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Robert Browning Lecture 23

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1 Robert Browning Lecture 23
My Last Duchess Robert Browning Lecture 23

2 About the poem "My Last Duchess," published in 1842, is arguably Browning's most famous dramatic monologue. The poem is written in 28 rhymed couplets of iambic pentameter. It engages the reader on a number of levels – historical, psychological, ironic, theatrical, and more. The irony that colors most of Browning's monologues is particularly strong here.

3 The poem has historical relevance suggested by the word ‘Ferrara’: the speaker is most likely Alfonso II d'Este, the fifth Duke of Ferrara (1533–1598) who, at the age of 25, married Lucrezia di Cosimo de' Medici, 14-year-old daughter of Cosimo I de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, and Eleonora di Toledo. The couple married in He then abandoned her for two years before she died on April 21, 1561, at age 17. There was a strong suspicion of poisoning. The Duke then sought the hand of Barbara, eighth daughter of the Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand I and Anna of Bohemia and Hungary.

4 The other characters named in the poem, painter Frà Pandolf and sculptor Claus of Innsbruck, are fictional. The Duke, in the poem, is described as a jealous and controlling individual representing a repressive and male-dominated relationship central to the Victorian Era. The poem illustrates violence depicted in an aristocratic home. Through the dramatic monologue, Browning depicts the inner-workings and psychological shortcomings of the Duke.

5 Melissa Valiska Gregory illustrates this notion in her essay, “Robert Browning and the Lure of the Violent Lyric Voice: Domestic Violence in the Dramatic Monologue” and states, “Historical work on the subject of sexual violence within the Victorian home suggests that it was a relatively common feature of domestic life, and occurred within families from a wide range of economic and social positions” (492).

6 Analysis of text That's my last Duchess painted on the wall, Looking as if she were alive. I call That piece a wonder, now: Frà Pandolf's hands Worked busily a day, and there she stands. The opening captures the mood and tone of the poem. The Duke’s feelings are revealed as icy, cold and callous towards his wife. His deceased wife merely a thing or ‘piece’ of art.

7 Will 't please you sit and look at her
Will 't please you sit and look at her? I said 'Frà Pandolf' by design, for never read Strangers like you that pictured countenance, You: the envoy from count of Tyrol Fra Pandolf: the painter By design: the words clearly show that the whole speech of the Duke is planned. Countenance: he likes the picture

8 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) Curtain: no one opens the curtain except the duke.

9 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. Durst: archaic form of dare Such a glance: the painting really flatters her The envoy admires the smile of the duchess.

10 Sir, 't was not Her husband's presence only, called that spot Of joy into the Duchess' cheek: She devoted her time to other men also.

11 perhaps Frà Pandolf chanced to say, 'Her mantle laps Over my lady's wrist too much,‘ Mantle: cloak or cape

12 or 'Paint Must never hope to reproduce the faint Half-flush that dies along her throat:‘ Suspects her of flirting with the painter.

13 such stuff Was courtesy, she thought, and cause enough For calling up that spot of joy.

14 She had A heart -- how shall I say
She had A heart -- how shall I say? -- too soon made glad, Too easily impressed; Her simplicity angered him.

15 she liked whate'er She looked on, and her looks went everywhere
she liked whate'er She looked on, and her looks went everywhere.. She was not conscious of her actions, so young was she

16 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 – Favour: gift

17 all and each Would draw from her alike the approving speech, Or blush, at least. She thanked men, -- good!

18 but thanked Somehow -- I know not how -- as if she ranked My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name With anybody's gift. The duke’s was concerned about his family name.

19 Who'd stoop to blame This sort of trifling
Who'd stoop to blame This sort of trifling? Even had you skill In speech -- (which I have not) -- to make your will Quite clear to such an one,

20 'Just this Or that in you disgusts me; here you miss, Or there exceed the mark' --

21 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. Be lessoned: be instructed Forsooth: in truth

22 Oh, sir, she smiled, no doubt, Whene'er I passed her; but who passed without Much the same smile? He thinks she was inviting men to flirt with her.

23 This grew; I gave commands; Then all smiles stopped together. .

24 There she stands As if alive. Will 't please you rise
There she stands As if alive. Will 't please you rise? We'll meet The company below then.

25 I repeat, The Count your master's known munificence Is ample warrant that no just pretence Of mine for dowry will be disallowed; Munificence: great generosity Warrant: guarantee Dowry will be disallowed: the duke demands a considerable dowry from the count.

26 Though his fair daughter's self, as I avowed At starting, is my object
Though his fair daughter's self, as I avowed At starting, is my object. Nay, we'll go Together down, sir. Is my object: girl again referred as an object

27 Notice Neptune, though, Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity, Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me! Neptune: Roman name for Poseidon, god of sea in Gk mythology. Taming a sea-horse: to the duke, the sea horse is a symbol of taming women. Claus of Innsburk: another artist

28 Analysis The duke is a remarkably amoral man nevertheless he has a lovely sense of beauty and knows how to engage his listener. The duke's excessive demand for control comes across as his most defining characteristic. The entire poem has a controlled theatrical flair, from the unveiling of the curtain that is implied to precede the opening to the end when he draws the audience to the present.

29 He pretends to denigrate his speaking ability – "even had you skill in speech – (which I have not),” but later reveals that he believes the opposite to be true. The duke exerts a similar control over the envoy, as Browning does and controls our thoughts through irony. The poem was originally published with a companion poem under the title "Italy and France," and both attempted to explore the ironies of aristocratic honor.

30 the duke reveals himself not only as a model of culture but also as a monster of morality.
the question of money is revealed at the end in a way that colors the entire poem. The poem is more concerned with human contradictions than with social or economic criticism. one can also understand this poem as a commentary on art. The Duke has chosen to love the ideal image of her rather than the reality.

31 Another important theme is how women were viewed as objects rather than as people in the Victorian period. It is a narrative poem, yet it lacks any narrative development; rather, the poem relies on associations of images and ideas in order to create a surreal and eerie atmosphere vividly describing Duke Ferrara’s dead wife.

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