of the Duke’s last Duchess, which symbolises the Duke’s jealousy and reputation against the promiscuity of his last Duchess. Browning uses verbal irony, in “She had / A heart—how shall I say?—too soon made glad, / Too easily impressed”, to exemplify that the duke states a phrase that is completely opposite to the literal meaning. Hence through this, Browning foregrounds Victorian attitudes towards women. Moreover, the allusion “Notice Neptune, though, taming a sea-horse” uses Neptune, the Roman god of the sea, to represent the power the duke possesses, which is utilised on a delicate and vulnerable seahorse that symbolises the last duchess. Browning tells his perspective in his poem to share his views on the expectations of women, reinforcing that narratives are powerful mediums to confer authors views and welcome readers to establish their views. Whilst Browning himself was trying to convey his perspective, the main protagonist in the poem itself was also telling his own story. The duke, through his monologue, speaks to both a character present in the poem, but also to the readers of the poem, conveying his exquisite tastes in women and art, to encourage his ego, highlighting his wealth and social status above his last duchess.
In In the Skin of a Lion, through the lens of introverted protagonist Patrick Lewis, Ondaatje metaphorically communicates his ideas in regard to the immigrant culture and mistreatment of immigrants to Canada in the early 20th century. Ondaatje’s abandonment of chronological stability throughout the text, where multiple perspectives are seen, reminds readers of how perspective can give voice to the hidden decisions of history. The awful working conditions of migrant workers, the condition’s history chose to disregard, are portrayed within the chapters, ‘The Bridge’ and ‘The Palace of Purification’. The harsh labour of the men is shown in, “The men stood, ankle-deep in salt, filling casings, squeezing out shit and waste from animal intestines”, the low modality presenting the jarring circumstances of migrant workers, and the sibilance creating a tone of despairing labour. Additionally, the metaphor ‘North America is still without language, gestures and work and bloodlines are the only currency’, where ‘gestures and work’ exhibits the limitations of ways to express themselves, suggests that human connections in a post-colonial setting are marked by a lack of communication and comprehension, allowing readers to understand the extent to which migrants are denied a personal voice. The puppet scene is another illustration of the frustration of the migrant workers. Ondaatje’s use of the puppet as a symbol of the oppression of language in ‘They were all waiting for the large puppet to speak, but it could say nothing.’, indicates the migrants’ loss of personal voice due to the pervasiveness of the English language and Canadian culture. Ondaatje’s metaphorical judgement that Patrick was ‘a prism that reflected their lives’, shows the power of storytelling to promote personal meaning, illustrating the heterogeneity of the migrant experience. Ondaatje gives the migrant workers a voice through the power of language, making their achievements appreciated in history. Whilst Ondaatje shows his point of view about the migrant workers, Patrick was also telling his story. His denial demonstrates the discontent of the awful conditions where the working class were enforced to work by telling the worker’s stories and allowing their voices to be heard as fundamental.
The main protagonists in their respective texts and the composers themselves each told their own story to portray their opinions and perspectives on the social hierarchy. It is by these methods of storytelling, that we as the reader were able to feel a connection with the composer and the protagonist. To conclude, I’m not sure if you noticed but I’ve been holding up quotes every time I spoke of them. And through this, I just want to demonstrate that like the quote I chose mentioned, we really do live in a network of stories.
The Similarities and Differences of Porphyria’s Lover and My Last Duchess
Robert Browning, the 2nd is an English poet and playwright from the 1800’s. Browning was born on May 7, 1812 in a middle-class suburb in London. He started his early career making long poems. Browning was always inspired to write poems by his father. His father, Robert Browning, the 1st, had a library only available to him where there were historical anecdotes. At around 30 years of age, Browning wrote and published “My Last Duchess.” Browning’s second decision was to write “Porphyria’s Lover” which was first published in 1836. To draw a comparison between these two poems, it is vital to grasp the common thread between them. A Dramatic Monologue is a poem in the form of a speech or narrative by an imagined person, in which the speaker reveals aspects of their character while describing a situation. It has a more theatrical sense/quality to it than a normal monologue. It is a form of speech or narrative by an imagined person. Both poems have many similarities but are still very different in their many ways.
