My Last Duchess: A Dramatic Monologue Written By Robert Browning

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Women are often looked at as the lesser gender. They are supposedly weaker in nature, whether it be physically or mentally. This mentality has existed since the Romantic era where literature began showing its light and gained more attention during the Victorian era where male writers had the most popularity. This literary theory is called feminism, where it reflects concern with the silencing and marginalization of women in patriarchal culture where it is organized in favor of men. “My Last Duchess” is a dramatic monologue written by Robert Browning in the early 16th century set during the Italian Renaissance. From the feminist approach, the portrayal of the duchess is a reflection of women conforming to the ideals of womanhood during the Victorian era where they are amiable to society and maintain their innocence. This poem opens up a world where men are eager to take positions of power and women have nothing to do but obey and listen to them. The theme of discrimination against women is clearly depicted. It is also apparent how Browning tries to represent how admiration and jealousy are united in one man and make him happy and disappointed, weak and strong, as well as courageous and cowardly all at the same time.

From this poem, the author is trying to portray the point of view of a wealthy nobleman whose daughter is getting married to the Duke of Ferrara, who is also the narrator. He is showing a painting of his former wife, which he depicts as “my last duchess” throughout the poem. Even in the opening statement, “That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall,” it seems to the reader that this Duchess was owned by the Duke (line 1). Through his description, the Duke is making the woman conform to his dominance in the duchess’ life. The Duke further defines his wife’s identity in terms of what marriage to him has given her. Implying that her identity was meaningless before marrying him, the Duke points out with pompous arrogance that marriage to him has given her the ‘gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name’ (33). This definition of her identity by assignation with his title is yet another restrictive definition of women’s identity and gender role during that time period. Women in the Victorian era were also supposed to be attractive to others so that the people would like her. Women needed to abide by these judgements as they all are based on the eyes of men that are higher in the patriarchal order of genders. Getting approval from men means you have successfully become a woman. However, if shes goes against these standards, the woman shall be mocked by her female society.

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To the Duke, his wife decorates his life much the same as the bronze sculpture decorates his hallway. “I call/ That piece a wonder, now: Fra Pandolf’s hands/ Worked busily a day, and there she stands” (2-4). This piece of the poem proves that a man does not care about his loss, his wife’s death, and his grief. From the psychological point of view, his attitude depicts him as indifferent to women’s suffering. The point is that he gets a chance to demonstrate one more object that he owns now and tell about its price and value. While the talent of the painter may have captured her well enough to make her appear as if she were alive, she is nevertheless still an inanimate object, fixed in a frozen pose, completely devoid of life. All of the feelings and passions that define her as a living, human being are hidden. The Duke’s jealousy and possessive nature become even more apparent when he says “she liked whate’ er/ She looked on, and her looks went everywhere” (23-24). Such absent-mindedness of the woman and the desire to be friendly with many people cannot be comprehended by the Duke. He thinks such behavior is offensive to his position and his power, this is why this woman is in the past, and the other one is waiting for him downstairs to enlarge Duke’s collection of expensive things. Furthermore, the portrait remaining hidden from the sight of others behind the curtains is implicative that the Duke has complete control over his late wife. This addresses the issue that women were deemed property of men. The duchess is seen as a doll rather than a human being for the Duke.

Women in the poem and in that particular era were required to conform to the rules or they would be shamed by society. The Duke was bothered that his wife smiled too much at others beside himself. However, he purposefully boasts of his lasting power over her. The Duke speaks about his former wife’s perceived inadequacies revealing his obsession with controlling others in the process. Browning uses this compelling psychological portrait of a despicable character to critique the objectification of women and abuses of power. The conventions that defined the role and identity of Victorian women both as a woman and as a human being must have made life during that time often difficult to endure.


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