What are some themes in the poem “My Last Duchess”?  What are some symbols in “My Last Duchess”? Does the poem end the way you expected?  How and why? What is the central/primary...

  1. What are some themes in the poem “My Last Duchess”? 
  2. What are some symbols in “My Last Duchess”?
  3. Does the poem end the way you expected?  How and why?
  4. What is the central/primary purpose of the poem? 
  5. What is the role of women in the poem?
  6. How does class, status, and title affect your perception of the characters in the poem?
  7. What impression of the Duchess is the Duke trying to convey to his listener?  What impression of her is actually communicated by his comments?  Use details to support your answer.
  8. Why do you think the Duke (speaker of the poem) mentioned the last painting of Neptune taming a sea-horse?
  9. How would you describe the Duke?
  10. Why would the Duke be considered an antagonist?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Robert Browning's dramatic monologue is an especially strong medium for conveying information about the speaker as he reveals his personality through his words and manner of expression in an isolated situation. Here are things that the reader learns from this monologue:

1. Themes - Aristocratic arrogance and egotism; jealousy 
2. Symbols

  • The curtain - the Duke's attempt to hide his faults; also, the young wife was a mere possession and now her painting is his final ownership, for only he can draw the curtain
  • Fra Pandolf - the Duke's pretentiousness is symbolized by his mention of the artist
  • Neptune sculpture - the Duke himself, dominating his wives

3. Poem's ending - (Personal response required) Not a surprising one as the Duke's dominant traits of vanity and pride, as well as his representation of "taming" something are evinced in his wishing to show off this sculpture and drop another artist's name.
4. Primary purpose of the poem -  Browning effectively creates a portrait of the Renaissance gentleman. Robert Langbaum writes, 

we accept the combination of villainy with taste and manners as a phenomenon of the Renaissance and of the old aristocratic order generally.

This is true; as the poem progresses, the reader somehow sympathizes with the Duke in his self-portrait.
5. The role of women - the duchess is a possession. The Duke displays her as one would one's quality line of horses or dogs.
6. Class, status, and its effect on interpretation  - Certainly, the reader sees through the eyes of the agent, who would find the Duke arrogant and prepossessing
7. Impressions of the Duchess - Clearly she was a lady, although the Duke presents her as haughty and dangerous. She is young and wishes to enjoy life, "riding the white mule round the terrace," yet her life seems confining.
8. The Duke's mention of the Neptune sculpture - Along with his "nine-hundred-year-old name," the Duke wishes the agent to be impressed with his good taste and wealth and acquisition of art at a time when that is valued highly (the Renaissance).
9. Description of the Duke - On the one hand, the Duke is obviously egotistical and vain; however, he is a fascinating character, too, as there is such rhythm and detail and finesse in his detailed accounts that one cannot help but feel some admiration for him as a Renaissance gentleman.
10. The Duke as Antagonist - The Duke has obviously gone through some wives, so there have been conflicts. Now, he wishes to marry another nobleman's daughter, yet his proposal is less than conciliatory.

Sources:

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