My Last Duchess Questions and Answers
by Robert Browning

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How is the poem "My Last Duchess" a dramatic monologue?

"My Last Duchess," by Robert Browning, is an example of a dramatic monologue because it is a poem written from the viewpoint of a character who is definitively not the author of the poem. Robert Browning himself didn't kill his "last duchess"—instead, he is expressing, in verse form, the story of an imaginary man who did. This poem is a monologue because it is told in one voice (as opposed to a dialogue, in which two or more people converse with each other).

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A dramatic monologue is a poem in which a speaker addresses another person who does not answer back. This is why it is a monologue rather than a dialogue. In the course of his speech, the speaker reveals aspects of his personality or situation that he might not be aware of or might prefer to keep hidden.

"My Last Duchess" is a classic example of a dramatic monologue. The duke addresses an emissary who has come to arrange his next marriage. He speaks to him about his dead wife, the "last duchess" of the title. While the duke obviously wants to impress this man, he reveals aspects of his character that are less than flattering.

For instance, he shows himself to have been jealous, narcissistic, and controlling in his relationship with his now dead wife. As they gaze at her portrait, the Duke complains that she would dare to smile at other people and to be happy at simple pleasures. He couldn't bear that she didn't focus exclusively on him, saying:

She had 
A heart—how shall I say?— too...

(The entire section contains 2 answers and 581 words.)

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"My Last Duchess" is an excellent example of a dramatic monologue. By its very definition, a dramatic monologue, must have a theatrical quality and must be one individual's speech. Also the speech makes up the entire poem or verse. Only the Duke of Ferrara speaks in this poem.

Clearly the speaker or persona is distinct from the poet. The dramatic monologue then involves the poet, the speaker, the implied listener and the reader.

Although a dramatic monologue has a listener or addressee, the clues to this listener's existence have to be deduced from the speech of the speaker of the monologue. When the Duke says "Will't please you sit and look at her?", we realise that he is addressing someone. Only towards the end of the monologue do we realize the identity of this silent listener-he is an emissary of the Count who is helping to negotiate a marriage between the Count's daughter and the Duke of Ferrara. This creates a sense of suspense and also adds to the ironic effect when we realise who the Duke is actually addressing.

A dramatic monologue is an act of self-revelation and the Duke reveals his obsession with ownership of objects of art and his jealous possessiveness of his wife. It also leaves us in suspense- did he order the murder of his wife or not?

Browning himself preferred the term dramatic lyric because a lyric expresses the intense emotions of the poet. A dramatic lyric clearly does the same, except it expresses the intense emotions of a particular character in a particular situation, in a particular historical setting.