Discuss the speaker's revelations about his wife and their relationship in "My Last Duchess."

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In "My Last Duchess," the duke is trying to cast himself in the best possible light as he complains about the many shortcomings he found in his first wife, the last duchess. However, in doing so, he reveals himself to be a heartless, self-centered sociopath.

The duke complains,...

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In "My Last Duchess," the duke is trying to cast himself in the best possible light as he complains about the many shortcomings he found in his first wife, the last duchess. However, in doing so, he reveals himself to be a heartless, self-centered sociopath.

The duke complains, for instance, that his young wife would smile at other men than him and show pleasure in their company. She liked the artist painting her portrait, for example. She was as happy to get a humble gift from a "fool" as approval from her husband:

She had
A heart—how shall I say?— too soon made glad,
Too easily impressed; she liked whate’er
She looked on, and her looks went everywhere.
Sir, ’twas all one! My favour at her breast,
The dropping of the daylight in the West,
The bough of cherries some officious fool
Broke in the orchard for her...

All of this paints the young Duchess as an innocent, kind-hearted, loving person, but to the Duke this behavior is intolerable. He can't stand the idea that his wife does not bestow all her smiles on him. He wants to be the sole object of her adoration. When she doesn't seem to understand this, he has her killed—or so he implies:

I gave commands;
Then all smiles stopped together.

This is a dramatic monologue—the duke does all the talking—that also shows dramatic irony. Dramatic irony occurs when the audience knows something a character in a work of literature doesn't. In this case, the Duke has no idea his audience—we as readers and (most probably) the man sent to arrange another marriage for him—are responding to him with horror as a cold-blooded killer. The Duke reveals himself as a person who has no real idea how to treat a woman as a human being rather than a possession.

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