Explanation Of My Last Duchess By Robert Browning

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

In these lines from Robert Browning’s poem “My Last Duchess,” the speaker, a duke, introduces a portrait of his late duchess to an unidentified listener. He describes the painting as a marvel, depicting her with an uncanny lifelike quality. The duke credits the artist, Fra Pandolf, for his meticulous craftsmanship, and notes that it took a full day’s work to create the portrait. The duke then invites the listener to sit and admire the portrait, revealing his possessive and controlling attitude as he seeks to exert power even in the act of presenting his late wife’s image. This introduction sets the stage for the ensuing conversation, unveiling the complex dynamics of the duke’s relationship with his deceased duchess.

“Fra Pandolf” by design, for never read

Strangers like you that pictured countenance,

The depth and passion of its earnest glance,

But to myself they turned (since none puts by

The curtain I have drawn for you, but I)

In these lines from Robert Browning’s poem “My Last Duchess,” the speaker, a duke, reveals the artist’s name, Fra Pandolf, and explains that the portrait was intentionally created to capture the depth and intensity of the duchess’s expression. The duke addresses the listener, whom he refers to as a stranger, indicating that previous viewers of the portrait, like the listener, have admired the duchess’s countenance and the fervor in her gaze. However, the duke emphasizes that the true depth of her expression has been reserved exclusively for himself. He suggests that only he has the privilege to reveal the full significance of her expression by drawing back the curtain that hides the portrait, insinuating his possessive control over her image and the secrets it holds.

And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst,

How such a glance came there; so, not the first

Are you to turn and ask thus. Sir, ’twas not

Her husband’s presence only, called that spot

Of joy into the Duchess’ cheek; perhaps

In these lines from Robert Browning’s poem “My Last Duchess,” the duke implies that viewers of the portrait, like the listener, seem curious about the intense expression on the duchess’s face and how it came to be. He suggests that the listener is not the first to inquire about this, hinting at the duchess’s potential flirtatious interactions with others. The duke then reveals that the duchess’s joyous blush in the portrait wasn’t solely due to his presence as her husband; there may have been other reasons for her expression. This portrays the duke’s possessiveness and his attempt to control the narrative around the duchess’s emotions and behavior, adding to the sense of mystery and manipulation in the poem.

These lines add to the complexity of the Duke’s character and his relationship with the duchess. They hint at a sense of jealousy, control, and possessiveness, as well as the Duke’s tendency to manipulate information to suit his narrative.

Fra Pandolf chanced to say, “Her mantle laps

Over my lady’s wrist too much,” or “Paint

Must never hope to reproduce the faint

Half-flush that dies along her throat.” Such stuff

Was courtesy, she thought, and cause enough

In these lines from Robert Browning’s poem “My Last Duchess,” the duke recalls that the artist Fra Pandolf once commented while painting the duchess that her mantle covered her wrist too much, or that he could never hope to perfectly capture the subtle blush that fades along her throat. The duke explains that the duchess considered these remarks as courteous gestures from the artist, interpreting them as reasons to engage with him. The duke implies that she may have misunderstood these comments as flirtation, suggesting her naivety. This further exposes the duke’s possessive and controlling nature as he interprets the duchess’s interactions to suit his narrative, and it adds to the underlying tension and manipulation within the poem.

These lines continue to unravel the Duke’s perception of the duchess and his controlling attitudes toward her. They contribute to the unsettling picture of their relationship and the Duke’s skewed interpretation of events.

For calling up that spot of joy. She had

A heart—how shall I say?— too soon made glad,

Too easily impressed; she liked whate’er

She looked on, and her looks went everywhere.

Sir, ’twas all one! My favour at her breast,

In these lines from Robert Browning’s poem “My Last Duchess,” the duke reveals more about the duchess’s nature. He explains that she had a heart that was easily made glad and too quickly influenced. She seemed to find joy in almost everything she looked upon, and her attention wandered freely. The duke suggests that his own affection for her was treated no differently than the attention she gave to everything else around her. This part of the poem further illustrates the duke’s possessive and controlling perspective, implying that the duchess’s openness and capacity for happiness were problematic traits that led her to be easily impressed and too willing to appreciate whatever caught her gaze. The lines continue to shed light on the complex dynamics of the duke’s relationship with the duchess and the motives behind his presentation of her portrait to the listener.

The dropping of the daylight in the West,

The bough of cherries some officious fool

Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule

She rode with round the terrace—all and each

Would draw from her alike the approving speech,

In these lines from Robert Browning’s poem “My Last Duchess,” the duke continues describing the duchess’s nature and behavior. He mentions instances where various things, such as the setting sun in the West, a branch of cherries broken by an eager person in the orchard for her, and even a white mule she rode around the terrace, would all elicit her approval and admiration. The duke suggests that she would respond with the same approving speech to each of these things, implying that her enthusiasm was indiscriminate and easily given to everything around her. This further emphasizes the duchess’s openness and eagerness to find joy in her surroundings, while also revealing the duke’s possessive and critical perspective. He implies that her readiness to appreciate these simple gestures contributed to her downfall, as it conflicted with his expectations of her behavior as his wife.

