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Historical Context in My Last Duchess

Robert Browning loosely based this poem on the life of Alfonso II d’Este, the Duke of Ferrara from 1533 to 1598. Ferrara married Lucrezia di Cosimo Medici when he was twenty-five. Lucrezia was part of the Medici family, an incredibly wealthy banking family that gained political prominence during the 15th century. Although the Medici family was wealthy, they did not have the social status that the Este family would have had as long-standing members of the aristocracy. Lucrezia died at seventeen, only three years after the couple had married. Though she is thought to have died of tuberculosis, it was widely speculated that she had been poisoned by her husband, who was then seeking the hand of Barbara, the eighth daughter of the Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand I and a woman of significantly more social importance than his young wife. Browning’s character is presumably the Duke of Ferrara. In this poem, he reveals his sociopathic mind and suggests that Lucrezia was murdered.

Historical Context Examples in My Last Duchess:

My Last Duchess

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"Fra Pandolf s..."   (My Last Duchess)

Since it was fashionable for powerful men to patronize artists during the Renaissance, the Duke wants to show how artistic and cultural he is by having his wife memorialized by Fra Pandolf. Interestingly, the title Fra refers to an Italian monk or friar, likely indicating that the jealous Duke wanted his wife’s painter to have taken a vow of chastity.

"Ferrara..."   (My Last Duchess)

Ferrara is a city in Italy. After marrying, Browning moved to Italy and was inspired by the country's art and atmosphere, calling it his "university." It features frequently in his work.

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