My Last Duchess Essay

I) Introduction

Browning’s “My Last Duchess” is a poem about a Duke and his wife. The Duchess has an outstanding personality which threatens the insecure Duke. The Duke has his wife killed because he is not pleased with her, and he is afraid he will not be able to control her.

II) Suppression of women and male dominance

The relationship between the Duke and Duchess illustrates how men are obsessed with dominating and controlling women. The poem shows that the power to control women is put in the hands of men. The Duke feels he had taken back his control over the Duchess once he killed her, but the Duke does not realize that he only portrays his immanent weakness. Browning’s poem shows that, men silence women so that only their point of view is heard, thus there is no competition or opposition for them. Men such as the Duke become dependent on women’s silence.

Because of his insecurity, the Duke feels he has more control over the Duchess because only a portrait of her is hung on the wall and not her real self. “Manmade objects displace divinely constructed ones in terms of importance” (Mitchell 74). The manmade portrait puts out of place the beautifully created human being in terms of importance. This shows men in the society do not respect life; men are ready to end the life of another human being just so that they may gain power and control.

Though men played an enormous role in suppressing women, women are also to blame for their bondage. In an attempt to please men and the society, women do not seek to find their identity. They seem to enjoy the fact that, men are taking control over them. The Duke speaks of the Duchess and says; “She had a heart, how shall I say? Too soon made glad, too easily impressed” (Browning lines 21-23). The Duke refers to the Duchess as someone who could not differentiate between an ordinary event and an event that should evoke joy. The Duke’s statement symbolizes the child-like behavior of women which makes it easy for men to take advantage of their innocence. Browning’s poem, “My Last Duchess” shows women that there are consequences of behaving child-like and conforming to men’s will.

The Duke wanted to control the Duchess in every way when she was still alive. He wanted to ensure that her smiles and laughter were only directed to him. The Duchess’s sociable personality threatened the Duke and made him feel insecure. The Duke says that he was “disgust[ed]” by the Duchess’s interest in anybody else other than himself (Browning 39). The Duke was so insecure that he used his power to control the Duchess so that she could not see other people. He did not want the Duchess’s warmth to be directed to anyone else. Control over what the Duchess was exposed to was one of the Duke’s vital role. After the Duchess died, the Duke feels that he has recovered complete control over her. The Duke seems to be happier when the Duchess dies. This shows that he has a weak personality and is threatened by the existence of the Duchess.

The Duke says that,” her looks went everywhere” (Browning line 24). Since only her portrait remains now, the Duke can open and close the curtain whenever he wants, and he makes sure that only he can access that curtain. This way, he is sure that her looks will go nowhere, and she will always be there for him. “None puts by the curtain I have drawn for you, but I” (Browning line 9). This way the Duke has complete control over the Duchess and only he enjoy her smile on the painting.

The Duke was uncomfortable with the fact that the Duchess did not entirely depend on him. The Duchess treated everyone with respect, and this did not please the Duke. The Duke felt that the Duchess should give him her undivided attention and should place him above everything because of his status. The Duke states that, “I know not how as if she ranked my gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name with anybody’s gift” (Browning lines 32-34). The Duke feels that Duchess does not consider being married to him as the most valuable thing in her life. According to Dukes statement the Duchess is supposed to worship him like a god simply because he is the Duke. This is how society expects women to act as a commitment to their marital life.

The Duke felt that the Duchess no longer smiled at him. The Duke was irritated because he was unable to control the Duchess’s smile.  “I gave commands, then all smiles stopped together” (Browning line 45). The Duchess smile was a symbol of her connection to the outside world, outside her marriage. The Duchess was able to use her smile to bond and communicate with others. The Duke was not happy because the Duchess no longer reserved her “smiles” and attention for him. “My Last Duchess” reveals that women are expected to reserve all their lives and attention for their husbands.

Women will continue to be subjected to the urge of men until they stop worshipping them. The Duchess did not worship the Duke, for this reason the Duke had her murdered. The Duchess viewed her husband as a man and not a god. The Duke killing his wife is a threat to all women in society. He states that, if his future Duchess does not flatter him as he expects, she will lose what power she will achieve by getting married to him. Even after having his wife killed, the Duke does not make any attempt to conceal his possessiveness and jealousy that led to this murder. This is a threat to all future Duchess and shows that men are not remorseful for subjecting women to suppression.