What is the tone of the poem "My Last Duchess" by Robert Browning?  

The tone of "My Last Duchess" is ironic. Browning uses the duke's self-justifications to show that he committed a heinous act of murder. This is opposite of the impression the duke wishes to make.

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Tone reveals a poet's attitude toward their subject. In this poem the tone is darkly ironic. Browning uses the duke's own words to show that he is a disturbed individual who has committed an unjustifiable act of murder—the opposite of the impression the duke intends to make.

The poem is a dramatic monologue. In it, the speaker, the duke, is explaining to a courier sent to arrange his next marriage what happened to his last wife.

Irony occurs when words or situations mean the opposite of what is intended. The duke fully believes the story he tells justifies the death of his young wife. However, our response as readers is one of horror. The innocent young duchess did little more than to show kindness to people around her, such as the artist painting her portrait or the person who gives her a cherry bough. She smiled, blushed, or was pleased. The duke finds this behavior intolerable. He believes he should be the only one to receive positive attention from her. He even feels in competition with the "white mule" that pleases her to ride around on.

As the duke puts it, the former duchess acts

as if she ranked
My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name
With anybody’s gift.
However, he goes on the explain, he refuses to "stoop" to explain this to her. Therefore, the duke says,
I gave commands;
Then all smiles stopped together.
The duke comes across not as a reasonable person but as a sociopath who is unable to enter into mature relationships with other human beings.
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The tone of the poem is that of an ignorant, vulgar, insensitive, selfish, arrogant, and brutal man who is trying his best to sound like a courtly aristocrat. One of the ways in which this tone is achieved is through the content of the poem itself. The speaker inadvertently reveals all of his many faults while describing his lovely "last duchess" whom the visitor can see right in front of him. What would seem to most people to be good qualities in the young woman seemed offensive to the Duke, although he couldn't explain exactly why this was the case. He finally reveals that he apparently had the poor girl murdered and that he is now looking for a replacement who will bring him some more money as her dowry.

The other way in which Browning establishes the rather repellent tone of the poem is through the use of open rhyming couplets which are so awkward, ragged and crude that they betray the speaker's low intelligence and vulgarity, in spite of the fact that he pretends to have refined taste in art and lives in luxury. For example, here are the opening lines of the poem: 

That's my last Duchess painted on the wall,

Looking as if she were alive. I call

That piece a wonder, now: Fra Pandolf s hands

Worked busily a day, and there she stands.

Will't please you sit and look at her? I said

"Fra Pandolf" by design, for never read

Strangers like you that pictured countenance,

The depth and passion of its earnest glance,

Browning, through the Duke, rhymes "wall" and "call," "hands' and       "stands," "said" and "read," and so forth. Typically the word at the end of one line runs right into the next line, so the reader may well wonder where to pause to take a breath. This unusual feature also gives the impression that the  Duke is a man who is used to doing all the talking and having everyone else do all the listening, a sign of his arrogance and despotism.

The Duke is rudely interrupted when the visitor can stand no more of this brutal man or his memoir and abruptly leaps up and starts to hurry down the stairs. We are happy to see the Duke discomfited and deprived of the opportunity to discuss the dowry of the young girl he hopes to marry.

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. Nay, we'll go Together down, sir.
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The tone of Robert Browning`s `My Last Duchess' is not a simple matter. The poem is a dramatic monologue spoken in the voice of the Duke. Thus we can talk about the tone the Duke uses, but the effect of the poem as a whole is to undermine the Duke and reveal aspects of his character that he might be trying to keep hidden. Thus the subtext has a rather different tone than the surface text.

The Duke`s tone is that of a collector showing off a collection, and speaking of his Duchess in the same distantly appreciative manner in which he speaks of bronzes. There is an undercurrent of possessiveness to his speech though, that is amplified into a sort of cold suppressed anger by the time he reveals that he `stopped`his wife`s smiles.

The poem as a whole though, gives an effect of repulsion in reaction to the Duke.

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