My Last Duchess

That's my last Duchess painted on the wall, 
Looking as if she were alive. I call 
That piece a wonder, now: Fra Pandolf s hands 
Worked busily a day, and there she stands. 
Will't please you sit and look at her? I said 
"Fra Pandolf" by design, for never read 
Strangers like you that pictured countenance, 
The depth and passion of its earnest glance, 
But to myself they turned (since none puts by 
The curtain I have drawn for you, but I) 
And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst,
How such a glance came there; so, not the first 
Are you to turn and ask thus. Sir, 'twas not 
Her husband's presence only, called that spot 
Of joy into the Duchess' cheek; perhaps 
Fra Pandolf chanced to say, "Her mantle laps 
Over my lady's wrist too much," or "Paint 
Must never hope to reproduce the faint 
Half-flush that dies along her throat": such stuff 
Was courtesy, she thought, and cause enough 
For calling up that spot of joy. She had 
A heart—how shall I say?—too soon made glad, 
Too easily impressed: she liked whate'er 
She looked on, and her looks went everywhere. 
Sir, 'twas all one! My favour at her breast, 
The dropping of the daylight in the West, 
The bough of cherries some officious fool 
Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule 
She rode with round the terrace—all and each 
Would draw from her alike the approving speech, 
Or blush, at least. She thanked men,—good! but
Somehow—I know not how—as if she ranked 
My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name 
With anybody's gift. Who'd stoop to blame 
This sort of trifling? Even had you skill 
In speech—(which I have not)—to make your will 
Quite clear to such an one, and say, "Just this 
Or that in you disgusts me; here you miss, 
Or there exceed the mark"—and if she let 
Herself be lessoned so, nor plainly set 
Her wits to yours, forsooth, and made excuse, 
—E'en then would be some stooping; and I choose 
Never to stoop. Oh sir, she smiled, no doubt, 
Whene'er I passed her; but who passed without 
Much the same smile? This grew; I gave
Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands 
As if alive. Will't please you rise? We'll meet 
The company below, then. I repeat, 
The Count your master's known munificence 
Is ample warrant that no just pretence 
Of mine for dowry will be disallowed; 
Though his fair daughter's self, as I avowed 
At starting, is my object. Nay, we'll go 
Together down, sir. Notice Neptune, though, 
Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity, 
Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me!


  1. What does the Duke's unusual way of displaying the portrait suggest about him?

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  2. What is the irony of this rhetorical question?

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  3. The way the Duke keeps the painting of his last Duchess behind a curtain is evidence of his jealous, controlling nature that regards women as possessions not meant to be shared with others.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  4. Browning reveals that the Duke is not interested in a new wife because of love; his interest is only in her dowry, the money that she brings into the marriage. Even though in the next line he assures the Count's representative that he is only interested in the Count's daughter and not her dowry, the Duke's tactless way of masking his motives for the marriage is blatantly obvious.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  5. The painting of the Duke’s last Duchess symbolizes how he objectifies women as property or possessions. Notice how throughout the poem the Duke reaffirms this, and how Browning sets the Duke’s jealousy and reputation against the suspected promiscuity of his last Duchess.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  6. Browning utilizes a poetic device called verbal irony in this selection to demonstrate how the Duke conveys a meaning that is the opposite of the literal meaning of the phrase. In this case, the narrator implies that he did not like these attributes of his last Duchess.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  7. The duke takes pride in the Renaissance-inspired portrait of his wife, as well as his family’s noble legacy. His pride in his status and possessions recur as a theme throughout the poem. However, he is too prideful to believe that others would not value such things as he does, further characterizing him as someone who is rather ignoble.

    — Yasmeen, Owl Eyes Staff
  8. Notice how the duke directly addresses the assumed audience--presumably shocked after hearing the duke imply that he killed his own wife--and asks them to stand. This line is almost threatening for the assumed audience, especially considering what’s been learned about the Duke’s character.

    — Yasmeen, Owl Eyes Staff
  9. 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.

    — Yasmeen, Owl Eyes Staff
  10. Browning writes the poem as a dramatic monologue, characterized by an assumed audience and the author writing in the first person under a different persona. Note how this style lets the Duke brag about himself and speak poorly of his wife, all without allowing other voices or perspectives to be heard. As a result, the Duke comes across as self-centered and ignorant of his unlikeable character.

    — Yasmeen, Owl Eyes Staff
  11. Notice how Browning uses the statue, which the Duke has had specially commissioned, to ironically reveal the Duke’s inflated self-image: The Duke sees himself as Neptune, the Roman god of the sea, exercising his power over a fragile, defenseless seahorse that symbolizes both his Last Duchess and his future bride.

    — Jules, Owl Eyes Staff
  12. Browning combines the literary device enjambment, sentences that run from one line of poetry to the next, with the formal conventions of rhymed couplets (AABB) and iambic pentameter. Notice how this creates an intentionally jarring style that adds to the disturbing impression made by the Duke in his monologue.

    — Jules, Owl Eyes Staff
  13. 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.

    — Yasmeen, Owl Eyes Staff
  14. The Duke doesn't explain what happened between the time the Duchess's smiles ceased and her death. The implication is that her death is not from natural causes and that the Duke was responsible.

    — Stephen Holliday
  15. This statement captures the arrogant, unyielding personality of the Duke. Rather than discuss his feelings with his Duchess, which might have led to an understanding on her part, he chooses to ignore her.

    — Stephen Holliday