My Last Duchess by Robert Browning

Character of the Duke in My Last Duchess

Discuss the characterization of the Duke in the poem. How does Browning reveal the Duke’s personality, values, and attitudes through his monologue?

My Last Duchess by Robert Browning, Character of the Duke in My Last Duchess,

Character of the Duke in My Last Duchess by Robert Browning


In Robert Browning’s dramatic monologue, “My Last Duchess,” the character of the Duke of Ferrara is presented through his own words and thoughts. Through the Duke’s monologue, Browning skillfully reveals the Duke’s personality, values, and attitudes. This essay will explore the characterization of the Duke in the poem, analyzing how Browning employs the monologue form to provide insights into the Duke’s complex nature and to depict his views on power, control, art, and relationships.

I. The Duke’s Sense of Power and Superiority:

The Duke’s sense of power and superiority is central to his characterization in the poem. Browning reveals these traits through the Duke’s language, tone, and interactions with others.

  1. Language of Control and Domination:

The Duke’s choice of language reflects his desire for control and dominance. He frequently employs imperatives and declarative statements to assert his authority. For instance, he says, “Will’t please you rise? We’ll meet / The company below, then” (lines 43-44). The use of “will” and “we’ll” positions the Duke as the one in command, expecting compliance from others. This linguistic choice emphasizes his sense of entitlement and his expectation that others will follow his lead.

  1. Condescending and Possessive Tone:

The Duke’s tone throughout the monologue is condescending and possessive, further accentuating his superiority complex. He refers to the Duchess as “my Last Duchess” (line 1), highlighting his possessiveness and objectification of her. His tone implies that the Duchess, like his other possessions, exists for his pleasure and display. This possessive tone underlines his view of women as objects to be controlled and owned.

II. The Duke’s Need for Control and Perfection:

Browning portrays the Duke as someone driven by a deep need for control and a quest for perfection in both art and relationships.

  1. The Desire for Control:

The Duke’s desire for control is evident in his recounting of the Duchess’s behavior. He mentions her “too easily impressed” heart (line 23) and describes her smile as something he could not “stoop to blame” (line 43). These statements reveal the Duke’s expectation of complete control over the Duchess’s emotions and actions. He becomes increasingly frustrated by her failure to conform to his standards of behavior and feels threatened by her independence.

  1. Obsession with Perfection:

The Duke’s obsession with perfection is particularly evident in his discussion of the painting of the Duchess. He states, “Notice Neptune, though, / Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity” (lines 54-55). Here, he compares the artwork to the Duchess, implying that he expects his wife to be as rare and flawless as the painting. This obsession with perfection indicates the Duke’s unrealistic expectations and his inclination to objectify and mold others to fit his ideals.

III. The Duke’s Manipulative and Controlling Nature:

Browning portrays the Duke as a manipulative and controlling character, using his monologue to reveal his strategies of manipulation and the ways in which he exerts control over others.

  1. Selective Disclosure of Information:

The Duke selectively discloses information about the Duchess, carefully controlling what he reveals and what he withholds. He mentions her flirtatiousness and the resulting displeasure it caused him but avoids providing specific details or the broader context of their relationship. This deliberate withholding of information allows the Duke to shape the narrative and manipulate the listener’s perception of the Duchess.

  1. Silencing the Duchess:

The Duke’s manipulation is exemplified by his act of silencing the Duchess. He states, “I gave commands; / Then all smiles stopped together” (lines 45-46). The use of the word “commands” suggests the Duke’s exertion of authority over the Duchess, ultimately leading to her demise. By silencing the Duchess, the Duke maintains control and ensures that she can no longer challenge his power or tarnish his reputation.

IV. The Duke’s Materialistic Values and Superficiality:

Browning emphasizes the Duke’s materialistic values and superficiality, portraying him as someone who places great importance on external appearances and social status.

  1. Emphasis on Social Image:

The Duke’s concern for his social image is apparent throughout the monologue. He mentions the Duchess’s flirtatious behavior and his displeasure with it, emphasizing his preoccupation with maintaining a pristine reputation. The Duke’s focus on societal norms and appearances reflects his superficial values and his fear of losing social standing due to the Duchess’s actions.

  1. Display of Wealth and Possessions:

The Duke showcases his wealth and possessions as symbols of his status and power. He refers to Neptune’s statue, the sea-horse, and various artworks commissioned for him. The mentioning of these material possessions suggests that the Duke believes that his possessions define his worth and elevate his social position. This emphasis on material wealth reflects his superficial values and his perception of others as commodities.

V. The Duke’s Lack of Empathy and Emotional Detachment:

Browning portrays the Duke as lacking empathy and emotional depth, exhibiting a detached and callous attitude towards others.

  1. Lack of Emotional Connection:

Throughout the monologue, the Duke displays a distinct lack of emotional connection with the Duchess and other individuals. He speaks of her as an object rather than a person, focusing on her physical appearance and behavior rather than her emotions or inner life. His detached attitude suggests an inability to empathize with others and a tendency to view relationships purely in terms of power dynamics.

  1. Lack of Remorse or Regret:

Despite recounting the Duchess’s fate, the Duke displays no remorse or regret for his actions. He casually moves on from discussing her death to describing his potential next marriage prospect. This lack of emotional depth and callousness further underscores the Duke’s self-centeredness and his inability to value human life beyond its instrumental value.


In “My Last Duchess,” Robert Browning effectively characterizes the Duke of Ferrara through his monologue, revealing his personality, values, and attitudes. The Duke’s sense of power and superiority, his need for control and perfection, his manipulative and controlling nature, his materialistic values, and his lack of empathy and emotional detachment contribute to his multi-dimensional portrayal. Through the Duke’s monologue, Browning invites readers to critically examine the destructive effects of unchecked power, objectification, and superficiality on individuals and relationships. The characterization of the Duke in “My Last Duchess” serves as a cautionary tale, urging readers to question the dynamics of power and control within societal structures and the impact of such dynamics on human connection and empathy.


Read More:

Question and Answers from My last Duchess by Robert Browning


Written by Koushik Kumar Kundu

Koushik Kumar Kundu was among the toppers when he completed his Masters from Vidyasagar University after completing his Bachelors degree with Honours in English Literature from The University of Burdwan. He also completed B.Ed from the University of Burdwan.


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