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Friday, April 24, 2020

Critical Appreciation - My Last Duchess by Robert Browning

Robert Browning is one of the greatest Victorian poets who employed dramatic monologue as the medium of expression very skillfully and effectively. Therefore, whenever the term 'dramatic monologue' is mentioned, the name of Robert Browning immediately comes to our mind. His "My Last Duchess" has been considered as one of the finest dramatic monologue produced in the arena of English poetry.

Critical Appreciation - My Last Duchess by Robert Browning
My Last Duchess by Robert Browning

In a dramatic monologue, the speaker is not the poet; the character speaks to a silent listener. Thus, it is cast in a form of a speech addressed to a silent listener. Its aim is character study or psychoanalysis. Hugh Walker says, "Browning made dramatic monologue specially his own and put into it rich and varied material.”

My Last Duchess

The poem “My last Duchess” takes us to the place of Duke in Ferrara, where the Duke speaks to the envoy of a Count. The envoy has come to propose the Count’s daughter to the Duke. The Duke, while talking takes his guest round the portrait gallery and draws a curtain aside from the portrait of his last Duchess painted on the wall. He says that it has been painted by Fra Pandolf, the imaginary name of the painter. 

The Duke further adds that all those who saw that picture turned silent as if to ask him why the Duchess has such a passionate look on her face. He further explains that anything would delight the Duchess or would please her because she thought all this showed politeness and respect for her.

The Duke means to say that she had an immense happiness that could be pleased very easily. Her earnest impression and smiling glance went alike to everyone. It was without any distinction of persons. The same smile light her face again when the Duke, her husband showed her special favour as when a fool would present her a bough of cherries. 

It seemed to him from her manner of showing her gratitude for such simple and trivial thing that she deemed his gift subordinate and ordinary.

In fact, the Duke expected a different and special approach on the part of the Duchess regarding him or his gift. Her negligence and indifference filled him with anger and disgust. He could neither complain nor could he tolerate because it was below dignity for him. He could have corrected her and she would have yielded to his decision. 

But his ago would have been hurt. Instead of expressing it, he decided to act. He gave commands “so that she would never smile. Thus, “All smiling stopped together.” As a result, he says, “there she stands as if alive". Thus, the Duke got her killed by his order.

Then the Duke takes the Envoy to the other part of the palace. He talks about dowry which would be fetched in new proposal but he talk about it in a very clever manner. At the same time, he showed that his main attraction is a beautiful body and not the dowry. He speaks as if dowry is immaterial for him. 

The Duke points out to a rare statue of bronze - the figure of Neptune taming the seahorse. From the poem it becomes clear that the Duke is a widower and he is strict and severe. He is also a man of egotism; he has aristocratic pride. He is least interested in the good qualities of the Duchess because nine hundred years old name of his family is more important for him.

The unfortunate fate of the Duchess provides a sharp warning to the next. It is an indication that even a new bride might join the portrait gallery if she follows the same path of his last Duchess. "My Last Duchess" is a perfect example of dramatic monologue composed by Robert Browning. 


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