My Last Duchess’ is a dramatic monologue written by the celebrated poet Robert Browning. Browning has structured the poem in rhyming couplets and with iambic pentameter. This creates a comfortable rhythm when read aloud. The poem is from the point of view of a Duke, and set in the 16th Century Italy. At this time men were very much in control of their wives, and viewed them as their ‘property. This is shown frequently throughout the Duke’s narration and allows us to decipher other disturbing details bout him.
The Duke begins his narration by proudly introducing his “last duchess painted on the wall” to a second and presently unknown man. To immediately start with this line implies that he is very proud of this portrait and is showing it off. He calls “that piece a wonder” which removes all personal links to the duchess, and tells us that he is more interested in the painting than her. A few lines down, he comments on how others have seen the painting, have “pictured countenance” and have asked him about the “depth and passion” of the duchess’ facial expression. He ays they wondered “how such a glance came there”.
This is already quite disturbing because as far as we know, no one has asked him anything and he is misreading body language. This could suggest that he is over-eager to boast about his last duchess and the masterpiece in which she is painted. Further down the poem, the Duke begins to get angry as he continues to talk about the duchess. He states that when alive, she was “too easily impressed” and that “her looks went everywhere”. This hints to us that the duchess perhaps was seeing other men at the same time as the Duke. On top of this, the word “easily’ suggests that he sees her character as weak, and that he is insulting her.
If she was indeed “too easily impressed”, it shows that she quickly and irrationally fell in love with other men whilst been married to the Duke; perhaps with Fra Pandolf, the man who painted her. The Duke continuously hints to us that “Fra Pandolfs hands” may have had another purpose other than Just to paint her. We know the Duke thinks this because he creates a scene in which Fra Pandolf has perhaps said to the duchess that “her mantle laps over my ladys wrist oo much”, which implies that he could have wanted her to reveal more of her body to him.
Of course, this is all created by the Duke, and explains to us the paranoid and fragmented thoughts that have been circling his mind. Another disturbing feature of his narration is the punctuation. Browning often uses a caesura while the Duke is speaking his thoughts aloud, clearly illustrating his fragmented and troubled mind. For example, throughout the first five lines of the poem, the sentences are broken up – “That piece a wonder, now:” – demonstrating how his thoughts are broken up and ncomfortable.
These thoughts are perhaps, the thoughts of a murderer. In conclusion, Brownings portrayal of the narrator in ‘My Last Duchess’ shows he is a disturbed character. He does this in a number of ways. One way is by using fragmented punctuation, another is the Duke taking more interest in the portrait rather than the actual lady, and a third is how the Duke describes the duchess as weak and vulnerable. All ot these techniques contribute towards making come across as a very disturbing character. the narrator