My Last Duchess Questions and Answers
by Robert Browning

My Last Duchess book cover
Start Your Free Trial

How does Browning present jealousy in "My Last Duchess?"

Expert Answers info

Rebecca Hope eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2016

write1,505 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Law and Politics

In Robert Browning's dramatic monologue "My Last Duchess," the speaker, Duke Ferrara, is shown to be an extremely jealous man whose jealousy has led him to commit murder. Yet he does not believe that such jealousy is inappropriate. Due to his rank and his role of husband, he evidently believes his reactions and actions toward his last Duchess were completely justified--so much so that he has no qualms about laying them before the messenger of the Count whose daughter he plans to take as his next Duchess. 

Several things that aroused the Duke's jealousy are pointed out as he speaks: her blushing at the portrait painter's compliments, the fact that "she liked whate'er she looked on," and the way she thanked people who gave her simple gifts, such as a gardener who gave her a "bough of cherries." He is even jealous of the way she reacts with pleasure toward her "white mule" and a lovely sunset. He felt that her gracious responses to these little joys matched her gracious responses toward him when he gave her little gifts, such as a "favour" or ribbon to wear on her gown. He didn't feel she displayed enough obsequious gratitude for the gift he had given her of "a nine- hundred-years-old name," or making her Duchess. 

Although he felt these things, he believed he was above communicating his feelings to his wife. The only hint he gives that he knows his jealousy was out of line is when he asks, "Who'd stoop to blame this sort of trifling?" It was easier for him to do away with his wife than to admit to her that he was jealous and ask her to change. Thus: "I gave commands. Then all smiles stopped together." He never entertains the notion of changing his own attitudes or responses. The fact that he is telling this to the man who is there to broker a marriage suggests that he may want this messenger to convey to his next Duchess that she must not make him jealous if she values her life. The poem shows a man whose jealousy led him to murder but who believes that he has every right to feel and act on petty jealousies when it comes to his wife. He not only is not ashamed of his jealousy, but he wants his future wife and her family to know that he has no intentions of trying to control that murderous emotion.

Further Reading:

check Approved by eNotes Editorial