Robert Browning - 'My Last Duchess' - Annotation
Annotation prompts for Robert Browning’s ‘My Last Duchess’.
‘My Last Duchess’ is a dramatic monologue, set in Ferrara (a town in northern Italy – has broad streets / many palaces dating from the 14th and 15th centuries). The persona is presumably the Duke – speaking to an ambassador of the family of his prospective new wife. “Duchess” = wife / widow of a duke (nobleman / male ruler of small state or territory). The speaker is probably Alfonso II d'Este, 5th Duke of Ferrara (1533–1598) – aged 25 he married Lucrezia di Cosimo de' Medici (14-year-old daughter of Cosimo I de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, and Eleonora di Toledo). His wife died 2 years afterwards – suspected poisoning or maybe tuberculosis. He married twice again. In the Victorian era women were meant to be subservient to their husbands: raise children; cook / clean; gratify their sexual needs. Legally, once married, a woman’s rights were given to her spouse. They became the husband’s property. How are male / female relations conveyed in the poem? Also, during this time, power and money resided mainly with people of nobility.
Robert Browning (07.05.1812-12.12.1889) was a Victorian English poet / playwright. Married Elizabeth Barrett (poet) in secret (1846); went to live in Italy (place he called “my university” / often features in his work). Poem was published 1842 and is loosely based on historical events involving Alfonso II.
Browning was fascinated by the Italian Renaissance (14th-16th century) when the arts flourished. What would’ve inspired Browning to write this poem? Could it be a subtle statement about circumstances in Victorian Britain? How is the Duke’s perception of himself different from the reader’s? Is he too consumed by pride (sin)?
The annotation prompts are a supportive tool, intended to encourage further analysis and interpretation.