Paraphrase the poem "My Last Duchess" by Robert Browning.

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Robert Browning’s poem “My Last Duchess” was based on an actual event.  A Duke married a member of the Medici family, Lucrezia at the age of fourteen.  In 1561, Lucrezia died of suspicious circumstances.  After her death, the Duke began courting another aristocratic lady.

The poem’s narrator is a sadistic psychopath.  The atmosphere covers the jealousy, murder, manipulation, and insanity of the Duke.  He conveys his innermost thoughts about his disdain for his last wife.


The Duke shows the painting, painted on a wall of his last wife to the servant of a Count. He keeps the picture covered by with a curtain that only he draws. The Duke is negotiating a marriage between himself and a count   The picture, painted by a famous painter Fra Pandolf, had many people who asked why she had the look on her face and is so life-like that it looks as though she is alive.  .

Strangers like you that pictured countenance,

The depth and passion of its earnest glance,

But to me they turned (since none puts by

The curtain I have drawn for you, but I),  

Strangers that look at the picture as if to ask why does she have the deep, passionate expression on her face. 

How did such a countenance occur? It was not just her husband that caused the happy blush that came on her face. The artist said that it might have happened because of a cape that covered her wrist.  No painter could ever reproduce that flushed look around her neck. She was courteous and that called up the blush. 

She had too much heart and was too easily impressed.  Whatever she looked at she liked. The Duke looking at her breast, the sunset, the cherry limb that some idiot broke in the orchard for her, a white mule that she rode—all were given a positive acknowledgement or her spot of joy. 

Often, she thanked men but no one knows how. The gift that the Duke gave her which was an ancestral 900 years old aristocratic name which she was treated the same as anyone else’s gift. Who would stoop to discuss this with her?

If a man had speech skills which the Duke says that he does not, he would tell that her behavior is disgusting and teach her how to act.  She needs to be taught to use her wits. There would be some kneeling down, but the Duke does not stoop for anyone.

Every time that the Duke saw her, she smiled at him; however, other men passed her and she smiled at them as well. This smiling at others continued and grew.  The Duke gave an ultimatum for her to stop smiling and then everything stopped. In the picture, there she stands as though she were alive.

The Duke asks the man to stand and return to the company that was down stairs. The Count’s generosity is absolute so that the Duke knows that he will get a fair dowry.   

It is not the dowry in which the Duke is interested, but rather the Count’s beautiful daughter. 

Now the Duke and the servant will go down together. As they leave, the Duke tells the man to take note of a statue of 1Neptune, the Roman god of the seas, who is riding and taming a seahorse. Another artist cast the statue in bronze and it is rare.