A Summary and Analysis of Robert Browning’s ‘My Last Duchess’

By Dr Oliver Tearle (Loughborough University)

Probably Robert Browning’s most famous (and widely studied) dramatic monologue, ‘My Last Duchess’ is spoken by the Duke of Ferrara, chatting away to an acquaintance (for whom we, the reader, are the stand-in) and revealing a sinister back-story lurking behind the portrait of his late wife, the Duchess, that adorns the wall.

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‘Caliban upon Setebos’: A Poem by Robert Browning

One of the first poems to respond to Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, this 1863 poem is a dramatic monologue, spoken by the native, Caliban, from the magical island in Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Setebos is the invented name for the deity Caliban worships, believing Setebos to be the Creator of all things (the name is mentioned in Shakespeare’s play; one surprising legacy is that one of the moons of the planet Uranus was named after Setebos).

Caliban upon Setebos

‘Thou thoughtest that I was altogether such a one as thyself.’
(David, Psalms 50.21)

[‘Will sprawl, now that the heat of day is best,
Flat on his belly in the pit’s much mire,
With elbows wide, fists clenched to prop his chin.
And, while he kicks both feet in the cool slush,

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‘Fra Lippo Lippi’: A Poem by Robert Browning

‘Fra Lippo Lippi’ sees the titular friar being accosted by some guards one night, and ending up drunkenly telling them – and us – about his whole life. In a poem like ‘Fra Lippo Lippi’ one can clearly see why Ezra Pound was influenced by Robert Browning’s dramatic monologue, with their plainness of speech and the bluff, no-nonsense manner of Browning’s characters.

Fra Lippo Lippi

I am poor brother Lippo, by your leave!
You need not clap your torches to my face.
Zooks, what’s to blame? you think you see a monk!
What, ’tis past midnight, and you go the rounds,
And here you catch me at an alley’s end
Where sportive ladies leave their doors ajar?

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‘My Last Duchess’: A Poem by Robert Browning

Probably Robert Browning’s most famous (and widely studied) dramatic monologue, ‘My Last Duchess’ is spoken by the Duke of Ferrara, chatting away to an acquaintance (for whom we, the reader, are the stand-in) and revealing a sinister back-story lurking behind the portrait of his late wife, the Duchess, that adorns the wall.

My Last Duchess

FERRARA

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.
Will’t please you sit and look at her? I said
“Fra Pandolf” by design, for never read
Strangers like you that pictured countenance,

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A Short Analysis of Robert Browning’s ‘How They Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix’

‘How They Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix’ begins with the wonderfully rhythmical lines ‘I sprang to the stirrup, and Joris, and he; / I gallop’d, Dirck gallop’d, we gallop’d all three’. This energetic Robert Browning poem describes a horse-ride to deliver some important news, although we never learn what the news actually is. Instead, the emphasis is on the journey itself, with the sound of the galloping horses excellently captured through the metre of the verse.

How They Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix

I sprang to the stirrup, and Joris, and he;
I gallop’d, Dirck gallop’d, we gallop’d all three;
‘Good speed!’ cried the watch, as the gate-bolts undrew;
‘Speed!’ echoed the wall to us galloping through;
Behind shut the postern, the lights sank to rest,
And into the midnight we gallop’d abreast.

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