My Last Duchess by Robert Browning is a celebrated dramatic monologue. Before stating my view on the poem let me give a concise introduction regarding the poet. Robert Browning was an English poet and playwright whose mastery of the dramatic monologue made him one of the foremost Victorian poet. His poems are known for its irony, characterization, dark humour, social commentary, historical setting and so on. Always his first concern was with the human soul.
As it is a monologue it just has one character and the person who narrates the poem is an unnamed Italian Duke. There is a silent listener as well in the poem that is the envoy of a Count. The plot is as follows. The Duke speaks to the envoy of a Count, whose daughter he proposes to marry. Here the Duke is giving a detailed description of his late Duchess. Through his revelation about the Duchess, he reveals his character unknowingly. The conversation with the envoy is made in front of the portrait of his late Duchess. The narration ends by giving a clue to the envoy that it was he who slew the Duchess because of his intensive possessiveness towards her.
I hope my readers got a vague idea of this poem. If you check the analysis of this poem you will get a line by line interpretation of this one on the internet. So when I went through the various analysis I found that all the analytical essays uniformly state that Duke is cold, egotistical,cynical, possessive and the like. Every essay has negatively portrayed the Duke. I do agree with those analysis and yes, he is the convict and what he did is disagreeable. But I wanted to analyse the poem from a different perspective. Every essay was written and every lecture was given in the viewpoint of the Duchess. In this essay, I am trying to criticize the poem from the perspective of the Duke. Let me confess that this is not the actual analysis, it is just my analysis.
According to me, Duke is a hero. Like everyone he too posses weaknesses, that is,possessiveness and an intense desire to be loved. If you think why does the Duke nag the Duchess to love him only and not anyone else, it might be because he was denied love during his early ages. The details about his Duchess is narrated to the envoy by standing in front of her portrait. Let me ask my readers one thing if Duke had any grudge towards her why should he keep her portrait in his mansion. The most interesting fact in this is that the portrait is veiled. When she was alive he wished if she could be only his . It is usually believed that if someone becomes a memory then no one can access them other than the person who loved the the one who met with their demise. The fact behind in this belief is that even if someone else carries the memories about the dead no one gets to know about that. Here the Duke’s love towards his better half is more than one can describe using words. I believe that he killed her because after death she will be only his. That might be the reason why he kept the painting of her veiled.
As his narration progresses he complaints to the envoy that she easily gets pleased by hearing anyone’s praise. She never judged anyone and wasn’t cynical in nature. He accepts that these traits of her are her virtues but let me ask you is being cynical an extremely bad trait? Being extremely cynical is not so good but one needs to judge others because we can’t trust anyone wholeheartedly. For her, everything and everyone seems alike. Truly speaking she is too good because in Holy Gita Lord Krishna call such kind of people who can view a Brahmin and a Low caste people and everything with the same attitude as the wise ones(not the exact sentence in Gita but summarised). She is virtuous and wise. I do agree with that but somewhere she forgot to understand her husband. In this poem there are some lines uttered by the Duke which is as follows;
“My favour at her breast,
The dropping of the daylight in the West.
………Would draw her alike the approving speech.
The Duke’s intense desire to be loved is evident in these lines mentioned above. She could have stated to the Duke at least once that, though she treats everyone alike he is more special to her than anyone else. But she never said that to him. Love for one should be expressed at least through words because the mind is credulous moreover it never checks for evidence. It accepts everything as it is. Especially the mind of a possessive person will be surely credulous and thereby can be easily influenced by using flattery words. The Duke was suspicious about Duchess because of the excessive love towards her. Even after reading this much do you feel that Duke is wrong? Then let me ask you a question will you give away something that you value the most in your life? I hope no. For Duke, he values Duchess the most. He concludes his narration by saying that;
“There she stands as if alive”. For Duke, she is still alive in his memory and feels extremely happy because no one can ever receive her smile anymore other than him. From his description, we can understand that Duchess never recognized him as her husband. I felt that the reason behind the crime was pure love. If love is a crime then doubtlessly he is a criminal. How can someone claim that the Duke is despicable without knowing his complete past?
At the end of the poem, he mentions to the envoy about the dowry he is expecting from the Count. Readers might feel that he is mercenary, but he is not. Whoever doesn’t receive love in the right proportion tends to divert their interest to something else. He decided to remarry not because he loathed the last Duchess instead he is still in search of love. I believe that those who do not receive love and affection wander in search of it. If Duchess had a love for him she could have tried to correct him by expressing out to him but she never did so.
According to me, whosoever is denied affection will automatically transform into a ruthless one. Love is magical. Love has the power to heal the undiagnosable malady in the world. If the illness is for the mind, then the only solution is Love and nothing else.We cannot say that something is right or wrong based on our perspective because something which is unacceptable for our culture or society might be the virtuous thing in another culture.Views on right and wrong is not universal.We cannot say that what Duke did is absolutely wrong as long as we know every bit of his life. I do believe that everyone has a story.
So this is my perspective and analysis of this poem. I would like to know even your views in the comment section below. Thanks for reading my analytical write-up.
by Aparna Muralikrishnan