Jealousy in my Last Duchess by Robert Browning
One of the works that we read in class by Robert Browning that really grabbed my attention was “My Last Duchess”. This work really kept me hooked until the end. In this poem the Duke somewhat personifies the green-eyed monster. He is practically a jealousy symbol. The attention his wife, Lucrezia, shows other people. Something as simple as her thanking them for doing something for her, brings out his jealous side. Any smile or blush that she gives, planned or unplanned, he becomes jealous. His jealousy won’t even allow him to have a conversation with her about her actions. In his mind, the only way to solve this problem is to murder his wife. The jealousy that the Duke portrays is not a reaction to only the romantic attention he feels that his wife gives, he is jealous of all attention that she gives.
‘My Last Duchess’ was written by Robert Browning in 1842, the Victorian era. Secrets, conspiracy, and in the end murder all define this poem. Browning’s unintended references and his wife’s death leads the reader to consider the thought that jealousy was the main factor in the Duke’s merciless crime. His decorative language complicates and covers any likely intentions, and the mystery is left unanswered. Fictional techniques were often used by poets to deliver the nature of the speaker in a clearer way. The speaker of the monologue in “My Last Duchess”, speaks to an imaginary audience, and the reader is seen as an undetected third party. This perspective allows the reader the ability to examine the Duke’s words and actions and see his life and personality in a way that he himself is not even conscious of.
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Although the Duke loved Lucrezia, his wife of three years. Jealousy overruled anything that love could possibly encounter between him and his wife. The Duke is the type of man that must control any and everything that goes on around him, when he says:
“But to myself they turned (since none puts by
The curtain I have drawn for you, but I)” (9-10)
He is being a controlling mastery egotistical man. The Duke even accused her of “cheating” with an agent of the Count of Tyrol. I say that because in the poem he says:
“Whene’er I passed her; but who passed without
Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands;
Then all smiles stopped together.” (43-45)
The Duke says that he gave the order to have his wife murdered because she was smiling at the count and the count was smiling back. This action is clearly a sign of intense jealousy. The Duke never once stopped to think that the smile that she gave to the Count was the same smile that she gave everyone. He was so caught up in his jealousy that he was not thinking rationally. The Duchess even tried to argue that she smiled the same at everyone but the Duke was not trying to hear that. There are no lengths that the Duke will go to when he is in his jealous rage. Also, the Duke is very egotistic, he shows it by saying:
“-E’en then would be some stooping; and I choose
Never to stoop.” (43-44)
By saying that the Duke is saying he will not be a push over, he will not let his women run over him and cheat on him, so his way of stopping it was to murder her. He shows his arrogance by bragging about having his wife murdered to an agent of the count.
The Duke is a man who is full of insecurities. He took friendly smiles and conversations as an assumption of them sleeping together and immediately took her life without question. After murdering her he has a picture painted of her and he states:
“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.” (1-4)
This shows how selfish of a man he is, he wanted her all to himself and when he feared that anyone was getting the attention only he should get is when his jealousy interfered. In the book it tells us directly in Footnote 2 the “Friar Pandolf is an imaginary painter”. The Duke took passion and pride in what he had done to his wife. He felt as if the only proper way for her to be happy was with his presence ONLY.
In Conclusion, jealousy is an emotional response that can sometimes lead to conflict in a relationship. Robert Browning was by far the closest thing to a crazy human being. In Browning’s writings he shows you why he is strange and how his jealousy overcomes his entire relationship. In our class discussion we discussed Robert Browning’s ‘My Last Duchess’ and we focused on detail in the poem and focused on the context in our group discussion. In my own personal reading of ‘My last Duchess’, I used my close reading skills to see that Browning does a good job by not just right off the bat saying how he killed his wife, nor does he characterize himself as the jealous type. Once again, I remind you that the Duke is characterized as controlling, he even covers up the painting with a curtain, so he can control who can and cannot see her. Throughout the poem this jealous and egocentric character is even angered at the fact that she does NOT value “nine- hundred-years-old name” more than anything else. He feels as if she flirts with people or is too nice to people by saying “please, or “thank you”. In fact, in lines 34 – 43 he has not even told her how much she upsets him. Also, in the same lines stated before he will not communicate with her, he feels as if it beneath him.
As we can see the Duke has no speech skill. In our group we gathered that it more than likely was an abusive relationship where every problem in the relationship was the women’s fault. He is very jealous of everyone that his wife smiled at, looked at or communicated with other than him and had to death in spite of her uncountable arguments. Robert Browning’s moral of his poems and the point he was trying to get across is that he doesn’t take to unfaithfulness very well, in fact he hates it and that jealousy takes a tole on him in a completely different level than it does with anyone else.