The Summary of the Poems
My Last Duchess starts off with “The Duke of Ferrara” who is the main character of this insightful poem. The literary composition starts off with The Duke debates with a servant for the hand of count’s female offspring in wedding. While the negotiations were going on, The Duke decided to keep a painting behind a curtain that only he is allowed to draw while the servant sits on the bench looking at it. While the Duke describes his painting, he mentions the artists name, Frà Pandolf. The duke also shows his control in the beginning parts of the poem. The Duke then ended up saying the portrait was of his former wife/lover. This pleased the Duchess and she ends up smiling the whole time. She was overly ecstatic when the Duke decided to take her hand in marriage. Although the poem doesn’t have an ending in which both characters are left joyful. It is mentioned in the poem “all smiles stopped together” which means he probably had killed her to shut her up.
Porphyria’s Lover starts off by describing the setting round the house of her lover. The speaker is the one living in the cottage and his lover is a young woman named Porphyria. She makes a dramatic entrance into the poem by coming out of a storm and tries to make a fire. They both eventually start talking and she mentions how she worships him. This poem also has a dark ending as well. The man decides to wrap her hair around her neck and strangles her.
Both dramatic monologues sound similar but different. The both tend to have a dark and deep ending to them, but there are many other things that factory in the similarities and differences. The Similarities are quite obvious, we have a dark ending at the end of each poem, and they are both a sort of love story. Both poems involve a man loving a woman and then killing her at the end of the poem. That’s not where the similarities stop though. Both men wish to have complete management in their relationships and in a very manner have possession of the woman. In “My Last Duchess,” The Duke shows he has all the control as he hires someone to murder his wife. This as compared to Porphyria’s lover shows that he has no control kills herself by choking herself with her hair However, it seems that in a way both the man and Porphyria killed her. They both ended up strangling her with her hair to kill her. It shows that she is only killed because it’s the only way her lover can stay with her spirit forever. This shows a similarity and a difference in both poems because in “My Last Duchess” the man hired someone to kill his spouse while in “Porphyria’s Lover” the man helps Porphyria kill herself. A simple way to explain this is that in “Porphyria’s Lover” Porphyria is killed through love, while in “My last Duchess” The Duke moves on after murdering his wife and goes on searching for a new one.
The Story of a Husband
Another Similarity is the fact that the poems are being told by the husbands. Both in “Porphyria’s Lover” and “My last Duchess” are the men telling the story, however in “Porphyria’s lover,” the story is written in present tense while in “My Last Duchess” the story is being written in past tense. In “My last Duchess” The Duke has found a new love and is already wanting to remarry. In “Porphyria’s Lover” doesn’t tell the story to a single person, it just tells it to the audience which is a similarity in ‘My Last Duchess.”
The structure is another major source of similarities and differences in the poems. The structure of the two poems shows when in the poem the men have control over their women. This doesn’t sound too bad since these poems were written back in the old times where woman didn’t have rights. At the end of “Porphyria’s Lover,” towards the end of the poem where the man decides to take control and help kill Porphyria.
Another set of differences is in the characters. Sure, we know that the characters are different, but it’s much more than that. The Duke decides to be cruel and murder his wife while Porphyria’s Lover is very lonely and kills his lover so he can keep her with him. He even seemed sure that it was a good thing to kill her. The Duke is excessively attentive to class whereas Porphyria’s Lover, rather than attempting to be powerful decides to be impartial in life. Like the Duke he is silent. Porphyria mentions in lines 21-30 that she is murmuring what proportion she loves her man which she was higher than him in status. We also see that both women are similar in their joyousness and their love for their men while the men are comparable in their control. It seems that The Duke was more powerful and had more control than the man in “Porphyria’s lover.”
