Victorians! discussion

My Last Duchess and Other Poems
This topic is about My Last Duchess and Other Poems
65 views
Poetry Archives > My Last Duchess - Browning

Comments Showing 1-50 of 80 (80 new)    post a comment »
« previous 1

message 1: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan Moran | 191 comments We will be discussing this poem from 1/29 - 2/4 and beyond.


message 2: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan Moran | 191 comments A little background information for starters: The events of Browning's poem parallel historical events, but its emphasis is rather on truth to Renaissance attitudes than on historic specificity. Alfonso II d'Este, Duke of Ferrara (born 1533), in Northern Italy, had married his first wife, daughter of Cosimo I de'Medici, Duke of Florence, in 1558, when she was fourteen; she died on April 21, 1561, under suspicious circumstances, and soon afterwards he opened negotiations for the hand of the niece of the Count of Tyrol, the seat of whose court was at Innsbruck, in Austria. "Fra Pandolf" and "Claus of Innsbruck" are types rather than specific artists.--"My Last Duchess", p. 717, Norton Anthology of Poetry (Third Edition)


message 3: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan Moran | 191 comments My Last Duchess
Robert Browning, 1812 - 1889

That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall,
Looking as if she were alive. I call
That piece a wonder, now: Frà Pandolf’s hands
Worked busily a day, and there she stands.
Will ‘t please you sit and look at her? I said
‘Frà 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, ‘t was not
Her husband’s presence only, called that spot
Of joy into the Duchess’ cheek: perhaps
Frà 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, ‘t was 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 thanked
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 commands;
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!

1842


message 4: by Peter (new)

Peter A nasty bit of business, the Duke. From the title down through the poem comes a trail of death phrases, images, suggestions and references.

The rhyming couplets are very impressive until the last two lines ... and then they stop. The fate of the new Duchess? I think so. The last word of the poem is "me" and that is certainly the focal point of the poem, not his last Dichess who is on the wall.


message 5: by Brit (new)

Brit | 88 comments "My gift of a nine-hundred-years old name": what snobbery! Browning brilliantly manages to weave in the snobbery of the duke towards his young bride that he considers beneath him.


message 6: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan Moran | 191 comments My American Lit professor always started with this question, so I might as well follow suit. What is the speaker's tone? Does anyone find anything admirable about the speaker, or is he pure evil?


message 7: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan Moran | 191 comments FORM
Browning uses iambic pentameter in rhyming couplets as Peter pointed out. This is standard for a dramatic monologue. However, he uses enjambment to tie the lines together, meaning the lines end in the middle of a sentence, thus continuing to the next line. To me, this makes the poem sound more like a person talking and less like poetry. For instance, if he had used end-stopped lines, he likely would have had to use inversion (change the order of the words) which would have made it sound more poetic. Did anyone else notice this? Or, do you see it another way?


For the most part he uses perfect rhymes (AA, BB, CC, and so on). There are a few rhymes, which are near rhymes (whate'er/everywhere, countenance/glance, excuse/choose). In theory, this should draw attention to those words. What was so important about these words that he "had" to use them?


message 8: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan Moran | 191 comments One your second read, once you realize what the two characters are looking at, the second line becomes dramatic irony: "Looking as if she were alive." As far as I can see, this is the only evidence we have that the last duchess is dead. The line is repeated. Do we get any other clues as to what happened to her, or where she is now?


message 9: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan Moran | 191 comments What about the poet's use of figurative language? Share some examples with us on Browning's use of this, and how it adds meaning to the poem.


message 10: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan Moran | 191 comments "Sir, 'twas not / her husband's presence only, called that spot / Of joy into the Duchess' cheek:" (13-15). I would say that this line states the major conflict of the poem. What else causes the spot of joy? Is it reasonable that these things incite jealousy in the speaker?

