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.


Anonymous said...

Super Explanation.......Keep it up

Myoni said...

Well Explained @@@
Ur analysis reminded me of KSV !!!
hahahahahhahah ;P

Madhava said...

yes, this write up does something.. keep writing... and sorry for my comment for your prior post...

Myoni said...

Hello madam !!
Verrry Busy i guess ...
pls. update ur blog ;-)

ಕನಸು said...

ನಿಮ್ಮ ಕನಸಿಗೆ ಬರಲಾ..?
ಕೇಳದೆ ಬಂದದಕ್ಕೆ ಬೇಜಾರಿಲ್ಲಲ್ಲ ..?
ಬೆಜಾರಾಗದಿದ್ದರೆ i am very ಲಕ್ಕಿ
ನಿಮ್ಮ ಬ್ಲಾಗು ನಂಗೆ ತುಂಭಾ ಮೆಚ್ಚುಗೆ ಆಯ್ತು

kanasu said...

ಕನಸಲ್ಲಿ ಬಂದ ಕನಸಿಗೆ ಸ್ವಾಗತ ಮತ್ತು ಮೆಚ್ಚುಗೆಗೆ ಧನ್ಯವಾದಗಳು...

Madhava said...

write something madam...

Prateek said...

Thanks for reading and commenting on my post 'Beauty beyond symmetry' in the Amrita Magazine blog.. How did you find the link?

I've not yet read ur postings. I will do it shortly. Please excuse.

Well, we have a few common chords.. Hindustani classical, literature.. etc..