Or blush, at least. She thanked men—good! but thanked

Somehow—I know not how—as if she ranked

My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name

With anybody’s gift. Who’d stoop to blame

This sort of trifling? Even had you skill

In these lines from Robert Browning’s poem “My Last Duchess,” the duke continues to describe the duchess’s behavior and reactions. He mentions that the duchess would show appreciation or gratitude towards men, which he acknowledges is a good trait. However, he suggests that her gratitude seemed somewhat misplaced or excessive, as if she valued his gift of a prestigious, ancient family name just as highly as she valued any other gift from anyone. He questions whether anyone would criticize her for such behavior, considering it a trivial matter. The lines reveal the duke’s growing resentment towards the duchess’s behavior and her inability to meet his expectations of propriety and social hierarchy, portraying his possessive and controlling nature as he disapproves of her demeanor and appreciation.

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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; here you miss,

Or there exceed the mark”—and if she let

Herself be lessoned so, nor plainly set

In these lines from Robert Browning’s poem “My Last Duchess,” the duke reflects on his frustration with the duchess’s behavior. He mentions a hypothetical situation where he could openly communicate his grievances and dislikes to her. He describes how he would carefully point out specific aspects of her behavior that he finds displeasing or distasteful, indicating where she falls short of his expectations or exceeds his limits. He suggests that if she were to be receptive to such guidance and willingly accept his correction, and if she allowed herself to be instructed in this manner, then he might have been satisfied. However, the duke implies that the duchess did not respond to his desires for her to change and adjust her conduct, which contributes to his sense of control and resentment. These lines provide further insight into the duke’s controlling personality and his lack of tolerance for behavior that doesn’t align with his expectations.

Her wits to yours, forsooth, and made excuse—

E’en then would be some stooping; and I choose

Never to stoop. Oh, sir, she smiled, no doubt,

Whene’er I passed her; but who passed without

Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands;

In these lines from Robert Browning’s poem “My Last Duchess,” the duke continues to express his perspective on the duchess’s behavior. He mentions that even if he were to try to communicate his dissatisfaction to her, it would require him to lower himself and make excuses for her behavior, which he is unwilling to do. He explains that even if he had tried to communicate with her, it would still involve a form of compromise or “stooping” on his part, something he’s determined to avoid. He then recalls that the duchess would smile at him whenever he passed her, but he suggests that her smiles were given to others as well, implying that her amiability was not unique to him. As the stanza concludes, the duke explains that he took action by giving commands, hinting at his controlling nature and how he ultimately dealt with what he perceived as the duchess’s inadequacies. These lines continue to paint a picture of the duke’s possessive and authoritative character while revealing his growing frustration with the duchess’s behavior.

Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands

As if alive. 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 pretense

In these lines from Robert Browning’s poem “My Last Duchess,” the duke recounts the duchess’s fate. He states that all her smiles suddenly ceased, implying that he took some form of action to put an end to her cheerful demeanor. He then directs the listener’s attention back to the portrait, where the duchess is depicted standing as if she were still alive. The duke invites the listener to stand up and join him in leaving the portrait to meet the company that awaits them downstairs. He also acknowledges the listener’s master, the Count, praising his generosity, which serves as a sufficient reason for the listener to accept the duke’s perspective and not raise objections to the duke’s actions regarding the duchess. These lines reveal the culmination of the duke’s possessive and controlling behavior, as well as his ability to command the listener’s response due to his social status and the Count’s influence.

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. Notice Neptune, though,

Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity,

Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me!

In these concluding lines of Robert Browning’s poem “My Last Duchess,” the duke continues speaking to the listener. He explains that he is not interested in his late duchess’s dowry, suggesting that he wants to avoid the notion that he was motivated by her wealth. Instead, he clarifies that he had set his sights on marrying the fair daughter of the Count, a plan he had mentioned earlier. The duke invites the listener to join him as they leave the portrait and go downstairs together.

The duke then redirects the conversation to a bronze statue of Neptune taming a sea-horse, gifted to him by Claus of Innsbruck. He mentions this statue as a parting note, which can be interpreted in various ways. The reference could serve to divert attention away from the topic of his late wife or to showcase his appreciation for art and luxury, as well as his ability to acquire such unique objects. Overall, these lines reinforce the duke’s complex and controlling character, while the shift to discussing the artwork further illustrates his penchant for manipulation and asserting his social status.



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