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How Does Browning Shape Our Reaction To The Duke In His Dramatic Monologue 'my Last Duchess'?

1673 words - 7 pages

How does Browning shape our reaction to the Duke in 'My Last Duchess'?Our initial reaction to the Duke is formed before we've even finished reading the second line of the poem. The Duke says:'That's my last Duchess painted on the wall,Looking as if she were alive...'In this line we first get a sense of how the Duke thinks of the Duchess. If he had any remotely warm feelings to her he would not have referred to her as 'his last Duchess', but by her name. We also get a hint of the Duke's possessiveness - he says 'my last Duchess'. As well as this we are told subtly that he's moving on to his next wife - 'my last duchess'. By telling us all this in the first two lines, Browning is not letting ...view middle of the document...

..'It seems likely to the reader that no-one ever thought to ask the Duke what caused the Duchess to smile - he just thinks that they wanted to but didn't because of his authority. Browning uses this paranoia that creeps into the Duke's speech to make us begin to comprehend certain aspects of the Duke's character. It makes us question whether he had a just cause in suspecting the Duchess of flirting with Fra Pandolf, or whether he was just being overly suspicious about that as well as about the opinions of the people he has shown the painting to.Browning's biggest weapon, however, is in the way he describes the Duchess. He makes us like her - she seems to be a woman happy and contented with her life, always laughing and smiling. We stop suspecting her of loose behaviour because, as we've already seen, the Duke is paranoid. And we begin to see this more and more as the Duke's description of her behaviour continues. The Duke criticises her simply for smiling at other people, and enjoying her life, because he thinks that he should be the most important thing to her. He says:'She hadA heart - how shall I say? - too soon made glad,Too easily impressed; she liked what'erShe looked on, and her looks went everywhere.'The Duke is accusing the duchess of looking at things! We feel really sorry for her, and begin to dislike the Duke, whose suspicions seem to have no grounding in the truth. And we begin to really hate him in the next few lines:'Sir, twas all one! My favour at her breast,the dropping of the daylight in the West,the bough of cherries some officious foolBroke in the orchard for her, the white muleShe rode with around the terrace- all and eachWould draw from her alike the approving speech.'Here the Duke seems to be implying that he's better than the sunset - this shows us his arrogance, which is certified by the line:'As if she rankedMy gift of a nine-hundred- years-old nameWith anybody's gift.'Then the Duke goes on to explain how he didn't want to 'stoop to blame this sort of trifling.' which suggests that maybe he knows that all these things are small. He says that, even if he had been eloquent enough to explain to the Duchess what she was doing wrong, and even if she had accepted it and apologised, he still would have had to 'stoop', so he decided not to. This makes the Duke seem really unfair - he could have tried to explain to her what she was doing wrong, but he was too arrogant and too worried about having to apologise to do it. And then he says'this grew; I gave commands;Then all smiles stopped together. There she standsAs if alive.'This is the moment when we realise how cold hearted the Duke really is - cold hearted enough to kill (or otherwise get rid of) his Duchess for simply smiling at other people. The repetition of 'there she stands as if alive' is really effective because now that statement carries more meaning than it did before.And the thing that possibly...

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