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.

Frequently Asked Questions about My Last Duchess

My Last Duchess

Of his last duchess, the duke was irritated that she had a heart which was "too soon made glad, / Too easily impressed." He wanted his wife to appreciate him and the gifts he bestowed upon her more...

Latest answer posted July 8, 2021, 9:00 pm (UTC)

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My Last Duchess

In short, everything made the duchess happy when she was alive. First, the duke suggests the "spot of joy" to be seen on her cheeks in the portrait he exhibits during the poem might have been put...

Latest answer posted July 8, 2021, 9:22 pm (UTC)

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My Last Duchess

While the portrait of the titular duchess is beautiful but tragic, the picture the poem paints of the Duke of Ferrara is far less flattering. The duke's monologue emphasizes his arrogance and...

Latest answer posted July 8, 2021, 11:39 am (UTC)

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My Last Duchess

The duke says the following about his speaking ability: Even had you skill In speech—which I have not—to make your will Quite clear to such an one, and say, "Just this Or that in you disgusts me;...

Latest answer posted July 8, 2021, 11:42 am (UTC)

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My Last Duchess

The Duke of Ferrara describes the duchess's habit of riding her white mule "round the terrace." He describes her as smiling and speaking to the mule with great sweetness. The duchess's excessive...

Latest answer posted July 8, 2021, 11:48 am (UTC)

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My Last Duchess

There are a couple of different types of irony at work in this poem. First, there is dramatic irony, which is created when the audience knows something that a character does not know. We can think...

Latest answer posted July 6, 2021, 12:02 pm (UTC)

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My Last Duchess

The so-called flaw the duke identified in his last duchess was her heart, which was "too soon made glad, / Too easily impressed." He complains that she blushed no matter who complimented her, that...

Latest answer posted July 7, 2021, 11:12 pm (UTC)

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My Last Duchess

The speaker in "My Last Duchess" is a duke. He claims, in the first line, that the woman in the painting he shows to his guest is "my last Duchess," and she could only be a duchess if she were...

Latest answer posted July 6, 2021, 12:45 pm (UTC)

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My Last Duchess

The poem "My Last Duchess" is an example of a dramatic monologue because it features an imagined or fictionalized speaker who addresses a silent listener. In addition, it provides real...

Latest answer posted July 7, 2021, 11:47 am (UTC)

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My Last Duchess

A key technique used in "My Last Duchess" is dramatic monologue. We hear the story of his late duchess in the duke's own words, as he tells it to an emissary who has been sent to arrange a new...

Latest answer posted July 5, 2021, 12:02 pm (UTC)

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My Last Duchess

It seems that the duke who is the speaker of the poem had his "last Duchess" killed so that he would be free to marry again. He is, evidently, speaking to a representative who works for some count,...

Latest answer posted July 6, 2021, 12:35 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

My Last Duchess

The duke keeps the painting of the duchess behind a curtain as a means of postmortem control. That is, he wants control over who gets to see her image. As the reader comes to realize, the duke did...

Latest answer posted July 6, 2021, 11:33 am (UTC)

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My Last Duchess

When the duke says of his last duchess that "all smiles stopped" (line 46), he implies that the duchess died. This impression is confirmed by the next sentence, in which he states, "There she...

Latest answer posted July 6, 2021, 12:50 am (UTC)

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My Last Duchess

In “My Last Duchess,” the Duke of Ferrara shows off his artwork while negotiating his next marriage. He points out a special portrait: That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall,Looking as if she...

Latest answer posted July 5, 2021, 7:31 pm (UTC)

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My Last Duchess

Mood is the emotion that a work of literature evokes in readers. While the poem is ironic, the mood it elicits is one of unease. It becomes apparent fairly early on that the duke is not quite...

Latest answer posted July 5, 2021, 2:00 pm (UTC)

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My Last Duchess

Having told the story of his last duchess to the emissary who has been sent by a count to negotiate a marriage for his daughter to the duke, the duke says to this emissary, The Count your...

Latest answer posted July 6, 2021, 11:26 am (UTC)

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My Last Duchess

The duke did not like that the duchess had a heart "too soon made glad, / Too easily impressed." He points out that the painting of his last duchess shows the "spot of joy" so commonly seen in her...

Latest answer posted July 6, 2021, 11:27 am (UTC)

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My Last Duchess

At the end of the poem, the duke points out a particular statue that he keeps within the same gallery in which he retains the portrait of his last duchess. The statue depicts Neptune, the Roman god...

Latest answer posted July 7, 2021, 11:21 am (UTC)

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My Last Duchess

In “My Last Duchess,” the Duke of Ferrara shows a visitor the portrait of his most recent wife, who is deceased. Although admiring how beautiful and lifelike the painted subject is, he recalls her...

Latest answer posted July 7, 2021, 3:52 pm (UTC)

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My Last Duchess

The main conflict explored in "My Last Duchess" is between the duke's desire to have his wife's undivided attention and adulation and his wife's natural tendency to spontaneously enjoy and...

Latest answer posted July 7, 2021, 11:32 am (UTC)

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Summary