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In "My Last Duchess," why is this "name" so important to the Duke?

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vhabiljack | Student, College Freshman

Posted March 29, 2013 at 4:58 AM via web

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In "My Last Duchess," why is this "name" so important to the Duke?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted March 29, 2013 at 6:45 AM (Answer #1)

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In this disturbing dramatic monologue it is clear that the reader is only presented with the thoughts and words of the Duke, and, in addition, to make it more fascinating, the reader is very aware that these words are delivered to a specific audience and therefore the Duke has a specific purpose in choosing to reveal what he does reveal. The importance of the audience is only made clear at the end of the poem, when it is shown that the audience is a servant of another lord who is trying to marry his daughter to the Duke. This is something that casts the Duke's dramatic monologue into sharp relief, for it either reveals him to be a sadistic murderer who is giving a very clear warning message to this servant about how his future wife should behave, or he is a man so obsessed with his own importance and power that he doesn't even consider what he did to be a crime and mentions it in passing. Either way, the "name" that the Duke refers to links to his own importance, as the following quote explores:

She thanked men,—good! but
     thanked
Somehow—I know not how—as if she ranked
My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name
With anybody's gift.

The Duke clearly places great value in his "nine-hundred-years-old name" and feels that this is something his wife should have respected more. It is clear that the "name" of the Duke is integral to his identity and importance, and by feeling that his wife is slighting his "name" he is clearly annoyed, which leads to the smiles of the Duchess being prematurely ended. The name of the Duke therefore is part of his self-importance that he expresses so stridently in this poem.

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