I find that love and jealousy are the major themes. What does this poem seem to say about the two?


message 11: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan Moran | 191 comments The dominant image of the poem is the portrait of the last duchess. Someone has called the final image of the poem, Neptune taming a sea-horse, a foil of that portrait. Does anyone agree with this statement? What do you make of the Neptune statue?


message 12: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan Moran | 191 comments Peter wrote: "The fate of the new Duchess? I think so."
I wonder. It seems to me that "the sea-horse" represents the next duchess. I took this as the speaker warning the servant here of what was going to happen. Did the speaker not fail to tame the last duchess? He would not stoop to such a level. Now, maybe, the speaker has changed, and in the future he is planning to stoop to the level of "taming" his new wife.


message 13: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan Moran | 191 comments The most interesting word I found in this poem is "object" in line 53. Does anyone else find a double-meaning here?


message 14: by Ginny (new) - added it

Ginny (burmisgal) | 193 comments Jonathan wrote: "One your second read, once you realize what the two characters are looking at, the second line becomes dramatic irony: "Looking as if she were alive." As far as I can see, this is the only evidence..."

Yes--the two characters. Why is the Duke going all out to intimidate the observer? He (or maybe she?) is a servant of some sort to the Count. As a reader, I feel the reaction of this observer in a visceral way. She/he is told to sit. The disgusting failings of the beautiful woman in the painting are enumerated. This envoy is informed:
"I gave commands;
Then all smiles stopped together.
The order is given to "rise". After clearly demonstrating himself as a Bluebeard, the Duke underlines the threat with the sculpture. Neptune was famous for his abusive rages. What is the envoy now expected to do? I think the receiver of the rant is being personally threatened as well.


Natalie Tyler (doulton) | 186 comments The Duke is clearly a man mad, an art collector, and very jealous. Neptune taming a seahorse is quite ironic because while Neptune, a God, might be a symbol for the Duke's own self-image, her would never "stoop" to train his wife in just the way she wants her to be.

The line about "I gave commands...." and then all smiles stopped forever...is more evidence that in this poem we are meant to think that he ordered her to be murdered.

In reality he might have stuck her in a convent while he was making negotiations for a new wife, but he is either villianously immoral or simply insanely amoral.


Natalie Tyler (doulton) | 186 comments Jonathan asks: "Sir, 'twas not / her husband's presence only, called that spot / Of joy into the Duchess' cheek:" (13-15). I would say that this line states the major conflict of the poem. What else causes the spot of joy? Is it reasonable that these things incite jealousy in the speaker?"


I think that the "spot of joy" is the Duke's own point of view. He is the only speaker in the poem. He invents whatever Fra Pandolf may have said to the Duchess. Go to the Uffizi and all paintings of beautiful young women have that obligatory rosy cheek look. Fra Pandolf would have HAD to have given her rosy cheeks regardless of whether the Duchess had them or not.

The Duke, in my opinion, uses the supposed affair he invents between his young wife and the artist as justification for her murder.

There are other ways in which she pisses him off: she says thank you to the servants, she admires sunsets and she likes fruit and her little mule. These aspects of the Duchess, who seems to be to be a bright, sunshiny polite young lady annoy him because he wants her to admire and worship him 24/7. The audacity to take some time in eating cherries! How dare she like the little white mule!


Natalie Tyler (doulton) | 186 comments Jonathan asks about the use of the word object:

"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."

Of course we can see the word as meaning that he is already objectifying the Count's daughter as a sexual object. We can also see it as a plan: "my object is to buy a new work of art today". It's as if he's saying that of course he expects that the Count will give him a splendid dowry for his daughter, but even more than the money, the daughter is his goal.

Finally we can see that his previous duchess is now an object: a painting on the wall, and perhaps he is tacitly warning the envoy that he likes to transform flesh and blood women into "objects" in his personal art collection.


message 18: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan Moran | 191 comments Ginny wrote: "Neptune was famous for his abusive rages."
This information helps. I do think the "seahorse" is the next duchess. Recall, he refused to stoop in order to tame the last duchess. Are these acceptable things to get jealous over?


message 19: by LindaH (new)

LindaH | 499 comments Jonathan wrote: "FORM
Browning uses iambic pentameter in rhyming couplets as Peter pointed out. This is standard for a dramatic monologue. However, he uses enjambment to tie the lines together, meaning the lines en..."


Glad to learn that word...enjambment. Does it refer to breaking lines at unexpected places? If so, the technique always keeps me on my toes since it affects the way a phrase is read. E.g. The second line where the reader can hardly grasp the "as if alive" before confronted with the speaker's commanding tone/presence.

