Analyze the character of the duke in Robert Browning's poem "My Last Duchess."

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parkerlee eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The duke is a very proud, vain and egotistical lord who views his ex-wife as an object or "trophy" rather than as a person. Super-macho and so blasé as to not even be aware of it, he takes pride in showing his house guest various family heirlooms, among them being her portrait done by a reputed artist named Fra Pandolf. The duke evidently wants to show off his wealth, his acquisitions, and his elitism, flounting the fact of having rubbed elbows with such famous people. In the same breath he "dumbs down" his first wife and decrees her as unworthy - as if her banishment reinforces his own superiority:

There is no need to think that the Duke is conscious of his implications: given his excessive pride, his refusal ever to stoop, he could hardly tolerate allowing another to believe his Duchess unfaithful to him, especially through his own revelation, however subtle.

Through his comments, the guest (the reader) also takes a guided tour through the duke's twisted soul and warped value system. For instance, he avows having taken offense at the first duchess's simple joy of living and a blush appearing when she posed for the portrait ("a spot of joy on her cheek"), suspected infidelity and "treason" when no real justification or proof of it was there. Dispensing with her, he moves on to take another conquest, a new wife who will supply the obsessive fawning demanded by his super ego:

As he believes is only his right, the Duke attempts to acquire another Duchess who will respond solely to him, and to that end he tells his last Duchess's story. In so doing he reveals a colossal ego. But through his very skill in speech he betrays that ego, for his subtle and unconscious slander of his last victim exposes at bottom an instinctive self-justifier, or at least a man predictably insecure behind a tyrant's swagger.

The final "crunch" comes when he turns abruptly from this subject to admire a statue another artist has recently cast for him, am image of Neptune taming a sea-horse. In truth, the statue embodies his own concept of domination, especially over women. He finishes as he starts, contemplating his own power, his refined artistic taste, his superiority.

In short, a V.I.P. to be venerated and admired!

favoritethings eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The duke is a terrible narcissist, who excessively admires himself and cares little or not at all for the feelings or lives of others. Of the duchess, he reveals that

'twas not
Her husband's presence only, called that spot
Of joy into the Duchess' cheek [...].

Just about everything, it seems, brought the duchess joy: his love, the sunset, fresh fruit, a pretty mule, and so forth. The duke feels that she was "too soon made glad, / Too easily impressed." She failed to rank his gift, the gift of being his wife and taking his name, above all other gifts, and her failure to recognize the superiority of this gift to everyone and everything else irritated and angered him. He says that it's true that he could have spoken to her about her error and made her see it his way, but, he says,

E'en then would be some stooping; and I choose
Never to stoop.

He feels it would be beneath him to have to explain why she ought to be more appreciative of his gifts than anyone else's, why she ought to be more affected by his presence than anyone else's. The duke will not "stoop" to explain this to her. Instead, he determined, simply, to get rid of her and start afresh with a new duchess. He says,

I gave commands;
Then all smiles stopped together.

Almost worse than the fact that he, apparently, had her murdered is the fact that he seems to feel that he was well within his rights to do so, that it was justified by her behavior. Because of his position and power, he can simply "g[i]ve commands," and his status seems to justify his behavior, at least to himself. Now, she is merely another one of his possessions, her portrait hung behind a curtain that "none puts by" but he, equivalent in his mind to his sculpture of "Neptune [...] / Taming a sea-horse" by another famous artist.

The duke only recognizes his own desires, and he never considers the duchess's. Rather than be grateful for her joyful spirit, he condemns her for being so easily pleased because he wants to be the thing that pleases her the most. Because she does not acknowledge his superiority in all things, he gets rid of her so that he can find someone else who will.

sullymonster eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Duke is obviously proud and very concerned with his own importance and nobility.  It is the Duchess' friendly behavior that really irritates him because it elevates others to his equal footing:

"as if she ranked
My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name
With anybody's gift. Who'd stoop to blame
This sort of trifling?"

The Duke says that he is not a good speaker  --- "Even had you skill/In speech—(which I have not)" --- but he speech to the emissary shows he clearly does have very good speaking skills.  This lets us know that he can lie easily when it suits his will, and that he is not a man to be trusted.

The Duke also show his pride, and even more so, his need to absolutely control every situation.   He speaks of how he might have handled the situation with her, suggesting he could have talked to her.  However, to have talked to her would have been to let go of some control, and he refuses to.  See the lines below.

However—and if she let
Herself be lessoned so, nor plainly set
Her wits to yours, forsooth, and made excuse,
—E'en then would be some stooping; and I choose
Never to stoop.

Finally, the Duke shows that he is vindicative and tyrranical.  He will get his own revenge to make sure it is clear who has the power.  He says:

I gave commands;
Then all smiles stopped together.

sabbirbubt | Student

Hello everyone,

I want to address the character traits of the Duke as he portrays himself throughout.

  • Arrogance
  • Balefulness
  • Manipulative

I feel these three characteristics, would be the easiest to convey.

 

Thanks,
Sabbir Rayhan
Department of English
Bangladesh University of Business & Technology