Explain these lines: That's my last duchess painted on the wall, / Looking as if she were alive. I call / That piece a wonder, now: Frà Pandolf's...

Explain these lines from the poem "My Last Duchess":

That's my last duchess painted on the wall,Looking as if she were alive. I callThat piece a wonder, now: Frà Pandolf's handsWorked busily a day, and there she stands.Will't please you sit and look at her? I said"Frà Pandolf" by design, for never readStrangers like you that pictured countenance,The depth and passion of its earnest glance,But to myself they turned (since none puts byThe curtain I have drawn for you, but I)And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst

In these lines from Browning's poem "My Last Duchess," the Duke of Ferrara shows a painting of his former wife to his guest. He wants his guest to admire his late wife's beauty and the work of the portrait artist. These lines emphasize the possessiveness that the Duke felt over his wife when she was alive and still feels now that she is dead.

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In the opening lines of “My Last Duchess ,” the Duke of Ferrara is showing an emissary from another court a painting of his late wife, the eponymous duchess. The emissary has been sent to the Duke from a Count whose daughter he intends the Duke to marry. But...

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In the opening lines of “My Last Duchess,” the Duke of Ferrara is showing an emissary from another court a painting of his late wife, the eponymous duchess. The emissary has been sent to the Duke from a Count whose daughter he intends the Duke to marry. But as the opening lines of the poem testify—as indeed do the remaining lines of the poem—the Duke appears more concerned with his late wife than with his future one.

It's notable in this regard that the Duke wants the emissary to take a good look at the painting, which, as he points out, is normally hidden behind a curtain. He clearly wants the functionary to stand back and admire the extraordinary beauty of his late wife, as well as the remarkable craftsmanship demonstrated by the artist, Fra Pandolf.

On the face of it, this would appear to indicate that the Duke's marriage to his last duchess was a happy one and that he misses her very much. Why else would he be so keen to show off her portrait to a humble court functionary? But as the rest of the poem starkly illustrates, this is a highly misleading impression, and the truth is a good deal darker and more disturbing.

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These are the opening lines of Robert Browning's dramatic poem "My Last Duchess." The Duke of Ferrara is showing a visitor, later revealed to be an ambassador from a neighboring count, the treasures of his art collection. The duke draws his guest's attention to a picture of his former wife, who looks "as if she were alive," although the reader is later to learn that the original is dead. He mentions twice the name of the painter, Fra Pandolf, whose name indicates that he is both a friar and a foreigner, presumably from Northern Europe. It reinforces the duke's possessiveness to show that the only man he would allow to paint his beautiful young wife is in holy orders and an outsider who will not be hanging around the court afterwards.

The duke then begins quite an elaborate rhetorical maneuver in which he tells his guest that he knows the question everyone, including the ambassador himself, would ask "if they durst" upon seeing the picture. In the process of doing this, he makes the point that the picture is normally kept behind a curtain, which only he has the authority to draw. This emphasizes the duke's power and ownership. Hardly anyone sees the picture, those who do see it only with his express permission, and even then, they do not dare to ask the question that preoccupies them: did the Duke play a role in the Duchess's death?

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In these lines, the Duke is showing his guest a painting of his last Duchess. He invites his guest to sit and look at the painting and points out the earnest and passionate expression on the Duchess's face. The Duke also mentions that there is usually a curtain in front of the painting, which only he is allowed to draw aside.

In the second line, the Duke says that in the painting the Duchess looks "as if she were alive." This implies that she is no longer alive. The Duke also, in the third line, comments on how accomplished the painting is. He calls it "a wonder," and says that the artist's hands "Worked busily a day" to paint the picture. There could be a double meaning to this reference to the artist's hands. The Duke could also be implying that the artist was too friendly with the Duchess and touched her inappropriately. This implication fits with the Duke's complaints elsewhere in the poem that the Duchess was too friendly with other men.

In the eighth line, the Duke points out the "depth and passion" of the Duchess's "earnest glance." When she was alive, it was this "passion" that caused the Duke to be jealous of the Duchess. He didn't like it that the Duchess was, at least as far as he was concerned, overly friendly with other men, blushing and smiling for everyone she met. Later in the poem he boasts that he "gave commands; Then all smiles stopped together."

The reference to the curtain in the tenth line is important because it alludes to the power that the Duke has over the Duchess now that she is dead. He is able to control who sees her and the story people hear about her. The Duke enjoys having this power over the Duchess now that she is dead, in part because he never was able to fully control her when she was alive.

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Here the Duke is showing the painting of the Duchess to the messenger and is explaining that it has been completed very successfully by 'Fra Pandolf'. The Duke normally looks at the painting alone and in private as it is hidden behind a curtain but he is allowing the messenger to take a look as he is so proud of it: 'The depth and passion of its earnest glance.'

The irony is that the painting looks alive when in fact we learn later in the poem that the Duke has ordered her to be killed; he prefers her as a piece of art that he can control.  As a painting he can control who looks at her which was not possible in life.  The Duke has tremendous power which is why people do not ask questions of him. 

    

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