"My Last Duchess" by Robert Browning: Analysis as a Dramatic Monologue

As you probably know that Robert Browning’s genius was essentially dramatic. His favourite form is dramatic monologue which though not invented by Browning was immensely popularized after him. Being a psychologist having his main idea to study the incidents that go to compose the development of the soul. Browning found this form to be extremely suitable to his purpose. His purpose is to throw light into the consciousness and so he frees himself from all the shackles that impede analysis. Thus to him dramatic monologue is a comprehensive soliloquy in which a certain critical moment in one’s person is taken and by permitting the individual to speak his character, the whole course of his existence are revealed in a brilliant search light. Now we will discuss his poem ‘My Last Duchess’ as a dramatic monologue and see how far it interprets the flow of speaker's conscience.

In ‘My Last Duchess’ the monologue is spoken in the presence of the ambassador of a foreign count whose daughter is being sought in marriage by the widowed Duke. The Duke is perhaps Alfonso-II, fifth Duke of Fenna. He married Lucrezia De Medici in 1558 when she was only fifteen. She died in 1561 perhaps by poisoning. Here the Duke is exhibiting the portrait of his former wife to the envoy. The basis of his character is the complacent egotism of the aristocrat who regards his wife as his properly. He cannot brook her graciousness and innocent gaiety and finally kills her.

Browning adopts here one of his favourite methods of character study, while describing the childish nature of his last Duchess the Duke himself reveals his own narrow hideous character. He is proud of his ancestral name and fame and he is the most jealous person even lived in this earth. He is too cruel to let his wife to live freely and fully. He is a specimen of the decadent renaissance. He is telling his companion that ‘The death and passion of her earnest glance’ was not reserved for her husband alone but the slightest courtesy or attention was sufficient to call up that spot of joy into her face. To Duke, her heart was too soon made glad too easily impressed. She not only smiled on her husband, she smiled on others “oh sir, she smiled no doubt, whenever 1 passed her; but who passed without much the same smile”. As she was his property he could not tolerate this and so he gave commands – “then all smiles stopped together.” The heartless Duke instantly dismisses the memory and decides to marry for the second time. He is greedy and expects handsome dowry in his forth coming marriage – “no just pretence of mine for dowry will be disallowed”.

                The Duke describes the character of last Duchess and he really brings out the bright side of her character. He says of the depth and passion of her earnest glance. She is enthusiastic and expensive by nature. She was one of the lonely women whose kindness and responsiveness are as natural as sunlight. She is gay and gracious, full of courtesy to all. The Duke’s narrow and jealous mind can not brook her broad and expensive nature. He considers his wife as his properly, and her courtesy to others is regarded as the infringement of the rights of property.

                Implied action and implied conversation are the characteristics of a good dramatic monologue. The presence of the envoy for which the monologue is intended is very much suggestive here. His responses and actions are adequately hinted at. When the Duke speaks of the officious fool who brought the cherries and when he says all smiles stopped together, the envoy looks at him with a fearful question in his eyes. But the Duke’s face immediately resumes it mask of complacency. There is implied action when the Duke asks the guests to go down and as they descend he draws his attention to fine bronze statue “Neptune, though taming a sea-horse”.

                Thus, as a dramatic monologue the poem is remarkable for character studies. Here Browning’s dramatic genius for character study is illustrated in the subtle and ironical characterization of the Duke.

Now try to write the answers of these questions:
 As a dramatic monologue 
 As a poem of character study 
 Character of the Duke and last Duchess 
 A poem of deep psychological insight 
 Dramatic action in “My Last Duchess”