My Last Duchess by Robert Browning Essay

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My Last Duchess by Robert Browning In his poem “My Last Duchess”, Robert Browning gives his readers a complex picture of his two main characters. The Duke, who narrates the poem, is the most immediately present but Browning sets him up to ultimately lose the reader’s trust. The Duchess becomes the sympathetic character, a victim of foul play. It is through the various representations of the Duchess within the poem that we come to know both characters. The representations of the Duchess, which focus on her ever-present smile and easily satisfied nature, come in sharp contrast with the desperate, sputtering language of the Duke as he tries to tell their story on his own terms. This contrast is a manifestation of the Duke's…show more content…
The painting, then, can be viewed as the Duchess’s record of herself for posterity. She is preserved with a “spot of joy” in her cheek, a “faint/ Half-flush that dies along her throat”, and an “earnest glance” at the viewer (15, 18-19, 8). The word earnest suggests that the Duchess does not seek to deceive those who will look at her painting. The mild blush reveals at least some sense of modesty, which frees the Duchess from the suspicion that her smile is actually a smirk at her husband’s expense. The happy expression on her face, therefore, may be taken as a real indication of a pleasant life left to us by the Duchess herself. By declining to tuck any more details into the portrait, the Duchess and the poet chose to give a brief, clear impression of this unfortunate woman; all we know is that she smiled. The other source of knowledge about the Duchess is the commentary offered by the Duke. While his story is more detailed than the painting, it is also a portrayal that the Duchess or those she befriended might disagree with. She cannot contradict her husband in any way more concrete than her demure painted smile, so here the reader must tread more carefully. The Duke’s statements are full of value judgements, and it is important to look past them in assembling a picture of the Duchess. She is described as having “a heart…too soon made glad,/ Too easily impressed,” which of course is how the Duke perceived her
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