Much has been said about the Duke's account of his former wife's fate: "I gave commands; / Then all smiles stopped together." What precisely does the Duke mean by these lines'? How can we tell? Why do you think Browning lets the Duke express the most dramatic part of his story in such brief and cryptic terms?
The Duke reproaches the late Duchess' character, but the reader might come away from the poem with an entirely different view of her. What can we tell about the Duchess from the Duke's own account of her? What does his description of her "shortcomings" tell us about her, and what do they tell us about the Duke?
Part of the poem's impact comes from the Duke's certainty that he has behaved properly. As an exercise, write a two-page monologue in which someone confesses to a crime for which he feels no remorse. Before you begin, consider your approach. What tone will your speaker adopt? What words will he choose to describe the crime itself? What justification can he offer for what he has done?