My Last Duchess
by Robert Browning
My Last Duchess Theme of Power
"My Last Duchess" is all about power: the political and social power wielded by the speaker (the Duke) and his attempt to control the domestic sphere (his marriage) in the same way that he rules his lands. He rules with an iron fist. The Duke views everything that he possesses and everyone with whom he interacts as an opportunity to expand his power base. Wives need to be dominated; servants need to understand his authority; and fancy objects in his art gallery display his influence to the world – if he decides to show them. Kindness, joy, and emotion are all threats to his tyrannical power.
Questions About Power
- How does the Duke want the people around him, such as his "last Duchess" and the servant of the Count who listens to her story, to respond to his power? How does he attempt to shape their reactions?
- What do the Duke’s brief asides to his listener show us about the way he manages his power? (Think especially of lines 5, 47-48, and 53-54.)
- Why does the Duke think that it would be "stooping" to explain to the Duchess why he dislikes her smiling and blushing? In his mind, how would talking to her about these issues compromise his position of power?
- What powers does the Duchess have? What aspects of her life – including her husband’s behavior and her own – is she unable to control?
Chew on This
The Duke of Ferrara sets himself up to have his power threatened, because he never communicates directly with people about his expectations for their behavior.