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MY LAST DUCHESS (ROBERT BROWNING) "My Last Duchess", a dramatic monologue written in 1842 by Robert Browning, is the first of two companion pieces originally released under the title "Italy and France". It is written in 28 rhyming couplets, with iambic pentameter dominating. The easy conversational flow of the poem is created by making the regular mid-line pauses ("caesura") the dominant stops of the poem rather than end stopping. The poem begins with the line "Ferrara", suggesting that the speaker is Alfonso II d'Este, fifth Duke of Ferrara and ruling head of the House of Este. This places the environment of the poem in the ducal palace of the Italian city-state of Ferrara. The "last duchess" referred to is the daughter of Cosimo I de' Medici, Lucrezia de' Medici. At this point in history the Medicis were rich and powerful, but they didn't have the "nine-hundred-years-old name" (l.33) to match, and Lucrezia had already been married twice before and had two previous marriage contracts annulled. Poisoning was suspected in Lucrezia's death: the lines "I gave commands;/Then all smiles stopped together" (ll.45-6) tease at, but stop well short of being a confession; and other interpretations are possible. Ferrara is speaking to an emissary of the Count of Tyrol, possibly Nikolaus Mardruz, the chief of the count's entourage. Browning glosses a relationship here: the "fair daughter" (l.52) being sought for Ferrara's next marriage is actually Barbara of Austria, the count's niece. The interval between the two marriages dates the subject of the poem to sometime between 1561 (when Lucrezia died) and 1565 (the second marriage to Barbara). The painter Fra Pandolf and sculptor Claus of Innsbruck have not been identified as having any real life counterparts: although their mention in the poem helps to cultivate the image of a patron and a collector of art. "Fra" is a title indicating a friar of the Roman Catholic church.
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This note was uploaded on 09/29/2011 for the course BUSINESS 111 taught by Professor Fredjames during the Spring '11 term at Abu Dhabi University.

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