Suddenly I'm awaare of how often a line ends with I and a verb: I call, I said, I choose, I gave commands, I avowed. The speaker controls the the visitor's experience.


message 20: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan Moran | 191 comments Natalie wrote: "he is tacitly warning the envoy that he likes to transform flesh and blood women into "objects" in his personal art collection. "

This pretty much sums up my temporary fascination with Browning's use of the word "object". He didn't say "objective" or "goal", he chose "object", which is a perfectly fine word, but that it carries a double meaning. His last duchess was his object. His new duchess is his object, at once referring to her as a goal and as a "lifeless" object.


message 21: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan Moran | 191 comments Linda wrote: "Suddenly I'm aware of how often a line ends with I and a verb: I call, I said, I choose, I gave commands, I avowed. The speaker controls the the visitor's experience. "

I didn't notice this before. Interesting observation.


message 22: by Peter (last edited Jan 26, 2017 09:06AM) (new)

Peter Linda wrote: "Jonathan wrote: "FORM
Browning uses iambic pentameter in rhyming couplets as Peter pointed out. This is standard for a dramatic monologue. However, he uses enjambment to tie the lines together, mea..."


Yes. Enjambment is a key ingredient in the reading and the interpretation of a poem. I find it helpful to read a poem out loud, and pay close attention to, and then slightly exaggerate, the punctuation pauses indicated in a poem along with the enjambments. In this way a poem -and, to me, certainly "My Last Duchess" - takes on a very sinister tone. So to me, Jonathon, that's my vote for tone, and why.


message 23: by Peter (new)

Peter We hear the narrative of the poem from the Duke's point of view. The Duke is a rather arrogant, self-serving man. I have often wondered to what extent is his criticism of his last duchess accurate and how much is justification of his simple desire to despatch her.

The Duke's attitude is much like we see in Shakespeare's Othello. Iago says he thinks the alleged stories of Desdemona are true, and so therefore they are true.


message 24: by Jonathan (last edited Jan 25, 2017 10:51PM) (new)

Jonathan Moran | 191 comments Peter wrote: "certainly "My Last Duchess - takes on a very sinister tone. "

There is a sinister tone here. I agree that the enjambment helps produce that effect. Pope, for example, used inversion a lot to close the second line of his couplets. This didn't emulate speech. Browning avoids that here and the effect is that we get the outpourings of a raving lunatic.


message 25: by Jonathan (last edited Jan 25, 2017 10:58PM) (new)

Jonathan Moran | 191 comments Peter wrote: "I have often wondered to what extent is his criticism of his last duchess accurate"

Natalie made an astute observation: "Fra Pandolf would have HAD to have given her rosy cheeks regardless of whether the Duchess had them or not." Right, it's not that this is the only portrait with the "object" having rosy cheeks. Yet, this image of the spot of joy becomes a leitmotif in the poem, something the speaker returns to again and again. If the portrait was the dominant image of the poem, then this spot of joy is the dominant part of that image. The speaker has made a mountain out of a molehill, as it were. He does this with all of the innocent actions of his last duchess. I would say that there may be some truth to his observations, but they are obviously skewed, twisted, and exaggerated in his jealous mind.


Natalie Tyler (doulton) | 186 comments If we were to start a dossier on the Duchess and her behavior, I think that we know almost nothing except that she liked the sunset, said thank you a lot, smiled at people, liked her mule and her cherries and was a polite and gracious teenager. Those are her "crimes."

I am certain that she behaved properly to the Duke, but he wanted her to be as rude and abrasive as he is. Why in the world should she like a sunset when he's around? He is the monolithic being in her life, in his opinion, and that means no kittens and puppy cats and smiley faces.

And he won't even tell her that he's offended.

An analogy would be if a man had a dog and had decided that he won't bother to let the dog know that he should not bark at the sun and if the dog barks one time too many, he will be put down.


message 27: by Brit (new)

Brit | 88 comments If this is based on the marriage of the Alfonso II d'Este, Duke of Ferrara and his first wife, we have a wife that is 14-17 years old and a husband 25-28 years old. She is a young girl ready for life and it should be natural that she looks for joys in life. She may not have done anything wrong. Instead is it not more likely the husband was overly jealous and controlling.


