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.
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.