Course Hero. "My Last Duchess Study Guide." Course Hero. 13 Feb. 2018. Web. 28 Oct. 2021. <https://www.coursehero.com/lit/My-Last-Duchess/>.
Course Hero. (2018, February 13). My Last Duchess Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved October 28, 2021, from https://www.coursehero.com/lit/My-Last-Duchess/
(Course Hero, 2018)
Course Hero. "My Last Duchess Study Guide." February 13, 2018. Accessed October 28, 2021. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/My-Last-Duchess/.
Course Hero, "My Last Duchess Study Guide," February 13, 2018, accessed October 28, 2021, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/My-Last-Duchess/.
That's my last Duchess painted on the wall, / Looking as if she were alive.
The subject of the poem is the duchess. The central image of the poem is this painting of her. What stands out about the way it is described here is the tone of "looking as if she were alive." Is this mentioned because of the painter's skill? Is it ominous in that the duchess very clearly is not alive? It reads suspiciously—more so after finishing the poem.
Sir, 'twas not / Her husband's presence only, called that spot / Of joy into the Duchess' cheek.
The duke tells the listener the duchess was full of happiness, and initially, the implication is the duchess is at fault. There were reasons—other than her husband's presence—she was full of joy. The implied meaning here is the duchess was guilty of a misdeed.
She had / A heart—how shall I say?— too soon made glad, / Too easily impressed.
The duke's tone becomes thick with insinuation. He notes the duchess was "easily impressed," and the growing indication is her attention went where it shouldn't have. Questions of infidelity are raised by the tone and context of the poem. The reader will recall here, however, this is a dramatic monologue. What is revealed is the duke's nature. His possessiveness and manipulation of the listener are revealed here.
She thanked men ... but thanked / Somehow ... as if she ranked / My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name / With anybody's gift.
Here, finally, the reader sees the issue is in the value the duke has assigned himself—and he did not believe the last duchess revered his "gift" as she should have. The gift in question was bestowing his name upon her. For this he believed she was not sufficiently grateful.
Even had you skill / In speech—which I have not—to make your will / Quite clear to such an one ... / ... E'en then would be ... stooping.
This line stands out as the one outright lie in the monologue. Contextually, the reader can find flaw in numerous statements the duke makes, but this is probably false. He has skill with speech—if the poem is read as his words.
Interestingly, the "lie" of the line only works as a lie if the reader accepts the poem as the character's monologue.
I choose / Never to stoop.
The duke's arrogance is apparent throughout the poem, and this line is particularly revealing of his character. He indicates even telling the duchess where she had been wrong was beneath him.
However, he is now telling a servant. This suggests he either saw his wife as lower than the servant of a noble of lower rank, or he is not being honest about why he put a stop to the last duchess's happiness. Or perhaps, none of this is about the last duchess at all, but about the next duchess.
This is, in fact, a warning to the count's daughter about how the last duchess behaved, and it angered him enough he is seeking a new duchess.
I gave commands; / Then all smiles stopped together.
While the duke never states outright the command was her death, this line implies it. This is further emphasized when the duke states his late wife looks "as if alive" in her portrait, and the listener is the emissary of the count whose daughter is to marry the duke.
There she stands / As if alive.
A painting being described "as if alive" is often praise for the artist's skill, but here it carries a darker implication. The reader knows the duchess is not alive. The duke is speaking to a servant to negotiate his marriage to the next duchess.
Your master's ... munificence / Is ample warrant that no just pretense / Of mine for dowry will be disallowed; / Though his fair daughter's self ... / ... is my object.
The reader might recall the earlier line in which the duke says he has no "skill in speech." Here the duke has slipped in a reference to a dowry—the count's wealth—and the daughter's beauty. His "object" is the next duchess, but he references both the count's reputation for generosity (munificence), and a dowry.
Note also he refers to the next potential duchess as an object. In the context of the two pieces of art he points out to the listener, this is a curious word to use.
Notice Neptune, though, / Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity, / Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me!
The duke flaunts the names of both a painter and a sculptor, with the assumption it is clear they are talented and part of the elite. The duchess's portrait draws comments, and the sculpture is "thought a rarity."
The duke is showing off to a servant of a lesser noble. His reasons for doing so are a subject worth questioning, especially as this poem is a dramatic monologue.