Natalie Tyler (doulton) | 186 comments I agree with you, Brit. I think that she was a nice, "normal" teenager and that her husband is a lunatic. He is self-delusional because he is so adept with self-justification and has such polished speech that many people are hoodwinked into believing that the Duchess was unfaithful to him.


message 29: by Ginny (last edited Jan 26, 2017 10:36AM) (new) - added it

Ginny (burmisgal) | 193 comments Linda wrote: "Suddenly I'm aware of how often a line ends with I and a verb: I call, I said, I choose, I gave commands, I avowed. The speaker controls the the visitor's experience. .."

Could another meaning of "object" be it's use as a verb?

Who do you think this bullied (perhaps terrified) listener could be? The Duke is a maniac but is he stupid? How is this speech going to help him achieve his goals, one of which is most certainly a dowry?

I saw an interesting comment about this poem--that it is a novel in 60 lines.


message 30: by Lily (last edited Jan 26, 2017 11:19AM) (new) - added it

Lily (joy1) | 1290 comments Natalie wrote: "If we were to start a dossier on the Duchess and her behavior, I think that we know almost nothing except that she liked the sunset, said thank you a lot, smiled at people, liked her mule and her cherries..."

"Cherries" is such a double-loaded word.

The audio reading here is nice: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem...

Stream of consciousness tidbits: a) Holbein's portraits for Henry VIII when he needed a new queen. b) Isn't there a portrait behind a curtain in Radcliffe's The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794)? c) Browning published this 1842. d) Mysterious pictures depicted in prose almost inevitably take me to The Picture of Dorian Gray ( 1890). e) Also"The Portrait of Lucrezia Panciatichi" by Bronzino alluded to in Henry James's The Wings of the Dove (1902). (https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2...)
(http://jamesausten.qwriting.qc.cuny.e...)

I found the commentary here especially interesting:
http://www.gradesaver.com/robert-brow...

There is more here:
http://www.sparknotes.com/poetry/brow...


message 31: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan Moran | 191 comments Natalie wrote: "An analogy would be if a man had a dog and had decided that he won't bother to let the dog know that he should not bark at the sun and if the dog barks one time too many, he will be put down."

I think that is a fitting analogy. Would it really be considered stooping to command a dog not to bark? No, that is perfectly natural. I was wondering why, in his arrogance, he did not command his last duchess to cease smiling, unless it was about him, instead of the macabre command that we presume led to her demise.


message 32: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan Moran | 191 comments Brit wrote: "She may not have done anything wrong. Instead is it not more likely the husband was overly jealous and controlling."

He is provoked to jealousy by everyday things, over which most husbands would not worry. However, most husbands do not have a 900 year old name. In his mind, this fact should put the last duchess in awe of him, so much so that these trivial things should not elicit a spot of joy. Does he love her so much that he is driven to this jealousy? Or, his opinion of himself too high, such that she does not "stoop" enough to him?


message 33: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan Moran | 191 comments Ginny wrote: "I saw an interesting comment about this poem--that it is a novel in 60 lines."

Such is the nature of the dramatic monologue.


message 34: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan Moran | 191 comments Lily wrote: ""Cherries" is such a double-loaded word."

I wish we could get you to expound upon this. : )


message 35: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan Moran | 191 comments Lily wrote: "I found the commentary here especially interesting:
http://www.gradesaver.com/robert-brow..."


I like Shmoop too. They're my favorite.

http://www.shmoop.com/my-last-duchess...

I will check out your links though.


message 36: by Brit (new)

Brit | 88 comments Can we assume the listener is an envoy for the family of the next bride and wife? If so, it must be a chilling experience. What would make a father marry off a daughter to such a man. Does the duke's ancient name, power and status carry that much weight? I know this is speaking from a 21st century perspective, but I am trying to get a better understanding of the 16th century's way of thinking and their value system.


message 37: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan Moran | 191 comments Brit wrote: "Can we assume the listener is an envoy for the family of the next bride and wife?"

I think this is a fair assumption.

What would make a father marry off a daughter to such a man. Does the duke's ancient name, power and status carry that much weight?

