In "My Last Duchess," who has come to visit the duke, and why?

In "My Last Duchess," a representative of a count has come to visit the duke to negotiate terms of marriage between the count’s daughter and the duke. Wishing to marry the count’s daughter, the Duke of Ferrara meets with the count’s envoy.

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In “My Last Duchess,” the Duke of Ferrara receives the representative of a count whose daughter is the object of the duke’s affection. Eager to impress the count’s man, the duke shows him a lifelike portrait of his beautiful late first wife and duchess. After revealing an undercurrent...

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In “My Last Duchess,” the Duke of Ferrara receives the representative of a count whose daughter is the object of the duke’s affection. Eager to impress the count’s man, the duke shows him a lifelike portrait of his beautiful late first wife and duchess. After revealing an undercurrent of jealous rage toward his first wife, he returns to the task at hand: obtaining the count’s daughter’s hand in marriage as his second wife. The duke declares to his guest:

The Count your master’s known munificence
Is ample warrant that no just pretense
Of mine for dowry will be disallowed;
Though his fair daughter’s self, as I avowed
At starting, is my object.

The duke is trying to negotiate with the count’s servant for the daughter of his “master,” the count. Despite his own wealth, the duke emphasizes that he knows that the generous count will grant any dowry that the duke requests; what the duke really wants, however, is the count’s “fair daughter.”

Poet Robert Browning based this poem on the sixteenth-century Italian figure Alfonso II d'Este, Duke of Ferrara. The first wife of Duke Alfonso was a much younger woman (a 14-year-old girl, actually) named Lucrezia de' Medici. Their short-lived marriage ended with Lucrezia’s death at age 17. Like the duchess in the poem, Lucrezia may have been murdered by her husband:

I gave commands;
Then all smiles stopped.

A few years later, Duke Alfonso then sought and obtained the hand of Barbara, the daughter of Ferdinand II, Count of Tyrol and Archduke of Austria. The Count’s servant was Nikolaus Mardruz, who acted as an envoy for negotiating with Duke Alfonso the terms of the duke’s marriage to Barbara.

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