The Ways of Love
Their treatment in love is very different in both works. In both works they show death as the best way to preserve love. The Duke is the one that kills in a more harmful way compared to Porphyria’s lover. Browning shows the different ways of love in these two poems as two different possibilities. For “Porphyria’s Lover,” It shows the story as a happy ending even though the woman was killed. However, it’s still better than “My Last Duchess” where The Duke tends to murder her and move on to another woman which doesn’t show the preservation of love too well.
The Nature of Lovers
The nature of the two lovers are completely different as well. What separates the lover in “Porphyria’s Lover” and additionally the one in “My last Duchess” is that the character of their monologue, in “Porphyria’s lover” her decision was to murder herself which was not expected while in “My Last Duchess” the Duke plans to murder her. This shows that the nature of the two poems are different even though they still have a similar theme. However, Porphyria’s lover involves a man who does not realize the actions of killing her due to his everyday abnormal thoughts, he also performs the killing without much rethinking of what he had done. The Duke, however murders his wife in a very dark way by murdering her. This shows that even though these poems are very similar that they could even be opposites based on their endings. One is a Love story with a death but in a good way while the other has a death in a sort of dark way. “Porphyria’s Lover has a good ending to it while “My last Duchess” has the sort of bad ending.
The theme of the two poems are also similar. The central theme of the two poems is love, but that’s not all. The main theme is the preserved loved for one’s self. Both lovers want to keep their woman for themselves. Porphyria has kept her lover consisted with himself while in the Duchess, her flirtatious personality forces her husband to control her.
The Treatment of Love
Browning’s treatment of love is also a comparison of both poems is unique. In both works, he shows death to preserve love. He doesn’t make it easy to take in this theme. Browning, however, does hint all of this for us. He will provide us relative thought to lovemaking and therefore the completely different repercussions it has.
“Porphyria’s Lover” and “My Last Duchess” are amazing works of art, Browning wrote in the 1800’s that put a major effect on his career. These are both amazing and interesting reads of light and love. They both have similar characteristics but that doesn’t mean they don’t have differences. Both poems compare and contrast when looking from the reader’s point of view and perspective. A major similarity that clearly resonates with the reader is the personification of love preservation. For “Porphyria’s Lover,” the story is more of a love story compared to “My Last Duchess.” It is motivating to notice how each of the lovers are speaking out of their mind. whereas Porphyria’s lover offers out obvious details regarding his feelings, thoughts, and therefore the act he completes. The duchess offers himself to her own will whereas the Duke decides to simply accept her fate. “My Last Duchess” takes on a darker approach on the love story.
The Duke ends up killing his wife by hiring someone to do so. Compared to “Porphyria’s Lover” Porphyria was willing her life to prolong their love for each other. These two pieces of Browning’s work take a turn when the first poem showed the wife’s free will to die, while the second poem took the wife’s choice to die to prolong her marriage out of her hands, and her spouse hired a hitman to kill her. This comparison of these two poems can be taken in in many ways since Browning doesn’t make it easy for us to take in the theme. He also never says that the only way to preserve love, because there are many different ways to do so. Killing your loved ones isn’t really a good way to preserve love. Cherishing your life with your loved ones is much better than killing to preserve your loved ones. The Duke, for example, doesn’t find this as a good solution to preserving love and tends to murder his wife. We also have to understand the fact that these poems were written in the 1800’s which people at that time had many different beliefs than we do today.
Relationships Issues in My Last Duchess
How do My Last Duchess and La Belle Dame Sans Merci present differing views on love and relationships?
Whilst ‘My Last Duchess’ is a poem showing the misogyny and megalomania which comes with absolute, total power, ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’ is a poem warning against the vulnerability and impotence caused by lusting for a woman. In the following I will be exploring the two poems and detailing their similarities and differences.
