What is the character of the duchess that emerges from this poem?What is the character of the duke that emerges from this poem?What is the relationship between the duchess and the duke?

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sciftw eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The character of the Duchess is described in the second half of the poem.  As the Duke tells his acquaintance about his former wife, it becomes clear that the Duchess was a bit of a flirt.  At least that is how the Duke interprets it.  You have to remember that it is the Duke telling the poem, and therefore the point of view is skewed to his opinions and thoughts.  He saw the Duchess as a flirt and a tease.  He says that the Duchess thanked all men equally and smiled the same at all men as well.  He says that she looked on other men's gifts the same way that she looked at his gifts.  In his opinion, the Duchess seems to be on the prowl for whatever man may keep her attention at that moment.  He also says that she is far too easily amused.  Which the Duke interprets to mean that she doesn't commit to any one thing for very long . . . including him.  

 ". . . too soon made glad,
Too easily impressed; she liked whate’er
She looked on, and her looks went everywhere."
"She thanked men—good! but thanked
Somehow—I know not how—as if she ranked
My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name
With anybody’s gift. "
"Oh, sir, she smiled, no doubt,
Whene’er I passed her; but who passed without
Much the same smile?"
The character of the Duke is that he is a jealous and vindictive husband.  Also perhaps incredibly controlling.  From his descriptions, it's possible to see the Duchess as the essence of royalty.  She expresses joy to everyone.  Makes each person feel important.  Is always smiles and a gracious hostess.  In the Duke's opinion though, the Duchess should only smile at him.  Should think his gifts are more awesome than anybody else's gifts.  She should always thank him with the most vigor. It obviously bothers him that she doesn't do this. So what does he do?  Well, he has her killed.  
"This grew; I gave commands;
Then all smiles stopped together."
He "gave commands" and then she didn't smile anymore?  In other words, he gave the order to have her killed, and she doesn't smile anymore because she is dead. Kind of crazy I would say.  
It's difficult to say what their relationship was like, because the poem is being told from the Duke's perspective.  In his opinion, their relationship wasn't good, because he was a scorned husband. In her opinion their relationship might have been great.  She was doing her part to be the regal duchess and advance her husband's household and authority.  Her opinion, for this poem though, doesn't matter.  He is the guy that chose to have his wife killed, so in his opinion there was no relationship worth saving.