Perhaps, the father would not. This is a negotiation and the envoy is there to help set the terms. It is feasible that the family of the next duchess "object" to these terms. It is probable that the duke's family name was the bait that drew them this far, but that does not mean that in light of this conversation they will not take their daughter and run.


message 38: by Lily (new) - added it

Lily (joy1) | 1290 comments Jonathan wrote: "...that does not mean that in light of this conversation they will not take their daughter and run...."

Or that you will know to send along the proper chaperones and ladies in waiting to protect the lady in question. The situation is not unlike women who know to remain silent, regardless of what they might have said to the tabloids in the heat of a divorce.


message 39: by Lily (last edited Jan 26, 2017 01:17PM) (new) - added it

Lily (joy1) | 1290 comments Jonathan wrote: "Lily wrote: ""Cherries" is such a double-loaded word."

I wish we could get you to expound upon this. : )"


Really? I presume, as over 21 and in the US, you are aware of its most vulgar usage. (view spoiler)

But it has much softer symbolism as well: "Cherry. Cherries can symbolize fertility, merrymaking, and festivity. In Japan, where cherry blossoms are the national flower, cherries represent beauty, courtesy, and modesty. The ancient Chinese regarded the fruit as a symbol of immortality....

Read more: http://www.mythencyclopedia.com/Fi-Go...

Or here: "Cherries symbolize a number of meanings, including the cycle of life, death and rebirth, as well as reproduction. The meanings embodied by cherries have varied through history, and the fruit and its blossoms hold different meanings in societies around the world...." https://www.reference.com/world-view/...


message 40: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan Moran | 191 comments Lily wrote: "Really? I presume, as over 21 and in the US, you are aware of its most v..."

I am still laughing. I just wanted to be reassured of what you meant. This is great. Did it mean that then (1840s)? Probably so. If she cherished hers then perhaps they had not consummated the relationship. That may cause some pent-up anger in the aging duke.


message 41: by Lily (new) - added it

Lily (joy1) | 1290 comments Jonathan wrote: "...If she cherished hers then perhaps they had not consummated the relationship...."

I'd think I was reading Byron rather than Browning, for all the lascivious ambiguity. [g]


Natalie Tyler (doulton) | 186 comments I have always wondered if the Duke is tacitly warning the Envoy that his "next" Duchess better be taught in advance or if he assumes that this is the perfectly natural way to treat a wife. Or if he is so caught up in his ego that he does not realize he is giving away anything.
Yes he knows how to be polite: he says: "Nay, we’ll go /
Together down, sir. "

The envoy is standing back, allowing the person of greater social prestige to walk first down the stairs. The Duke is playing at good manners in suggesting let's walk down the stairs together. You could argue that here he chooses to "stoop" to break (if only slightly) the rules of protocol.

I am assuming that Browning is not aware of any dubious meaning or double meaning of the word "cherry". If you look it up in the OED the first use of "cherry" in this meaning is cited for a dictionary of slang in 1889 where it meant a "young girl".


message 43: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan Moran | 191 comments Natalie wrote: ""Nay, we’ll go /
Together down, sir. " The envoy is standing back, allowing the person of greater social prestige to walk first down the stairs. The Duke is playing at good manners in suggesting let's walk down the stairs together."


Wow! You guys are clarifying parts of the poem which I could not clearly understand. Perhaps, the last duchess taught the speaker a greater lesson than he taught her.


message 44: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan Moran | 191 comments Natalie wrote: "I am assuming that Browning is not aware of any dubious meaning or double meaning of the word "cherry". If you look it up in the OED the first use of "cherry" in this meaning is cited for a dictionary of slang in 1889 where it meant a "young girl". "

Okay, okay. We were just having a little fun! Good info though.


message 45: by Lily (new) - added it

Lily (joy1) | 1290 comments Natalie wrote: "I am assuming that Browning is not aware of any dubious meaning or double meaning of the word "cherry"..."


Lexicographer Jon Green offers these comments:
https://www.quora.com/Where-did-the-p...
This article tends to agree with the OED specifics, while recognizing much earlier English language overtures: https://broadly.vice.com/en_us/articl...

Cherry red and pouting lips can be found on portraiture far into at least Western art. I haven't looked at Eastern examples, but Pamuk's My Name Is Red devotes a chapter narrated by the color red. As you might expect, the symbolism/meanings are diffuse.