In LBDSM, the man appears to be at the mercy of the woman, whereas in MLD, the reverse appears to be true in that that the obsessive Duke controlling the Duchess and her actions. In LBDSM, the modifier “full beautiful” acts as a superlative demonstrating the woman’s immense beauty, controlling the infatuated and impotent knight. The connotations of the word “full”, being an absolute, is that the beauty of the woman, in the eyes of the knight cannot surpass any more levels and she is the perfect woman. The sexual realm in which these two meet is an infatuated fantasy shown through the overly excessive, suggestive sexual imagery. The knight, in this fantastical series of events, causes the woman to “make sweet moan”. The use of the adjective “sweet” shows how he imagines her, a true depiction of perfection. His constant compliments towards his “lady” are reference to the courtly love tradition, but his own words condemn him in the reader’s eyes, if not his own. In MLD, however, the Duke Experiences states far from impotence, the complete opposite, his potent control over his guests and his late wife. The structure of the poem is a clear indication of his megalomaniacal nature, in that it is an extended monologue, with no break of speech or pauses from the duke. The fact that there is no intermission from his guest also depicts an image of destructive control, to the point where the rhetorical device employed, his voyeurism used to show his immense self-pride and righteous nature, makes his speech unreliable. The hyperbole employed by Robert Browning “her looks went everywhere” is used by the Duke to imply that she flirted with everyone that she met, which is unlikely to be true, but not out of kilter with everything else he’s said. His sociopathic tendencies however, and the unreliable voice of the narrator, suggest to the reader that this is another fabrication on his part. This shows his misogyny because it shows how he restricted her freedom of speech and didn’t allow her to speak with anyone on a friendly level, as he interpreted it all as flirting.
Both MLD and LBDSM explore the obsession that both male protagonists have with the female in the poem. The duke shows his obsession with his last duchess, through the use of his innuendo and euphemism which he uses to renounce the promiscuity of the lady. As he describes her looks as they “went everywhere”, he follows up with the rhetorical question “who passed without much the same smile?” The rhetoric employed here suggests her promiscuous nature, from which we can infer that he is, again, manipulating his listener; he is attempting to induce sympathy from the listener as he describes her ‘unthinkable’ nature and the fact that, despite all she did, he was able to rise above this and forgive her… The control in his voice, and the rhetorical sophistication shows a complete lack of emotional engagement, reference to his obsessive and megalomaniacal personality. The Knight, in “La Belle Dame Sans Merci”, however, is obsessed with the woman in a far more sympathy inducing way, in that the tone he uses draws the reader in and becomes so mellow and nostalgic, before explaining the heartbreak caused by the woman. The obsession on display here is reference to the courtly love tradition of Victorian poetry. The knight’s devotion and adoration for the woman are shown through the actions carried out, such as when he “made a garland” for the woman and made “bracelets too”, which show the time taken to create such beautiful accessories, a reference to how much he cares. The infatuated vocabulary used by the Knight showcases the obsession he has with her physical beauty. Her “foot was light” which suggests and apparition like nature of the woman, in that he sees her as angelic and her beauty as unreal, as he describes her as a “faery’s child”.
In both “My Last Duchess” and “La Belle Dame Sans Merci”, there is a figure in control, though MLD expresses self-righteous and entitled views whereas in LBDSM, the controlling woman masks her malicious intent, an iron fist in a velvet glove. The paradox employed by the Duke in MLD “who’d stoop to blame this sort of trifling” shows how no one should have to bother themselves with this kind of trivial silliness, although, in fact, he’s just spent the previous 33 lines doing exactly that. The word “stoop” is used here by Robert Browning to induce a scornful take from the audience as they see this entitled duke as a man of high society, the epitome of aristocracy, whereas “stoop” has connotations of the working class, back problems from heavy manual labour. This contradiction, and the Duke’s willingness to openly contradict himself shows his superiority, in that he can say and do whatever he wants challenging his listener to pick up on it, illustrating his disdain for all around him. The control displayed by “La Belle Dame”, however is of a similar malice, but is put across in a more subtle way. The main reference to her absolute power is toward the end when he says she “lulléd me asleep”. The connotations of “lulléd” are that of gentleness and kindness, as one would send a baby off to sleep. This phrase, however is juxtaposed with the next stanza of the “death pale” kings and princes showing how he has been tricked into a state of drowsiness which results in his slow and painful death. The taunting of the kings and princes and warriors, “La Belle Dame Sans Merci/Thee hath in thrall!” shows his ignorance to her power over his life or death, in that these men of power and potency have all been brought to the same fate as this lowly knight.
