Please give an explanation of the following lines from "My Last Duchess."
That's my last duchess painted on the wall,
Looking as if she were alive. I call
That piece a wonder, now: Frà Pandolf's hands
Worked busily a day, and there she stands.
Will't please you sit and look at her? I said
"Frà Pandolf" by design, for never read
Strangers like you that pictured countenance,
The depth and passion of its earnest glance,
But to myself they turned (since none puts by
The curtain I have drawn for you, but I)
And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst...
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You have quoted the first few lines of the poem, which makes it clear that this poem is an example of a dramatic monologue. Note the way in which the speaker is addressing someone, but although he asks this person questions, he does not wait for an answer, as is shown by the fifth line. The speaker quickly continues his narrative and gives no opportunity for the hearer to respond.
These first few lines then establish the setting. From the description of the painting as being of "my last Duchess," we can infer that the speaker is the Duke, and that he has had more than one wife. He also gives testament to the incredible skill involved in the painting, that makes it look as if the dead Duchess is actually alive. We are told that a monk painted her and that very few people actually get to see this painting because a curtain covers it. The portrait of the Duchess bears an "earnest glance." This beginning therefore raises more questions than answers. Why is the Duke showing this portrait to his hearer, and who is his hearer? Answering these questions will help you to unlock the meaning of this rather disturbing poem.
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