Robert Browning My Last Duchess Analysis | Line By Line Explanation

The poem that is meant to be read to the audience by one single speaker is called a dramatic monologue. We also observe monologues in many different dialogues of a drama; a dialogue that a character speaks without the intervention of any other character is also called monologue. Robert Browning was an intellectual who belonged to the Victorian era and he was highly famous among the Victorian poets because of his dramatic monologues as evident from critical analysis of “My Last Duchess”. He also remained a playwright; however, that did not bring fame to him.

That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall,

Looking as if she were alive. I call

The poem opens abruptly. As it is a monologue; therefore, the speaker directly talks to the audience. He tells them about his last painting that has been made on the wall. It is a painting of a female character, who is the wife of the duke. He exaggerates the beauty of painting. From the very first two lines of the poem it is obvious to the readers that the speaker talks about the aesthetic beauty of painting; however, subsequently, we will realize that he refers to the female character who is there in the painting and not to the painting that has just been painted.

The speaker, who is obviously a duke, wants to show a painting of the last duchess. Why she is last is still unknown to the audience and readers; however he praises the art while saying that the painting is fresh and it seems that the woman in that painting is alive and stands besides him.

It is also noteworthy that firstly the poem was published untitled but subsequently, the part of first line of the poem became its title. 

That piece a wonder, now: Frà Pandolf’s hands

Worked busily a day, and there she stands.

The speaker then discloses the name of the painter, who has painted this beautiful art. He is of the view that the painter has worked very hard to create such a masterpiece. At the same time, it is necessary to mention that the poem is very much in lyrical form. It is a long story; therefore, it slowly progresses and needs some more lines to disclose what is going on. Analysis of these lines of “My Last Duchess” reveals that Robert Browning wants to create dramatic atmosphere for the readers.

Will ‘t please you sit and look at her? I said

‘Frà Pandolf’ by design, for never read

It is very much astonishing for the audience that instead of using a pronoun for the painter, the poet has used a noun. In four lines, he mentions his name twice due to which it seems that the person “Frà Pandolf” has great importance but what is going to happen and why the speaker asks the audience to sit and watch the portrait of duchess and that too last is still undisclosed. 

Strangers like you that pictured countenance,

The depth and passion of its earnest glance,

The speaker surprisingly again praises the art of the artist. He talks about the expressions of the character, who is in the painting. Countenance refers to the facial expressions of the character, which are intense and serious yet joyful. It seems from her facial expressions that she is surprised by some unexpected news. Nonetheless, all that introduction seems meaningless unless the speaker wants to sell the painting. Perhaps, he possesses that painting and wants a good price for it.

But to myself they turned (since none puts by

The curtain I have drawn for you, but I)

It should be cleared here that the poem is extraordinarily a beautiful dramatic monologue. There is a slow development in the poem. It is full of suspense that creates a dramatic atmosphere for the audience. 

Until now, it is unclear to the audience whether the painting is so unique or the character that has been painted due to which no one else but the speaker is allowed to draw the curtains for the readers. In these lines, an analysis of the painting has been completed and the Robert Browning wants to further elaborate about “The Last Duchess”.

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

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

If someone wants to know about the glance that is on the face of the duchess then the speaker is going to describe it in detail in upcoming lines of the poem. He expects that at least someone from the audience will ask about the joy on the cheeks of the duchess; therefore, he himself tells everything in detail.

Are you to turn and ask thus. Sir, ‘t was not

Her husband’s presence only, called that spot

Of joy into the Duchess’ cheek: perhaps

As mentioned earlier, the poem is a dramatic monologue and a monologue always contains a single dialogue; therefore, no one is there to ask any question. The speaker himself asks the question that if you ask why she is painted joyous in the portrait then the answer and reason behind is it her husband. He is duke due to which her cheeks blossoms and she feels happiness but the word perhaps again puts the audience under a new difficulty. The speaker himself is not sure that either she is happy because of her husband or any other reason is there for her happiness. It is evident that in these lines Robert Browning was making a clear analysis of the aforementioned last duchess in his poem.

Frà 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

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.