In conclusion, I believe that both of these poems, though they have different relationship leaders, both hold the same message warning against what can come of an imbalance of power, impotence and infatuation, and on the opposite end the megalomania and misogyny.
Symbols in My Last Duchess Novel
“My Last Duchess” by Robert Browning is written as a dramatic monologue that gives the appearance as if it is being said on stage in front of an audience. It is inferred through the poem that this style was possibly chosen in order to emphasize the main point of view, the Duke. This method of writing not only emphasizes the will of the main character, but most importantly, silences the voice of the antagonist, the Duchess. Through the Duke’s speech he reveals his own nature and the situation that he finds himself in. “My Last Duchess” is a poem that is immensely dominated by the male character, which serves to give us his opinions on his last wife. Due to his point of view we are made to gather negative feelings toward her, while also digging deep into the poem and discovering her true identity. Without a doubt, I believe that this poem serves the purpose of giving a voice to the Duke’s last Duchess, because hers was so tragically silenced by male dominance. Robert Browning’s use of symbolism, irony, and language, reveals the theme of power in the poem and, therefore, gives a voice to the voiceless.
The role of symbolism is exceedingly relevant in the construction of “My Last Duchess”, because it aids in shedding light on the cruel and selfish demeanor of the Duke. The poem consists of two big symbols: Fra Pandolf’s painting of the Duchess and blushing. Although the painting is a more obvious symbol, both aid in revealing the theme equally. The painting by Fra Pandolf is the primary focus throughout the entire poem and gives us insight into what the Duchess, according to the Duke, did wrong. To begin, the Duke describes the painting of the Duchess “looking as if she were alive” (Browning 2). The Duke’s interpretation of the life-likeness of the painting symbolizes his belief that by controlling the painting, he can control the Duchess. The poem then goes on to describe how the Duke keeps the painting behind a curtain and only draws it back to show his audience. This description of the way the painting is treated further symbolizes the Duke’s possession; the Duchess is only revealed at the time the Duke pleases and to those that he allows. By having control over who sees the painting and when it is seen, the Duke feels as though he is regaining the control he once lost over his Duchess. The Duke’s power of the Duchess is even prevalent in his description of the artist who painted the Duchess: “I call that piece a wonder, now Fra Pandolf’s hands/ Worked busily a day, and there she stands” (2-4). The Duke does not refer to the artist himself, but instead, to his hands. By doing so, the artist is stripped of his identity and brought down to being a tool, revealing the Duke’s extreme psychotic control over the Duchess. For goodness sake, the Duke couldn’t even give credit to the man who painted his wife, because that would imply that he had to look at her.
Another symbol in “My Last Duchess” is blushing. Although it is such a simple act, it yields much meaning within the poem. It is revealed that the Duke believes the biggest flaw of the Duchess was her sociable presence, which to him, was flirtatious. In fact, her flirtatious tendencies are described by the Duke as such, “‘twas not/ Her husband’s presence only, called that spot/ Of joy into the Duchess’ cheek…” (13-15). Through context it is inferred that what the narrator refers to as spots of joy, are actually used to describe the Duchess’ blushing, which she happens to do quite frequently. The Duchess’ blushing is symbolically called spots of joy, because it is an uncontrollable act that happens whenever she is happy of joyful- it is an involuntary signal of the Duchess’ pleasure. This act of blushing is symbolic, because the Duke views it as another thing he can not control and therefore, believes it is a tarnish on the Duchess’ pure nature. The Duchess’ tendency to blush easily based on everything she saw, threatened the Duke’s power because he was unable to control both her physical and mental signs of emotion. Both the painting of the Duchess and her blushing, are symbolic of the Duke’s exhibited power of his late wife.
