Analyze "My Last Duchess" based on the criteria below.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning felt that "good poetry" could be written about contemporary concerns and that it was unnecessary to write about themes from which the poet was distantly removed.
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Oh dear. Clearly, based on Elizabeth Barret Browning's criteria, this poem is not a success. However, it would be wrong of us to consider that every poem that is not based around the experience of the poet to be inferior and lacking in value. Robert Browning is known as the master of dramatic monologues, and he creates a huge variety of monologues, imagining what various characters would say who come from all parts of the world and different historical mediums.
Even though this poem is separated from Browning's immediate context through time and geography, we can still argue that it contains significant merit. This is based around the way that the character of the Duke is explored, in particular through how he talks about his last Duchess. Note how his imperious and rather savage nature is hinted at: "I choose / Never to stoop." Talking about his concerns that his Duchess smiles too much, with these words the Duke refuses to lower himself (as he sees it) to discuss his feelings with his wife and instead he only "gave commands" that resulted in the smiles stopping forever. Although no reference is directly made, we are meant to infer that he had his Duchess killed.
What becomes infinitely more chilling, is that we realise at the end of the poem that the intended audience of this monologue is a servant whose job is to broker another marriage with his master's daughter. The psychological complexity of the Duke in revealing this information about his last Duchess to such a person makes this poem incredibly fascinating and we are left wondering whether the Duke is so full of his own power and arrogance that he treats all around him as possessions, or whether he is coldly manipulative and sending a very direct message about the kind of behaviour he expects from his wife. Even though the poem is distant from its author, it is undeniable that it is a text that exerts a curious fascination on us as readers.
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