Study Guide

My Last Duchess Madness

By Robert Browning

Madness

THAT’S my last Duchess painted on the wall,
Looking as if she were alive. (1-2)

The Duke knows the difference between the living Duchess and her painting – but he doesn’t see it as much of a difference. It’s startling that he brings up the unusual circumstances of his previous wife’s death at the beginning of this conversation with a servant of the family he wants to marry into next. He’s a little bit obsessive to say the least.

as if she ranked
My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name
With anybody’s gift. Who’d stoop to blame
This sort of trifling? (32-35)

The Duke can’t believe that anyone would fail to understand that the most important thing in the universe is having an old family name. Again, this isn’t exactly insanity, but it is an extremely narrow-minded attitude toward values.

"Just this
Or that in you disgusts me; here you miss,
Or there exceed the mark" (37-39)

OK, at this point, we’re really starting to wonder about the Duke’s sanity. "Disgust" is a bizarrely strong and inappropriate word to use to describe your reaction to someone smiling when they ride their white mule. If the Duke is this inappropriate with his word choice, we have to wonder about the other ways in which he is inappropriate.

This grew; I gave commands;
Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands
As if alive. Will’t please you rise? We’ll meet
The company below, then. (45-48)

This is the point where we become pretty sure that the Duke is a little unhinged. Admitting that you had your wife murdered is one thing – politely asking your guest to walk downstairs in the very next sentence is psychotic.