My Last Duchess Study Guide
My Last Duchess: Themes
My Last Duchess: Characters
My Last Duchess: Analysis
My Last Duchess: Critical Essays
My Last Duchess: Quotes
My Last Duchess: Multiple-Choice Quizzes
My Last Duchess: Questions & Answers
My Last Duchess: Introduction
My Last Duchess: Biography of Robert Browning
Introduction to My Last Duchess
“My Last Duchess” is a poem by Robert Browning. It was first published in Browning’s 1842 collection Dramatic Lyrics, which was the third volume of his self-published Bells and Pomegranates series. The poem has gone on to become one of Browning’s most popular and frequently anthologized works. The poem takes the form of a dramatic monologue, which the duke of Ferrara delivers to an emissary of the count whose daughter he hopes to marry. It consists of twenty-eight rhyming couplets and is written in iambic pentameter.
The dramatic monologue is in many ways a character study of the duke himself. Though he is ostensibly describing his previous wife to the emissary, he unintentionally reveals a great deal about his own temperament. The duke is cast as a jealous and vain man who could not stand the idea of anyone else making his wife happy. He is possessive even of her portrait, indicating that he is the only one allowed to open the curtain behind which it is kept. The exact fate of the previous duchess is left unclear, but the duke’s possessiveness and his claim that he is responsible for giving the command that “stopped” her smiles altogether paints a sinister picture.
“My Last Duchess” is a work of fiction, but it is widely believed to have been inspired by the real-life fifth duke of Ferrara, Alfonso II d'Este. Alfonso came from a line of nobility dating back centuries, and at twenty-five, he married a fourteen-year-old girl, whom he later abandoned. She died at age seventeen, with many of the duke’s detractors accusing him of having poisoned her. The duke then sought to marry another woman who was better connected, and the count referenced in the poem is likely the father of the duke’s prospective second wife.
A Brief Biography of Robert Browning
Robert Browning (1812–1889) was a British poet with a flair for the dramatic. Perhaps more than any other nineteenth-century writer, he was able to fuse the aesthetics of drama and poetry into a truly theatrical verse. In fact, some of his most famous poems (“Porphyria’s Lover” and “My Last Duchess”) are structured like dramatic monologues, and storytelling was also an integral part of Browning’s poetry, as evidenced by his verse adaptations of classic tales such as “The Pied Piper of Hamelin.” Although his reputation swung between popularity and obscurity during his lifetime, his works are now considered classics and have influenced writers as diverse as T. S. Eliot and Stephen King, whose epic Dark Tower series was even inspired by one of Browning’s poems.