“My Last Duchess” is filled with ample examples of irony, because it aids in the dramatic aspect of the plot. Much of the irony becomes evident in the Duke’s analysis of his late Duchess. For example, the Duke describes his wife as being “too easily impressed; she liked whate’er/ She looked on, and her looks went everywhere” (23-24). This remark goes along with the symbol of the Duchess’ blushing, but serves a greater purpose in regards to irony. It is extremely ironic that the Duchess is criticized for genuinely being a friendly, outgoing, and kind person who is in love with nature. Today, one would address these attributes positively, but the Duke views them as flirtatious and whore-like, as if she wants to be with everyone. The Duke continues to criticize his late wife by saying that 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” (31-34). The Duke recognizes the Duchess’ politeness, but manages to selfishly turn it in his favor by associating her politeness with an act that was given too often, and made her politeness to him more so worthless. The final example of irony is the fact that the Duke blatantly opposes the possibility that, “Who’d stoop to blame this sort of trifling?” (34-35). The Duke believes that he would have had to lower himself to get the Duchess to behave, but he would never do so. However, quite ironically, the entire poem is him lowering himself by basically trashing the Duchess and making her seem like something she is not. It is ironic that everything the Duchess does that to us, is seen as a positive thing, the Duke turns to negative, making us believe that he was the victim.
Language is the final key element that aids in revealing the theme of power in Robert Browning’s “My Last Duchess.” The main part of language that this poem emphasizes is the use of different words to express specific meanings. Throughout the poem one is able to gather a sense of the Duke’s power through his use of possessive words such as “my.” Whenever he refers to the painting, he is sure to say, “my last Duchess.” Along with the use of “my”, “I” is used quite throughout in order to reveal the Duke’s self-absorbed nature, which ultimately is the foundation of his power. The use of possessive pronouns shows the Duchess less as a woman or wife, but more as an object or prized possession. Another example of language in “My Last Duchess” is the Duke’s consistent use of the word “sir.” Taking the time period into consideration and the poem as a whole, it is inferred that the Duke uses this word frequently in order to showcase his superiority and social standing. This then leads into the poem’s allusion to the Roman God, Neptune, who in Greek Mythology, is the infamous Poseidon, God of the sea. The passage from the poem reads, “Notice Neptune, though/ Taming a sea-horse, though a rarity/ Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me!” (55-57). This remark makes an allusion to Neptune’s ability to tame a sea horse, to the Duke’s unnecessary need to tame the Duchess. As Neptune is far too powerful to waste his time on taming a simple sea horse, the Duke does not need to waste his time taming his late wife, yet he does exactly that. Finally, the last moment of possession seen in the poem is the author’s use of an exclamation mark to note his ultimate power.
The Duke in “My Last Duchess” sheds light on the effect that male selfishness and power has on women, but also brings to light the true reality. Although the entire poem is focused on the Duke’s interpretation of his late Duchess, it is revealed through deeper context that the true meaning of the poem is to give the Duchess the voice she deserves; to clear her name of all the Duke’s accusations. It is revealed through symbolism, irony, and language that the Duke has a serious issue with dominance and power, and therefore, is seen as quite psychotic. A prime example of the Duke’s psychotic behaviors is inferred in lines 45-46, in which the Duke remarks, “This grew. I gave commands/ Then all smiles stopped altogether.” ((45-46). The more the Duke is seen as insane, the less accurate his thoughts on the Duchess become, thus giving her a voice.