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In "My Last Duchess," how does Browning make us understand that the Duke's remarks are...

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nikitasing | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 1) Honors

Posted October 22, 2012 at 10:56 PM via web

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In "My Last Duchess," how does Browning make us understand that the Duke's remarks are biased?

What evidence is there that hypocrisy is another aspect of the Duke's character? What does he, three times, depricate his ability to relate precisely what he wishes?

What is the effect of of mentioning another work of art at the end of the monologue? What does his remark show us about the Duke? is there any significance to the statue of Neptune taming a seahorse?

Although the Duke is unsympathetic, are you still fascinated by him? If so, explain why?

yes could it be a detailed explanation of the poetry, im trying to understand it better. so if possible could all the quesions be answered, i would truly appreciate it.

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jmsailer | Teacher | (Level 1) Adjunct Educator

Posted November 5, 2012 at 8:19 PM (Answer #1)

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Browning makes us understand that his remarks are biased first by the first person narrative which from the very beginning establishes the speaker as the reference point for all his remarks: "my last duchess," and "I call that piece a wonder" (his opinion is what matters). Primarily, however, we see it when he mentions that the painting was done by "Fra Pandolf's hands" and goes on to say, "I said 'Fra Pandolf' by design." In other words, he has a particular view of the story that he wants to convey to the audience and cleverly sets the framework up from the very beginning. He wants to turn the listener's mind against his wife by ominously mentioning the significance of this other man.


Some evidence of hypocrisy in the Duke's character is given when he implies that his wife would have pleased him better if she had shown more gratitude for his "nine-hundreds-years-old name" and had specially favored and honored him, and yet he tells the emissary that he wishes only to marry the Count's daughter--money is not his object. However, if the latter were true and he were really as selfless as he paints himself by that remark, he would have been pleased with his wife's happiness instead of being jealous of it.

He deprecates his ability to relate precisely what he wishes (lines 22, 32, and 36) because, hypocritically, he wishes to appear delicate and humble and thereby to show himself as the offended and not the offender. The "hesitance" to speak gives the impression that he is being charitable to his former wife--he seems to be refusing to be precise. At the same time he implies that since describing or speaking to his wife would call for such an effort from him, she must be unspeakably unworthy and guilty.

By mentioning another work at the end of the monologue, the Duke seems to toss off the story of his former wife as one of indifference. The painting is meant to appear to him and to his listener as just one of many pieces of artwork. He is thus shown to be cruel, callous, heartless, and cold--but also cunning. By telling the story in the first place, he is trying to imply what a great man he is (including the idea that he was wronged and thereby perhaps trying to assuage any fears that might have existed about his first wife), but in passing quickly from it, he tries to downplay the ominous side of the story by acting as though it matters little.

There seems to be significance in the fact that this next piece of artwork is that of Neptune taming a seahorse. Neptune, the god of the sea, trains a beast within his domain to do his bidding. The Duke, notice, had this statue made; it is one to which he is attracted, probably because it is one to which he feels a kinship. The Duke is like this depiction of Neptune. He wishes to be master of his wife, to whom he affords about the same dignity the seahorse has, and he wishes to be worshipped by her like a god. She must bow to his will and set him first before and above all else. Perhaps the Duke had an ulterior motive in showing the statue at the same time he talks to the emissary about the dowry; he may wish to convey that he is a man of strength, and not to be trifled with.

In his overwhelming egotism and masterfulness, the Duke is fascinating. He has a power and strength about him; he seems to be made of iron. One wonders how such a person can be so human, and yet so inhuman--and what evil he will coldly do next.

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