“My Last Duchess” by Robert Browning: The Gloominess of the Character’s Soul
In his poem “My Last Duchess”, Robert Browning narrates a story of a proud man, whose evil nature and wicked character traits become the reason of his wife’s tragic death. The Duke, who is both the main character in the poem, and is its narrator, tries to prove his innocence in what has happened to his wife to the audience, but in fact, he achieves an opposite result. With each line of the poem, the readers may understand that the Duke is a dark and arrogant person, whose inner wickedness stands behind his wife’s catastrophe. Overall, the dark side of the Duke’s personality can be seen in the facts that he openly confesses to murdering his wife because she seems insubmissive and obstinate to him; he wants to marry another woman even when his wife is still alive; he hypocritically praises his wife’s character, but his comments about them reveal his real way of thinking; and he unintentionally speaks about the beauty of his dead wife shown in her portrait as about his narcissist property, that he only keeps for himself under the secrecy of a curtain.
Speaking about the words, in which the Duke unintentionally reveals the real darkness of his personality, it is important to note that they are quite many, but among them the lines “I gave commands; Then all smiles stopped together” are the most eloquent (45, 46). In these lines, the Duke uncovers the real depth of his sin. Being motivated by his jealousy and a sense of possessiveness, the Duke “gives commands” to kill his wife. Thus, here he makes an open confession to his audience that he is a murderer, whose unlimited thirst for authority over everything around him motivated him to slay his own wife as her joyful personality seemed too insubmissive and obstinate to him.
Further, the other lines that expose the Duke’s inner features are the lines speaking about the Count’s daughter. In these lines, we read, “Though his fair daughter’s self, as I avowed At starting, is my object” (53, 54). Here, the Duke reveals the real inclinations of his heart, that are in marrying a younger and a more admirable and beautiful young lady of exalted origin. The most important fact is that these words reveal his mental disposition before the Duchess death, which suggests that he did not care about her and did not love her at all. The contrast between the whole narration of his, where he tries to speak about his wife in a positive and even pedestaling way, and these words, where he reveals his true inner thinking regarding his wife is remarkable. Due to this contrast, the readers may easily conclude that in reality, the narrator is a hypocrite and a shameless liar.
Another remarkable detail is in the fact that the Duke is trying to show his wife in a favorable light, and he manages to do so very effectively, but his evaluations of the Duchess’ character traits are a dead giveaway of his own disapproval of her. The Duke’s vision of his wife’s personality characterizes him as a wicked person because at first he describes her as a genial and warm-hearted person, who is kind and gentle to all people around her, and then he condemns her for these inner qualities by saying that they are too much to be considered virtues. In particular, he says “She had A heart—how shall I say?—too soon made glad, Too easily impressed; she liked whate’er She looked on, and her looks went everywhere” (22-24). In this critique of the Duchess’ kind mental disposition and a positive outlook, the narrator reveals his own gloominess, and murk of his inner world. Regarding this point, the words “Oh sir, she smiled, no doubt, Whene’er I passed her; but who passed without Much the same smile?” (43, 44). In these words, the Duke says that his wife was always smiling that means she was a cheerful person. However, the Duke does not like this quality in his wife, so he “gives commands” or takes measures in order to make the Duchess stop smiling, and she eventually does so. The narrator proudly speaks about this achievement of his, but he hardly understands that the boasting of such kind only shows that his wife’s life with him is only a misery, and he is guilty in this.
Finally, the Duke evaluates his wife as an object in his collection of beautiful things. This idea is seen through the whole poem, but the following lines are the most expressive in proving this fact, “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). Here, we see the way the Duke describes the portrait of his dead wife. He speaks of it as of perfection, masterly crafted by an outstanding artisan. Such way of thinking is narcissism that has been long shown as some of the most negative features of a human personality. The fact, that narcissism gives a person only negative credits, is supported by numerous great thinkers of all times, who claim that it goes hand in hand with haughtiness, egoism, presumptuousness, and leads its owner to a terrible end. Moreover, the Duke declares that he keeps the portrait of his wife secretly, under the certain, “The curtain I have drawn for you, but I” (10). This circumstance makes the picture of his personality even gloomier because along with narcissism and haughtiness, the Duke demonstrates his covetousness and greed, which are also the traits of the evil.
In conclusion, it should be stated that Robert Browning’s poem “My Last Duchess” is an excellent piece of the art of poetry, in which the author manages to fully reveal the gloominess of his main character’s soul. Despite the fact that the Duke tries to show himself as a loving husband who bewails his wife’s death, he unintentionally uncovers the real darkness of his personality with all of its hypocrisy, sin, and wickedness. The most vivid examples, where the narrator shows his evil nature are the lines, where he openly confesses to murdering his wife because she seems insubmissive and obstinate to him; where speaks of the Count’s daughter as a new obsession of his narcissistic soul; where he tries to show his dead wife as an admirable person, but in the same time condemns her of being too joyful and kind to people around her; and where he unintentionally speaks about the beauty of his wife shown in her portrait as about his narcissist property.