Monday, November 10, 2008

My Last Duchess

My Last Duchess is a dramatic monologue written by Robert Browning. I called it a master piece, now am here to justify the statement. Well, it is worth the say because it relishes all the qualities required for a good piece of writing. To gain a good grasp of this poem we need to go back to the physical and intellectual context of this poem. In Victorian Era, poets majorly concentrated on epics, lyrical ballads and courteous writings. In such a position the dramatic monologues caught the eyes of many of the Victorians. Browning, who lived in a time of transition in British poetry, was the one who gave a perfect form to this concept.

A dramatic monologue is a type of poem in which, the narrator is a single person (usually a historic character), who has a silent listener to whom he addresses the speech. The beauty of dramatic monologue lies in its part-whole concept. I mean to say, it tries to explain some serious concept or issues by attempting to represent a part of the story.

My last duchess depicts the glitters of the story of the historical person Alfonoso, the duke of Ferrara who lived in 16th century. The poem has the duke addressing to an emissary who is the silent listener. The duke is trying to entertain the emissary who has been invited to “discuss” about the marriage proposal for the duke. The duke had recently been the widower. And he has the portrait of his duchess on the wall on which he is explaining the emissary.

He points out to the portrait and says, that was his last duchess. Notable word in the very first line and even in the title is the word “last”. It shows he does not even know how many duchess he had previously and that was his ‘last’ one. The duke enlightens the emissary about the painting, saying Fra Pandolf (This is an imaginary artist created by Browning) painted that with his flourishing art. The poem in its every part shouts loud about the feministic clichés and the capitalistic notions that existed during that time of the Victorian era. He says, “Will't please you sit and look at her?” this shows how dominating and possessive he was. He cannot even tolerate some one starring at his duchess’ portrait! And more over, his dominance over the emissary can be visibly noticed throughout the poem.

That portrait has pictured itself so well, that everyone including the emissary (according to the duke) wonder, what made the portrait of the lady to have such a glance and smile on her face. And the duke doubts that smile was not out of his presence but out of Fra Pandolf’s praising. We can observe the psychological envisage of the duke who could not tolerate his wife speaking to some other male and finally he sentences her to death. In other words he gives “commands” to murder her.

“…This grew; I gave commands;

Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands

As if alive…”

These are the observable lines which portraits the psychological illness of the duke, his cruelty and his misusage of the authorities. He, as a duke, wanted his duchess to be only with him and not even talk or smile at the third person. His duchess who was a social girl wanted to mingle with people, be kind and polite to them which took her to the mouth of death. Then after explaining the emissary about the portrait (indirectly warning him about his daughter who is going to become the next duchess), he specifies him not to negotiate with dowry and also he calls the emissary’s daughter as his “object”! Words like this evokes the male chauvinism which the duke had. Finally the duke takes the emissary down meanwhile he shows him another sculpture which was sculpted by Claus of Innsbruck (who is again an imaginary sculptor created by Browning). This sculpture also plays a significant role in the theme of the poem. The sculpture is the taming of a sea-horse by Neptune. This again portraits dominance, power and pride of the duke.

The poem is symbolic and very crucial because it resembles the image of the Victorian and prior Victorian notions and values of the high class creed and the male-oriented society. Browning has been magical with words creating more effect through each and every line in the poem. The duke behaves as if he is the most polite and gentle man to be, but we can also clearly visualize the other darker side of him. This is the beauty of this poem which, like a drama, says something and portrays many multiple other things through the same. The irony and sarcasm which Browning has created through the politeness of the duke has added more color to the theme of the poem. Through this poem Browning also proves himself as a feminist.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

A Master Piece of Dramatic Monologue...

One of my favorite poems of Robert Browning. The beauty of this poem is, it is very different from the conventional courtious poetry at that time of the victorian era. It is built based on the concept of Dramatic Monologue. There is only one person speaking but another one who is a silent listener. Smooth reading, simple language and very attractive. We ourselves become the silent listener in the poem. I am sure you will enjoy this one....

My Last Duchess

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.
Will't please you sit and look at her? I said"
Frà Pandolf" by design, for never read
Strangers like you that pictured countenance,
The depth and passion of its earnest glance,
But to myselfthey turned (since none puts by
The curtain I have drawn for you, but
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. Sir, 'twas not
Her husband's presence only, called that spot
Of joy into the Duchess' cheek: perhaps
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.
Sir, 'twas 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? 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
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!