My Last Duchess Questions and Answers
by Robert Browning

My Last Duchess book cover
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Does the poem "My last Duchess" appear to be about power or conflict or both?

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D. Reynolds eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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"My Last Duchess" is about both conflict and power. The Duke and his young former wife conflict over what constitutes appropriate behavior for her to exhibit toward other people, especially other men. She is friendly and appreciative of everyone around her. Little things that people do for her, such as giving her some cherries, please her. She blushes in pleasure when the artist painting her portrait pays her a compliment, and she smiles at all sorts of people. This is unacceptable to the duke, who wants her to only have eyes for him. He wants to control her completely.

The duchess either can't or won't comply with his demands, which seem excessive. At this point, the poem becomes about power. The duke has all the power in the relationship, and he implies he has her killed:

I gave commands;
Then all smiles stopped together.
If the two had had more equal power, she might have been able to get away from him, and this could have saved her life. Unfortunately, she fell into the hands of mentally unbalanced, controlling man with a great deal of power.

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Lynnette Wofford eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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"My Last Duchess" by Robert Browning is narrated in the first person by the Duke of Ferrara. Although he attempts to convey a positive impression, as with many of Browning's dramatic monologues, the Duke gradual reveals his true nature over the course of the poem, which is possessive and controlling. 

The Duke is often described as a "collector", a person who glorifies himself by collecting objects and sees his own self-worth as reflected in and perhaps even determined by the qualities of the things he possesses. He seems to have regarded the Duchess purely as a possession; the painted version of the Duchess is almost more satisfying to him than the actual person was.

Many of the Duke's statements about the Duchess reflect his desire to control her as he would control a piece of artwork. That he resents the Duchess having an independent will is seen in the lines:

...  and if she let

Herself be lessoned so, nor plainly set

Her wits to yours, forsooth, and made excuse—

E’en then would be some stooping;


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