Robert Browning's Poetry
Support for studying English GCSE and A Level
Robert Browning was born (London, England) on 7 May 1812 and died on 12 December 1889 (Venice, Italy) at his son’s home. Browning was a talented poet, playwright and musician during the Victorian era. Moreover, by the age of fourteen, Browning was fluent in five languages. However, he did not experience much success until later life.
Robert Browning’s father (Robert Browning) was a clerk in the Bank of England and his mother was a deeply religious German-Scotch lady called Sarah Anna Wiedemann Browning. A large proportion of Browning’s education was conducted by his father. Browning decided to become at poet at any early age and his parents supported this decision financially.
In 1845, Robert Browning wrote to Elizabeth Barrett (another Victorian poet) and eventually they fell love. In 1846 (12th September) Robert and Elizabeth left for Italy after a secret marriage, against the will of Elizabeth’s disapproving father. They ended up in Florence. In 1849 Elizabeth gave birth to a son, Robert Wiedemann Barrett Browning - known as Pen. Both parents took responsibility for their son’s education, doting on him.
Browning’s poems had not made much impact until after the death (1861) of his wife, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, when he had returned to London. He had published the important collection ‘Men and Women’; the collection ‘Dramatis Personae’ and the epic poem ‘The Ring and the Book’. This made him, alongside his wife, as a primary British poet.
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.