I need help with answering some serious questions about the poem "My Last Duchess," by Robert Browning 1. Whom is the Duke addressing? What is this person's business in Ferrara?

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William Delaney | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In accordance with e-Notes policy, I can only answer one question in a posting. I have therefore edited your posting to include only the first question, but hopefully my answer may clarify some of the others. I suggest that you submit your further questions about "My Last Duchess" in separate postings. This should provide you with more comprehensive answers from different perspectives.

The person the Duke is addressing is not named, but he is in the Duke's palace in Ferrera for the specific purpose of discussing the dowry to be paid by the father of the Duke's fiancee, who is a Count but is not named either. In the last lines of the poem, the Duke says:

Will't please you rise? We'll meet
The company below, then. I repeat,
The Count your master's known munificence
Is ample warrant that no just pretence
Of mine for dowry will be disallowed;
Though his fair daughter's self, as I avowed
At starting, is my object.

Evidently the Count himself and some others who are visiting with him are in the rooms below. The Count's representative has been invited upstairs to a private room, ostensibly to view some of the Duke's art collection but actually to discuss money. The Duke use of the words "I repeat" and "At starting" indicate that they came upstairs to talk about money and that money is still the uppermost consideration at the termination of the interview. The Count and the Duke are too aristocratic to discuss the dowry face to face.

When the Duke asks, "Will't please you rise?" it would appear that the Count's envoy is so appalled by what he has heard during the monologue that he can no longer stay in the same room with this brutal man. It may be that the envoy intends to go downstairs and advise his master that he should by no means consider marrying his daughter to this wicked, greedy man. When the Duke says, "We'll meet the company below, then," and a few lines later, "Nay, we'll go together down, sir," it signifies that the Count's representative has abruptly risen from his chair and is leaving the room without even saying goodbye. The Duke apparently has to hurry after him in order to accompany him down the stairs. He tries to delay the fleeing man by saying:

Notice Neptune, though,
Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity,
Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me!

Since the question of the dowry has not been settled, the Duke would appear to be trying to save face by resurrecting the fiction that the two men really only came up here to look at works of art. With the dowry question still unresolved, the Count can hardly go ahead with discussing arrangements for the marriage. The visit might end--we should hope!--with the Count and his party returning to their own home and then with the Count and his wife desperately concocting some excuse for breaking off their daughter's engagement.

This outcome can only be inferred from the abrupt and deliberately rude behavior of the Count's representative, since we know nothing about what he might have said to his master. But it would seem that the Duke has cut his own throat, so to speak, by his self-revelations in his monologue. Evidently he became lost in his own memories and related emotions while looking at the portrait of his presumably murdered wife --

Looking as if she were alive.

 

Sources:

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