al Research Paperon My Last Duchess by Robert Browning

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Research Papers on My Last Duchess by Robert Browning

The literature writers at Paper Masters can custom write you a research paper on Robert Browning's poem My Last Duchess. The writers will focus on any aspect of the poem you need: the theme, the cadence or even the literary symbolism within the poem.

Robert Browning’s 1842 poem My Last Duchess has been called his “most famous monologue” and “the most brilliant of the whole remarkable collection” from his Dramatic Romances.

  • The poem is the story of a Duke gazing upon the painting of his dead wife. 
  • The poem reads as if this man is talking directly to us. 
  • But what appears to be on the surface a poem of love is really a poem of hatred. 
  • The Duke both loves and hates this woman, all of which (both love and hate) are represented by the painting.

The poem is set during the Italian Renaissance. The Duke of Ferrara and another person are standing on the grand staircase in his palace, looking at the painting. At first, perhaps, we think that the Duke is speaking to us, the reader, directly, but it is revealed that he is speaking to a representative of the Count of Tyrol, with whom he has been negotiating a new marriage.

Robert Browning uses a tongue in check method to display his contempt for authority in My Last Duchess.  The Duke is observing a painting of Fra Pandolf and reflects on her personality and authoritarian greed. "To easily impressed; she liked whate'er she looked on, and her looks went everywhere".  The Duke goes on to blatantly wish he could speak to the Duchess and tell her "Just this or that in you disgusts me; here you miss, or there exceed the mark".

My Last DuchessMy Last Duchess, by Robert Browning is written from the point of view of the Duke, who is speaking to a servant of a Count, whose daughter he is about to marry. He shows the servant a painting of his last wife, who he obviously had murdered, "I gave commands: Then all smiles stopped together." I think his intentions in telling the Count's servant this information was to use it as a warning to the future Duchess and how she should behave. The Duke obviously wanted his wife to be withdrawn and obedient and with all of her attention focused on him. His previous wife had been too friendly it seems. And while he is trying to imply she may have been unfaithful or was at least capable of it, The Duke actually shows his own paranoia and the Duchess seems to be very pleasant. It is a clever way to show the character of the Duke through a small conversation in which it would appear he is revealing nothing of himself.


The Duke is revealed to be emotionally cold, calculating, and materialistic, proud, aristocratic art expert. It is interesting to discover that this deep hatred for the Duchess is part of her attraction.  On author notes this love/hate relationship by looking at the Duke’s personality:

The Duke…is a much more complex figure because his hatred of his wife is itself a mode of desire.  It is precisely because he is a true aristocrat that the conflict between his desire for the Duchess and his self-image is so sharp, and why the outcome can be seen as tragic on his side as well as on hers.

The Duke previous wife (his last Duchess) is in all likelihood dead.  He got rid of her because he felt that she undervalued him and his position and she treated him like she would have any other man.  We know this from the lines: “as if she ranked/My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name/With anybody’s gift.”  To the Duke, his family position is everything.  He is, after all, the Duke of Ferrara, and his family can be traced back for nine centuries, almost a thousand years of aristocracy.  His wife failed to live up to his standards, and so he seeks a new wife.

It would appear that the Duchess’s greatest sins came about because she failed to live up to her aristocratic role, not necessarily because she was sexually promiscuous.  The poem reads: “…she liked whate’er/She looked on, and her looks went everywhere.” Our research papers point out that “what cannot be tolerated is the scandal of a female sexuality which ‘laps over’ the categories set up to contain it”. But the woman was trapped not only by the world the Duke created to control her, but the Duke’s own personality.  For example, one of the Duchess’s crimes appears to have been her familiarity with a man who broke cherries for her in the garden. But, as Tucker points out, the man was “not breaking ranks at all but merely executing his proper ‘office’ in the Duke’s hierarchical world”.  Ironically, then, for the Duke the portrait of the duchess is better than the living duchess herself because he can control who sees and enjoys the portrait; the duchess was beyond his control. The Duchess remains a prisoner of the Duke in death as she had in life.

And so the Duke seeks out a new wife. He is in negotiation with the Count of Tyrol, and stands in front of this painting with the Count’s envoy. He admires the work of the artist, and admits that his wife was in love with him: “Sir, ‘twas not/Her husband’s presence only, called that spot/Of joy into the Duchess’ cheek.”  He then produces a “catalogue of the occasions on which the Duchess took her promiscuous pleasure”. The poem never says so, but one is left with the impression that the Duke will be unsuccessful in his negotiations with the Count. The envoy, having learned the violent nature of the Duke, would recommend against the marriage. “The Duke’s language signals the diplomatic hypocrisy of negotiation, and readers are no doubt meant to understand that he is at least as interested in the ‘dowry’ and the ‘self’ which, as has often been remarked, he makes into an ‘object’ to be owned”.

The final image is the Duke’s statue of Neptune, “taming a sea horse.” Neptune can be seen as the Duke, and the sea horse the Duchess.  The image is one of a powerful god inflicting his will on an innocent creature.  The envoy attempts to break away, only to be restrained. The Duke is a man whose will will not be diverted from its purpose.

In many ways, “My Last Duchess” became an archetype for Victorian poetry that followed, finding similar themes in the poetry of Wordsworth, Keats and Byron.  “This pattern of denying to the female the position to which she had fist been exalted was to become a paradigm”.  One ultimately wonders whether Browning was expressing his own hatred of women, or trying to produce a new form of poetry that indicted this sort of male attitude towards women.

As for the poem’s structure, Browning was constantly experimenting, alternating between rhyming couplets and dramatic sentences.  “As a versifier, Browning was restless, constantly experimenting with different line and stanza forms, rhyme patterns, and metrical norms.  He has no loyalty to a single prosodic or verse convention”.  The ultimate effect of both the dramatic tension and the radical form of the poem give it a powerful impact.  One leaves “My Last Duchess” wondering how a man could love his wife so much to have the perfect portrait produced of her, only to kill her because she did not live up to his expectations.

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