Duke in Robert Browning‘s “My Last Duchess” is a controlling and entitled aristocrat who embodies toxic masculinity. He believes that his wife was unfaithful to him, which threatens his sense of power and control, leading to his eventual decision to have her killed. The poem, written as a dramatic monologue, shows certain traits of his character and allows the readers to see the world from the Duke’s perspective.
The Duke’s toxic masculinity is exemplified by his entitlement over his wife, demanding that she comply with his expectations and punishing her if she fails. He sees her as an object to control, unminding her feelings and disregarding her life and death. His belief that she was unfaithful reflects his fear of her independence and desire to maintain control. His expectation of respect and admiration from others further highlights his toxic behavior. The Duke’s use of violence to maintain control over his wife is particularly concerning, as seen in his willingness to kill her for non-compliance.
Lack of Empathy
The Duke’s lack of empathy is evident in how he talks about his previous wife throughout the poem. He describes her as “too easily impressed” and “too soon made glad,” implying that he did not understand or care about her feelings. He also describes her smile as something anyone could buy, which shows that he sees her as a possession rather than a human being. The Duke’s lack of empathy is further highlighted by his decision to have his previous wife killed. He shows no remorse or regret for this action and seems justified in his decision. This lack of empathy is dangerous, ultimately leading to the poem’s tragic ending.
The Duke’s arrogance is evident in his tone and words, confidently and authoritatively using phrases such as “I gave commands” and “she liked whate’er / She looked on.” His formal language and sophisticated vocabulary add to his sense of superiority. The Duke’s possessiveness and jealousy also indicate his arrogance. He describes his wife as “too easily impressed” and suggests infidelity, believing he has the right to control her behavior even in death. The Duke’s lack of empathy and emotional detachment from his late wife reveals his arrogance. He sees her as a possession, a piece of art to show off, valuing her beauty and social status over her feelings and personality.
The Duke’s obsession with control is evident throughout the poem. He is a man who expects everyone, including his wives, to behave according to his wishes. He is possessive of his previous wife’s portrait and only reveals it to people he trusts, which is a way for him to control the narrative and ensure that people only see what he wants them to see. The Duke’s obsession with control is also evident in his treatment of his current wife. He tries molding her into the perfect wife and always tells her what to do and behave. He constantly tries to control her and make her conform to his expectations. This obsession for control ultimately leads to the breakdown of their marriage, as the Duchess can no longer tolerate the Duke’s controlling behavior.
The Duke is manipulative in various ways. First, he uses subtle language, suggesting his wife’s infidelity to make the listener believe her death was justified. He controls the painting of his late wife, putting the listener in a vulnerable position by revealing only parts supporting his version of events. Finally, he manipulates his new wife’s father by flattering him and using his wealth and status to secure the marriage, despite knowing that his new wife will be subject to his controlling and possessive nature.
Appreciation for Art and Beauty
The Duke’s appreciation for art is evident throughout the poem. For example, he takes pride in showing off the painting of his previous wife, describing it as a masterpiece. He understands the value of the painting in terms of its aesthetic beauty and historical significance. The Duke’s love for art is also evident in his talks about the painting, describing it as capturing his wife’s essence. The Duke’s appreciation for art highlights his sophistication and cultural knowledge.
The overarching irony in Browning’s “My Last Duchess” is that it is not about the Duchess but instead about the Duke’s controlling, jealous, and arrogant nature. In his monologue describing a painting of his former wife, the Duke introduces us to his dark and sinister qualities. Robert Browning subtly condemns the nobility for their poor character by giving us the Duke of Ferrara as an example.
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