Study Guide

My Last Duchess Power

By Robert Browning

Power

(since none puts by
The curtain I have drawn for you, but I) (9-10)

The Duke’s first allusion to the great power he wields comes in a parenthetical aside, in which he lets slip, intentionally or unintentionally, that he alone controls access to his late wife’s portrait. Even her image is under his jealous guard. The words "control freak" come to mind.

She thanked men, – good! but thanked
Somehow – I know not how – as if she ranked
My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name
With anybody’s gift. (31-34)

The Duke’s emphasis on his family history and prestige – his "nine-hundred-years-old name" – is underscored by his choice of the word "ranked" to describe the way people should react to gifts. When was the last time you came up with a hierarchy of your birthday presents?

– E’en then would be some stooping; and I choose
Never to stoop. (42-43)

Maintaining his own stiff-upper-lip dignity is more important to the Duke than dropping the Duchess a few hints that, if she doesn’t start being a bit less happy-go-lucky, he’s going to have her killed. "Stooping" would be a more serious threat to his power than her flirtatious nature.

This grew; I gave commands;
Then all smiles stopped together. (45-46)

Not only does the Duke have the power to order someone killed, he doesn’t do his dirty work himself. He only has to give "commands" – he can just pick up the red phone and things get done. This emphasizes how far up the social ladder he is – but it also suggests that he’s dependent on underlings. We’re not sure the snobby Duke has it in him to kill somebody with his own two hands.

Nay, we’ll go
Together down, sir. (53-54)

The Duke is obsessed with power in every relationship – not only in a major relationship like his marriage, but also in the minor relationship between him and his listener, the servant of the Count. When the servant tries to get away from him after hearing the story of the Duchess, the Duke insists that they head back to the party together. Not only does this show how the Duke can control every little move the servant makes, it prevents the servant from telling the Count what he’s heard privately – which might make the Count back out on the marriage between his daughter and the Duke.