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‘My Last Duchess’ by Browning as a Dramatic Monologue

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    Robert Browning was an English poet whose mastery of dramatic verse, especially dramatic monologues, made him one of the foremost Victorian poets. “My Last Duchess” is one of his best known dramatic monologues in which the speaker reveals his character to a silent listener. This poem is loosely based on historical events involving Alfonso, the Duke of Ferrara, who lived in the 16th century. The Duke is the speaker of the poem. He tells us he is entertaining a representative who has come to settle the widowed Duke’s marriage to the daughter of another powerful family.

    As he shows the visitor through his palace, he stops before a portrait of the late Duchess. She is apparently a young and lovely girl. The Duke begins recalling about the portrait sessions, then about the Duchess herself. His musings give way to a criticism on her disgraceful behavior. He claims she flirted with everyone and did not appreciate his “gift of a nine-hundred-years- old name. ” As his monologue continues, the reader realizes with ever-more chilling certainty that the Duke in fact caused the Duchess’s early demise.

    When her behavior rose, he: “gave commands; Then all smiles stopped together. ” Having made this revelation, the Duke returns to the business at hand. He goes on to arrange for another marriage, with another young girl. Browning has more in mind than simply creating a colorful character and placing him in a picturesque historical scene. Rather, the specific historical setting of the poem tells of much significance. The Italian Renaissance held a particular fascination for Browning for it represented the flowering of the aesthetic and the human alongside.

    It also reflects the religious and the moral thoughts. Thus the temporal setting allows Browning to explore sex, violence, and aesthetics together. The Duke’s ravings suggest that most of the supposed lapses took place only in his mind. A poem like “My Last Duchess” calculatedly engages its readers on a psychological level. Because we hear only the Duke’s thoughts, we must piece the story together ourselves. Browning forces his reader to become involved in the poem in order to understand it, and this adds to the fun of reading his work.

    It also forces the reader to question his or her own response to the subject portrayed and the method of its portrayal. “My Last Duchess” comprises rhyming pentameter lines. The lines do not employ end-stops rather, the sentences and other grammatical units do not necessarily conclude at the end of lines. Consequently, the rhymes do not create a sense of closure when they come, but rather remain a subtle driving force behind the Duke’s compulsive revelations.

    The Duke is quite a performer: he imitates others’ voices, creates hypothetical situations, and uses the force of his personality to make horrifying information seem merely colorful. In fine, we can say that the poem provides a classic example of a dramatic monologue: the speaker is clearly distinct from the poet; an audience is suggested but never appears in the poem; and the revelation of the Duke’s character is the poem’s primary aim.

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    ‘My Last Duchess’ by Browning as a Dramatic Monologue. (2017, Mar 30). Retrieved from

    Frequently Asked Questions

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    What is dramatic monologue and how does Robert Browning?
    The dramatic monologue as launched in English literature during the Victorian period by Robert Browning, is a purposeful poetic means for a specified pragmatic end. Although it is dramatic, but it is not envisioned for the theatre. It is an unnatural conversation that is unbalanced toward the speaker's intentions.
    Why does Browning use a dramatic monologue?
    The dramatic monologue verse form allowed Browning to explore and probe the minds of specific characters. This particular format allowed Browning to maintain a great distance between himself and his creations: by channeling the voice of a character, Browning could expose evil without actually being evil himself.

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