Now, what about "riding a white mule"?


message 46: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan Moran | 191 comments "The bough of cherries some officious fool
Broke in the orchard for her"

In modern English, this would poetically mean that some fool took her virginity. Since that sense of the phrase did not come into usage until late 19th century, it post-dates the poem. I initially had the idea of bleeding cherries (excuse the pun) in the orchard. But, how could she enjoy smashed cherries. I now read this as he broke the bough off the tree for her so she could eat the cherries. I will admit this here. I would be jealous if "some officious fool" was walking through an orchard with my wife and feeding her cherries. Perhaps, I am petty like our speaker. Perhaps, this poem will change my viewpoint a bit, since I see everyone's horrified reaction to the speaker. But, jealousy is jealousy, it is an emotion that one cannot control. If he stooped to the level of castigating her for this behavior, which is unacceptable for a gentleman of his class, then he would never know if her new behavior was genuine or not, whether it was from the heart or not. He is in quite a quandary, but murder is not the answer. I think murder is an overused device, an exaggeration if you will. Why does the battle of the sexes always seem to come down to a battle of control vs. freedom, jealousy vs. the appearance of unfaithfulness? Do we all feel this way at one time or another? Can we admit that? Or, is it just certain people with this sickness like Othello and the speaker of this poem?


message 47: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan Moran | 191 comments Lily wrote: "Now, what about "riding a white mule"? "

My question would be who gave her the mule. I think these things are gifts that men have given her. "She thanked men,—good! but thanked / Somehow—I know not how—as if she ranked / My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name / With anybody’s gift." In our culture, not talking Hollywood here, but in the midwest, USA, you don't just go up to someone else's wife and give her an expensive gift. That is interpreted as wooing. However, I do expect that in Renaissance Italy, gifts to a duchess would be expected, even welcomed. Look at this through the lens of cultural relativism. In the speaker's day, his jealousy was unjustified. This would have been expected. Now, the givers of these gifts would be seen as trying to debauch one's wife. Is this not so? Tell me please if you disagree. I want to know what others think about this.


message 48: by Lily (new) - added it

Lily (joy1) | 1290 comments Jonathan wrote: "..I want to know what others think about this."

I don't know. The ambiguity at times of the great writers and literature drives me up a wall. (I am in a group that is currently dissecting that lovely Biblical literary jewel, The Book of Ruth. Input on the polite usages of Hebrew is opening up the story in ways younger studies never did.) But anyway, back to Browning. At the moment, I can only pick this apart, and I am not sure what was intended. But "white" is usually "pure," "mule" often has connotations of stubbornness. I am intrigued by the possibilities you suggest. Language, especially in the form of poetry, so often lies between the intent of the author and the interpretation of the reader.


message 49: by LindaH (new)

LindaH | 499 comments Natalie wrote: "I have always wondered if the Duke is tacitly warning the Envoy that his "next" Duchess better be taught in advance or if he assumes that this is the perfectly natural way to treat a wife. Or if he..."

If the visitor is an envoy charged with assessing the Duke's preferences, then might not he have a darker complexion? Why else would he be among "strangers Iike you" who have never looked on the countenance of a fair-skinned, rosy-cheeked girl? Wouldn't this also explain why the Duke is going to lengths (taking him upstairs, pulling back the curtain) to show him, This is the kind of bride I want.


Natalie Tyler (doulton) | 186 comments Whoa.....I think that the over-interpretation is getting out of hand.

IF the duchess had played around with the "officious fool" that would be end of story then and there. This "fool" is dismissed by the Duke as being meddling (officious). He's probably just a nice member of the court who is being polite. He's not wooing the Duchess; he's not insinuating anything; he's nothing but pleasant.

That's my interpretation because it's the only interpretation that works with the words of the poem.

The envoy's complexion has nothing to do with it. The Duke has the Duchess's painting behind a curtain and rarely pulls it open. He controls who can and cannot see her. Then he begins his little narrative. He's probably well-aware that he must speak to the Envoy of his desires but he does so indirectly--using the history of his last duchess to make certain that his next duchess knows that this will be a life-or-death marriage for her.


« previous 1
back to top