Poets often use literary techniques to clearly convey the personalities of their speakers. In ” My Last Duchess”, Robert Browning uses point of view, diction, and imagery to achieve a powerful effect, underlining the attitude and personality of the Duke. In a dramatic monologue, character development is based on what the speaker says, and how he says it. In “My Last Duchess”, the speaker of the monologue addresses a fictional audience, and the reader is seen as an unnoticed third party. It is because of this viewpoint that the reader is able to analyze the words and actions of the Duke, gaining insight into his life and personality that he is not aware of giving. While the poet uses his words to convey his intended meaning, it is up to the reader to draw his own conclusion, through the witnessed events and conversation.
His arrogant and possessive nature must be inferred of the Duke’s character from the way he speaks, just as the details of the setting and situation must be inferred from his own words. Although the reader is not directly spoken to in the poem, evaluation of the Duke’s showy attitude can be inferred through his concern with the artwork and his nonchalant description of his wife, which is noticed by the uninvolved reader. The Duke wants to present himself as a powerful and sophisticated man, and he does so in the beginning. However, as he continues to discuss his dead duchess, he is displayed as arrogant and possessive through the chosen diction.
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The Duke’s “trifling lack of countenance” is evident in his jealousy of the duchess’s kindness toward others. Her benevolence “disgusts” the Duke, and causes him to “stoop” down to spouting off ” commands” in her direction. By publicly describing the features that he disliked about the personality of his duchess, he is shown to be a heartless, arrogant man. His complete nonchalant manner about the issue of his wife’s death is also seen through his diction. He seems to care more about impressing his guests than telling them about his wife, as he describes the artwork and artist with such passion. “The piece a wonder, now: FraPandolf’s hands worked busily a day, and there she stands.” He encourages the envoy to ” Please you sit and look at her,” as he had invited many other men to do so.
Through the diction used both in describing the Duke and in his own thoughts, the reader sees his arrogant and ruthless nature. Browning’s use of distinct imagery further creates the picture of the Duke as an egotistical, tyrannical, and ruthless man. The Duke, through his words to the envoy and his description of his duchess, proves his own need to be in control. He initially asks his guests to “please you sit and look at her”, later tells his guests that no one may draw the curtain, and in the end commands them to “please rise” and go downstairs. These commands paint the Duke as a man obsessed with being in control, ordering his guests around while attempting to speak the story of the duchess. The description of the Duchess is extremely detailed, with the Duke describing the “half flush that dies along her throat.” He talked of her “heart, too soon made glad.” These descriptions of the duchess show the images of a kind, gentle woman who was killed for completely selfish reasons.
The domineering image at the end of the poem, the statue of Neptune taming a seahorse, displays the picture of complete obedience from his future wife. The Duke does not see himself yielding to a subordinate for any reason, and his mention of Neptune manipulating something as powerless as a seahorse compares to himself manipulating a helpless woman. Browning’s use of the dramatic monologue serves to enhance the meaning of the Duke’s words, as inferred by the reader through a third-party point of view. The diction and imagery used, combined with the point of view, help to convey the Duke as an egotistical man concerned only with pleasing the guests and serving his own need for control..
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