There is a whole lot of discussion in this section of the poem; therefore, all these lines must be discussed at once if we want to get the true meaning through complete analysis of this famous dramatic monologue titled “My Last Duchess” by Robert Browning. In the previous lines we see a blushing lady and also we have known the reason behind her happiness but her cheerfulness was not the first. 

The speaker talks about a woman who is easily impressed by anyone. This thing bothers him. In the initial lines of the poem the speaker, in an authoritative tone, says that no one is allowed to even draw the curtains but he is bothered by the fact that she is so easily impressed. Being a wife of a duke, she must not be impressed by anyone so easily. 

The speaker somehow wants to say that a duchess must not be impressed by any person she sees instead she must have some class and pride. Victorian society was all about impressing women and all in all analysis of “My Last Duchess” is an evidence that Robert Browning was against this immorality. Due to the reasons discussed earlier, the duchess becomes an unfaithful, easily controllable and immoral lady and the duke dislikes her. 

Sir, ‘t was all one! My favour at her breast,

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,  

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?

Now we know the error in the character of the duchess that the speaker wants to express. All these lines are entirely dependent on previous lines of the poem. He (the speaker) starts with discussion of the first flaw in the duchess’s character; one by one he gives us explanations of her acts. In fact, the speaker blames her because of her triviality. In his opinion, she has lost her importance in his eyes as she thanks everyone and equally gives importance to a flower as well as a “nine hundred years old name”. Meaning thereby that a common man and a duke are the same in the eyes of the duchess.

In these lines of “My Last Duchess”, Robert Browning give his readers a clear analysis of the materialism which was there in his era. Victorian society was full of so-called pride and class. Many dramatists have also portrayed these types of themes in their plays, in which they have shown that class is more important than one’s emotions and if a girl wants to love someone, she must first find a person equal to her class.

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; here you miss,

Or there exceed the mark’—and if she let

Herself be lessoned so, nor plainly set

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;

Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands

As if alive. Will ‘t please you rise? We’ll meet

It seems that the speaker is full of jealousy. He is well aware of the fact that when the duchess sees him, she blushes and gives her a special smile but why does every single person receives the same smile from her. He continuously talks about her demerits and follies. In this section of the poem, it seems that the speaker is very much depressed because he thinks that these are the double standards of the duchess. She feels the same for every single person she sees. It makes the listener unhappy and disappointed.

It should be remembered that detail analysis of history of Victorian society transpires that women were very much bound to make love only to their equivalent class as Oscar Wilde has mentioned in “The importance of Being Earnest” just like this poem “My Last Duchess” by Robert Browning. Clearly the duke talks about the social status of the duchess. In the Victorian era, it was nearly impossible for women to fall in love with a person belonging to a lower social class as it was prohibited. In this poem too, perhaps, the duchess, who is currently the wife of the duke, was not interested in the duke and married him because of social pressure, hence, she is missing something in her life. Whatever may be the reason, it is crystal clear that the speaker is against the behaviour of the duchess.

The company below then. I repeat,

The Count your master’s known munificence

Is ample warrant that no just pretence

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!

Last section of the poem clears every question regarding the speaker and his thinking with respect to the duchess. Here we can imagine the controlling desire of the speaker, who does not only want to tame his wife but also wants her to feel the same as he feels. On the opposite side if we see, the duke feels himself helpless. He cannot change his wife’s emotions. He cannot change the way she thinks and he cannot create love in her heart. It is very much possible that a person can make a girl his wife forcibly; he can force her to live with him but he cannot create love in her heart . Thus, in this way we see helplessness of the duke. 

The poem is very much controversial and follows a proper rhythm iambic pentameter. Analysis of “My Last Duchess” shows mastery of Robert Browning in his field i.e. writing poetry. In the whole poem we see the duke as a god-like figure and the duchess as a human, whom he wants to control not only physically but also mentally. The poem is a clear representation of Victorian snobbery too, in which women were treated just like material figures. In the end, it is unclear to the audience that what happened to the duchess in my last duchess; however, it is apparent that the speaker highly highly criticized the duchess. In short, there is an explanation of women’s status in Robert Browning society as obvious from analysis of “My Last Duchess”.