Robert Browning's “My Last Duchess”
The speaker of the poem is showing a portrait of his last wife to another gentleman, and he tells
of her faults. The speaker is a womanizer who apparently had his wife killed because she was too
friendly towards other men and had a heart that was “too soon made glad” (l. 22). A significant
idea expressed through the poem is that of smiles, as the trait is how the speaker describes his
former wife's treatment towards others, her fault, and her end. He tells his friend, “Oh sir, she
smiled, no doubt,/ Whene'er I passed her; but who passed without/ Much the same smile? This
grew; I gave commands;/ Then all smiles stopped together” (ll. 4346). The reader can realize the
speaker's ridiculousness throughout the poem, especially when, towards the end, he tells his
friend they will go downstairs, and to make sure to notice the other works of art on the way out.
Ironically, it is a statue of Neptune taming a horse, which can be paralleled with the speaker's
failure to tame his wife. This poem has no biographical significance, as Robert was happily
married to Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Instead, Robert relied on his imagination for inspiration,
and wrote from the point of view of eccentric characters.
Fra Lippo Lippi
• A monk/painter is caught by guards wandering in the red-light district while drunk.
During the ensuing rambling, the artist touches on a few subjects of profundity;
namely that of the goal of art. Should it exist to teach morality, or should it simply
be and seek to represent reality?
• Argument subdivided between his monastic orders of piety and artistic representation
of divinity, “You must represent the soul”
• And his official patronage by the Medici family, known for their immense wealth
and life of excess. His artistic uncertainty mimics his torn life.
His passion is for the representation of the real, fleshy, sensual world (much like Browning
himself) and the best illustration of the argument comes at ln. 300
“We’re made so that we love
First when we see them painted, things we have passed
Perhaps a hundred times nor cared to see”
Anrea Del Sarto
•Another dramatic monologue focusing around the thoughts of an Italian Classical painter
•Central argument is, again, concerned with art, but not so much it’s purpose as much as
what makes it “good”. Is it the technical ability or overall intention/impression?