In the following excerpt from "My Last Duchess," by Robert Browning, what can you infer about the Duchess?
The bough of cherries some officious fool
Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule
She rode with round the terrace--all and each
Would draw from her alike the approving speech,
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It is clear from the extract that the Duchess had no prejudice and that she treated everyone equally. She would compliment anyone and everyone she felt deserved praise for doing her a kindness. Her kindness extended even to animals, such as 'the mule she rode with round the terrace.'
The passage further suggests that she was kind-hearted and generous. She did not allow her position to affect her character and natural nature, which was to extend warmth to all those she felt deserved it. Furthermore, it is clear that she was not snobbish at all, even though she had such an esteemed title. The Duchess was not full of airs because of her status, she appears to have been quite down to earth. Another person in her position might have thought it beneath him/her to compliment others and show appreciation for their kindness, such as the 'officious fool' who had broken off a bough of cherries for her.
The passage also reveals the Duke's jealousy, possessiveness and spite. He did not like the fact that his wife so freely complimented all and sundry. He was to be the sole object of her loyalty and admiration. His attitude is clear from the manner in which he refers to those with whom his wife interacted in her kind and generous manner. The words 'officious fool' clearly indicate his disgust for what he probably deems imprudent behaviour on her part. In addition, the word 'officious' suggests that the character who had presented the Duchess with the cherries thought himself too important. Furthermore, the Duke suggests that this character was foolish for taking the Duchess' kindness for granted.
Alas! The poor Duchess paid dearly for her 'poor' judgment, for the Duke admits later in the poem that:
This grew; I gave commands;
Then all smiles stopped together.
He grew tired of her generously sharing compliments and in some or other way engineered her demise.
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