My Last Duchess Summary Questions Answers

My Last Duchess Summary Questions Answers

My Last Duchess Summary

Robert Browning, a true Victorian poet developed a philosophy of robust optimism and energy which is essentially Victorian. Robert Browning became famous for the form dramatic monologue which is chiefly lyrical yet self exploration.

His poem “My Last Duchess” is a great specimen of dramatic monologue. “The whole poem contains only fifty-six lines, but it could easily be expanded into a three volume novel”.

The Duke of Ferrara speaks to the envoy of a Count who has come ;to settle a marriage between the Count’s daughter and the Duke who is a widower. He shows the envoy the portrait of his last Duchess which is a wonderful work of art done by the famous painter, Fra Pandolf. The painter worked for a day only to produce such a marvellous picture.

The Duke requests the envoy to sit and admire the portrait. he goes on saying that all those who saw the picture, turned around, as if to ask him why the Duchess had such a serious passionate look on her face but none of them dared to ask him so. He then himself explains the look on the Duchess’ face.

According to him, she was of childish temperament. She always felt impressed and pleased by the trivial things. Anything could delight her or make her blush, even small remarks made by the painter. She was made glad too easily and felt interested in whatever she looked at. She liked everything she saw and appreciated the sunset, the mule she rode or the cherries broken from the orchard in the same way as she appreciated a costly gift from her husband.

It seemed to the Duke as if she could not make a distinction between the gift of a nine-hundred years old name which he had bestowed on her by marrying her and the most trivial gifts presented by others. The Duke considered this behaviour of his late wife beneath his dignity. The Duke could go to the extent of tutoring and disciplining her but he did not do this for it was beneath his dignity.

The Duchess’ habit of smiling and showing appreciation to all incurred the displeasure and disgust of the Duke. The Duchess makes no distinction between the gift by her husband and by other. The Duke could no longer put up with such behaviour and no longer tolerate this and so he gave commands to stop her smiles forever. Thus the Duke tailors his speech to lay down a code of behaviour for the new Duchess by describing the flaws in the character of the previous Duchess.

Then he takes the envoy downstairs to meet the other visitors. On his way he draws the attention of his visitor to a bronze cast of “Neptune taming a sea-horse” which suggests that ‘taming is an art he both admires and practices’.

My Last Duchess Poem:

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 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 wins to yours, forsooth, and made excuse,
-E'en then would be some stooping, and I chose
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 Clause of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me.
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My Last Duchess Questions Answers

1. Who painted the picture of the Duchess? is there any significance of the name of the painter?

Ans: The picture of the Duchess in Robert Browning’s poem, My Last Duchess was painted by an imaginary artist named Fra Pandlof. The deliberate mention of the artist’s name by the Duke indicates that only such a great artist could capture on canvas the very intensity of the Duchess’ look. It also implies that the Duke was careful to engage a “Fra” or a monk to paint the portrait, thus avoiding the possibility of an affair between the Duchess and the painter. This reflects the Duke’s egotism and aggressive posessiveness.

2. Describe the picture of the Duchess.

Ans: In Robert Browning’s poem My Last Duchess, the Duke shows the picture of his last Duchess to the envoy of a Count whose daughter he is going to marry. The painting is beautiful and life-like. The glance of the Duchess is intense and passionate, and it amazes the strangers. The cheeks of the Duchess are tinged with a peculiar blush of happiness that disappears along the throat. The picture is usually curtained and none but the Duke may draw aside the curtain from the picture to show it to the visitors.

3. “Such stuff/ Was courtesy, she thought” – What “stuff” is referred to here?

Ans: In Robert Browning’s poem My Last Duchess, the Duke of Ferrara explains to the envoy of the count that the blush of joy in the Duchess’ cheek was caused not only by her husband’s presence, but also by some trivial flattery by the painter. Perhaps the painter happened to remark that her cloak was covering too great part of her wrist, suggesting thereby that her beauty was hidden, or he might have said that he could never hope to portray that soft rosy tint suffusing the cheeks of the Duchess and fading away along her throat. Such trivial compliments by the painter are here referred to by “stuff” by the Duke.

4. What is the objection of the Duke against his wife?

Ans: In Robert Browning’s poem My Last Duchess, the Duke objects to some habits and behaviour of the Duchess. He objects to the Duchess’ habit of taking flattery seriously seriously and behaving accordingly as the Duchess beams with joy to hear the trivial compliments of the painter. He also objects to the Duchess’ having no discriminating judgement as she is interested in and likes everything she sees, such as the ornament given by the Duke, the sunset, a branch of cherries presented by an officious fool and the white mule she rides on. She has no special appreciation to his husband’s present or no special smile to her husband’s appearance.

5. Explain the phrase – “My gift of a nine-hundred years old name”.

Ans: In Robert Browning’s poem My Last Duchess, the Duke informs the envoy of a Count of his last last Duchess’ lacking the discriminating judgement. The Duke has glorious ancestry of nine hundred years and he expected his wife to behave with him in a different manner. But the Duchess could not distinguish between the great gift of the Duke and the trivial gifts of other people. It seemed to the Duke that his wife considered his great family on an equal level with the ordinary families of other people. It was a serious insult to the Duke and he could not tolerate it. This reflects the Duke’s egotism and excessive pride.

