My Last Duchess Character Analysis

Describe the Duke’s character in Browning’s “My Last Duchess.”

The duke in "My Last Duchess" is haughty, imperious, jealous, and autocratic. He is also guilty, and feels the need for confession, since he fears the judgment of God.

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The duke in the poem "My Last Duchess" has many of the classic traits of a narcissistic personality, including an inflated sense of self-importance, an excessive need for admiration, problems with interpersonal relationships, and a lack of empathy.

The duke tells the story of the late, deceased duchess, oblivious to how it makes him sound. With an inflated sense of self importance, he assumes that whatever he thinks and does is right, not seeming to comprehend that others might be critical of his behavior. He finds intolerable that his young wife behaved in ways most people would find perfectly reasonable and generous. For instance, she takes pleasure in the small gifts, like cherries, that others give her, a sunset, and a compliment from the artist painting her portrait. The duke deeply resents this as he wants all her attention and admiration to be focused exclusively on him.

The duke's intolerance of his wife's very normal behavior leads him to have a relationship problem with her. He shows his lack of empathy in how he treats her, implying he had her killed:

I gave commands;
Then all smiles stopped together.
The duke exhibits no regret or remorse that his wife's is dead, moving immediately on to pointing out her portrait. He values her more as a portrait, an art object he can own and show off, than as a living human being who threatened his ego.
One hopes the emissary sent to negotiate a new marriage with the duke will be able to send back warnings about the duke.
Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on December 16, 2020
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In "My Last Duchess," Browning presents the reader with a true "Renaissance man," in a sense quite different from the one in which this expression is generally used today. The duke is typical of his class in the Renaissance in that he is arrogant and haughty, and has never experienced any restraint on his power. His position means that he can simply kill any man or woman who annoys him since there is no temporal authority above him to prevent him from doing as he wishes.

This position, combined with naturally a jealous and imperious temperament, has driven the duke insane. The only restraints on his power are those he imposes on himself, and he chooses "never to stoop." He will not speak to his wife about his feelings, or reveal them to anyone else. Instead, he acts decisively and cruelly based on emotions he hides from all those around him.

The poem shows the duke's lack of mental equilibrium through his desire for confession. He does not need to explain himself to anyone, certainly not to the ambassador of a neighboring country. However, he feels a need to justify his actions at the same time as he protests that there is no such need. The duke is afraid that he will one day have to answer for his crimes before the only authority to which he is subject, that of God. His explanation of his jealousy here reads like a rehearsal for the Day of Judgment.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on December 16, 2020
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In this dramatic monolog, the Duke shows a portrait of his late wife to a visitor. As he talks of her, demeaning her character, he reveals that she in actuality had been a lovely, sensitive woman, full of joy, while he himself is cruel, jealous, proud, and arrogant.

He felt great jealousy because the duchess found joy all around her and favored others besides himself with her smiles:

. . . . Sir, 'twas not

Her husband's presence only, called that spot

Of joy into the Duchess' cheek;

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

. . . . She had

A heart--how shall I say?--too soon made glad,

Too easily impressed; she liked whate'er

Whe looked on, and her looks went everywhere.

The Duke's jealousy and his arrogance are shown in his attitude toward his family name, representative of his social station. He resents that the duchess appreciated a sunset or a cherry bough as much as she valued taking his name:

. . . as if she ranked

My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name

With anybody's gift.

The Duke clearly believed that his wife had not given him the respect he deserved simply for being who he was; his sense of superiority and his haughty attitude are obvious.

Although his wife displeased him, the Duke explains, he would never "stoop" to express his feelings in order to correct her behavior. Ruled by pride, he chooses another way of dealing with her imperfections:

Oh sir, she smiled, no doubt,

Whene'er I passed her; but who passed without

Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands;

Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands

As if alive.

When the Duke's jealousy and wounded pride became unbearable, he "gave commands" stopping "all smiles," strongly implying he ordered the duchess be killed. He is both cold and cruel.

An interesting passage concludes the poem. As he shows his visitor downstairs, the Duke directs his attention to a sculpture of Neptune taming a seahorse. It is an ironic metaphor for the Duke's relationship with the duchess. Like the seahorse, his duchess had evinced a free spirit; rather than lower himself to "tame" her, he simply had her destroyed.

 

 

He resented that the duchess

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