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"My Last Duchess" by Robert Browning - review.

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Introduction

The first time one reads the poem "My Last Duchess" by Robert Browning, one would most likely not understand much of what is being said by the speaker. I, for one, did not. What makes this poem harder to understand at first, is the style it is written in, namely as a monologue. But not just a simple monologue, but a monologue that also incorporates some dialogue, however strange that might seem. As much as I could understand it, the poem is set in renaissance times and incorporates the "Duke" who is the speaker, talking to somebody, possibly an agent who is negotiating a marriage between the Duke and a "Count" whose "fair daughter's self ... / is [his] object". As they sit around a painting of the Duchess, the Duke begins reminiscing about the portrait sessions and telling the person about the "spot / Of joy on the Duchess' cheek", that it was not "her husband's presence only" that called the spot onto her cheek, but "perhaps Fra Pandolf [the painter] chanced to say" something that "Was courtesy, she thought", "For she had a heart ... ...read more.

Middle

The reader is left to speculate what is actually meant by the Duke "giving orders", but it is highly probable that the orders were, indeed, to kill the Duchess. The Duke, finally, ends his 'tirade' and casually mentions, what I believe is the dowry of the his new bride, he understands that the Counts name "Is ample warrant that no just pretense / Of [his] for dowry will be disallowed", though of course it is "[The Count's] fair daughter's self ... that is [his] object". The poem ends rather abruptly with the Duke pointing out a statue of "Neptune ... thought a rarity / Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me!" As mentioned earlier, the poem is a monologue, which, quite cleverly incorporates some conversation, with all parts spoken by the Duke. The audience, or person to whom the Duke is speaking, even though never says a word, seems present, participating in a conversation. The Duke describing some of the audiences' actions makes this possible: he answers, for example, the questioning glance he gets from the guest about the "spot of joy on the Duchess' cheek". ...read more.

Conclusion

These comments occur at random places, and thus contribute to the overall feeling of the authenticity of the informality in the 'conversation'. Notably, the end of the poem is rather interesting as well. For one, it comes abruptly, after what would have been the natural ending of the poem as the Duke and his guest "go / Together down", it is the part about the bronze statue of Neptune. The abrupt change from talking about his deceased wife to talking about a valuable statue hints about how he treats the Duchess: as a part of his collection, not more valuable than the statue. Note with what the poem ends: "cast ... for me". The Duke is very self-focused, he wants everything to revolve around him, his wife needs to obey him, without even needing any hints on what is expected of her and what is not! A bit unreasonably. Finally I would like to reiterate that this poem is more than what it seems at first glance, the author has really done a terrific job of recreating a renaissance environment and emphasizing the unreasonabilities and injustices of the society towards women, who were treated as a piece of property, which could be disposed at will. ...read more.

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