6. Explain the line – “I choose never to stoop”.

Ans: Robert Browning’s poem My Last Duchess, the Duke tells the envoy of a Count that the Duchess was too childish to realize what displeased him. He also lacked the skill in speech to make his wife understand what he wanted. If the Duke had possessed the skill in speech, he might have pointed out the faults of conduct of the Duchess. But even if she had accepted the Duke’s criticism in a good spirit and allowed herself to be guided instead of arguing with him, the Duke would consider his position degrading as it would mean a lowering of himself from his dignified status. The tone of the Duke here expresses his supreme egotism, snobbery and inflated sense of dignity.

7. What is the opinion of the Duke about dowry?

Ans: In Robert Browning’s poem My Last Duchess, the Duke talks with the envoy of the Count about his intended marriage to the Count’s daughter. He considers the Count’s known generosity as sufficient guarantee that he would be getting a large dowry to satisfy his legitimate expectations. The Duke adds, with cunning tact that his primary concern is, of course, the beautiful daughter of the Count. Thus, declares his demand in the grab of expectation. He is exceptionally greedy but he is too diplomatic to reveal it. He actually camouflages his greed with his deceptive eloquence and flattery.

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8. What does the statue of Neptune symbolize?

Ans: In Robert Browning’s poem My Last Duchess, the Duke while leading the envoy down the stairs to join the Count’s party, shows him a statue of Neptune – the god of sea in Greek mythology – taming a sea-horse. It is a rare bronze statue made by the famous sculptor Claus of Innsbruck for him. The statue symbolizes the Duke’s own autocratic and dominating nature. By showing the statue to the envoy, the Duke wants to impress on him the fact that he had tamed his last Duchess in the same way and that he will tame his future Duchess, if it will be necessary. Actually the Duke wants to make the envoy understand his demand of absolute and unconditional devotion from the woman he marries.

9. Bring out the character of the Duke.

Ans: In Robert Browning’s poem My Last Duchess, we get a superb character analysis of an arrogant Duke of Italy. The Duke is very much proud of his ancestry and position. He has an inflated sense of personal dignity. He dislikes his Duchess’ act of smiling and thanking every one whole-heartedly, but he is too haughty to correct her. He is over-possessive and considers the Duchess to be his personal property like any of his art-pieces. He is paranoid about his Duchess’ conduct, but does not want to stoop to argue with her. He is so cruel that he does not hesitate to stop the Duchess’ smile. He is very much greedy to get dowry from his future father-in-law, but he is so diplomatic to reveal it and camouflage his greed with the garb of flattery.

10. Bring out the character of Duchess.

Ans: In Robert Browning’s poem My Last Duchess, the picture of the Duchess emerges from the Duke’s own words. The Duchess was an innocent, good-natured lady who simply could not adopt the arrogance of her husband. Devoid of cunning and unscrupulousness of the Duke, she could not hide her true carefree innocence. She had a smile for everyone and enjoyed life’s little joys. She is frank and is readily pleased. Her child-like nobility was inevitably overcome by the tyrant Duke for her marriage with the Duke was a clash of personalities.

11. Consider the poem My Last Duchess as a dramatic monologue.

Ans: In Robert Browning’s poem My Last Duchess, the Duke who is not the poet, caught at a dramatic moment of being prepared for a new marriage after the death of his last Duchess, reveals his soul to the envoy of the Count whose daughter he is going to marry. In this poem the envoy is a silent listener whose presence is indicated by certain hints and gestures in the Duke’s speech and it is through the interaction between the eloquent Duke and the silent envoy that the dramatic tension is built up in the poem and the autocratic, haughty, paranoid, greedy, diplomatic and cruel nature of the Duke is revealed. Therefore, this poem is a specimen of perfect dramatic monologue.

12. Explain the line “I gave commands;/ Then all smiles stopped together.”

Ans: The quoted expression from Robert Browning’s poem My Last Duchess reeks of the speaker Duke’s cold-blooded cruelty. Tolerating no longer the carefree innocence of the Duchess, he gives command to kill her and stop her smile. The paranoid autocracy makes him blind to the Duchess’ genuine heart and innocent disposition. This also reveals the irony in the Duke’s character, who appreciates life-like painting but gives command to stop life. Actually to him “life-like” is more preferable than “life”.

13. What type of poem is “My Last Duchess”?

Ans: Robert Browning’s poem “My Last Duchess” is a dramatic monologue which is not a ‘drama of the outer world of events but of the inner world of the soul’. This poem is a beautiful study of egotism of soul in its short dramatic form. The poem is dramatic monologue in the sense that the Duke presents his entire thought at a specific situation and at acritical moment. He addresses a convoy from the count whose daughter will be the next Duchess. The monologue is so organized that its focus is on the temperament and character of the Duke himself and his last duchess which is unintentionally revealed in the course of what he says.

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