My Last Duchess Literary Devices

In this renowned poem, the poet uses the dramatic monologue of the Duke of Ferrara to unveil the complexities of power, control and jealousy. Browning has richly employed the literary devices to reveal the character of Duke and the narrative themes. In this article, we will explore the maximum literary devices used by the poet:

10 Examples of Literary Devices in “My last Duchess

Example#1

Dramatic Monologue

The entire poem takes the form of a dramatic monologue. In the poem, the Duke is speaking to an unseen listener. His words reveal as much about his personality as the story he tells. For example, while describing the Duchess, he states,

“She had
A heart—how shall I say?—too soon made glad,
Too easily impressed; she liked whate’er
She looked on, and her looks went everywhere

This section of the poem is part of a dramatic monologue. The Duke is describing his late wife, the Duchess, to an emissary arranging his next marriage. The use of the dramatic monologue technique allows the poet to reveal the character of the Duke through his own words. The Duke describes personality of the Duchess in these words, “her heart being “too soon made glad” and too “easily impressed” always liking “whate’er she looked on”. His choice of words and perspective expose his jealousy, pride and possible cruelty toward his late wife. The dramatic monologue reveals as much about the speaker, the Duke, as it does about the subject, the Duchess.

Example#2

Metaphor

The Duke refers to the painting as “My Last Duchess,” reducing his late wife to a work of art he owns. This metaphor also conveys his dismissive attitude and sense of entitlement over her.

“Sir,
’twas not Her husband’s presence only,
called that spot Of joy into the Duchess’ cheek…”

In this excerpt, the Duke uses “that spot of joy” as a metaphor for the smile of Duchess. He observed that her smile is for everyone and not just for him. This metaphor subtly reveals the possessive and controlling nature of the Duke.

He doesn’t see her smile as mere expression of happiness or politeness, but he views it as something tangible that should be exclusive to him almost like a possession or a mark of his ownership. The metaphor reflects the Duke’s objectification of the Duchess reducing her expressions of joy to “spots” that he believes should be controlled and distributed according to his wishes.

This metaphor not only deepens our understanding of the Duke’s character but also highlights the tragic constraints placed on the Duchess. It reduces her vibrant personality to mere “spots” of joy in the Duke’s narrative.

Example#3

Foreshadowing

In subtly threatening tones, the Duke describes his disgust over the Duchess’ joy, smiles and blushes. This hints to the reader that her independent spirit led to her early death, as he “gave commands” to end her smiling.

“That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall,
Looking as if she were alive.
I call That piece a wonder, now…”

The way the Duke refers to the Duchess as “my last Duchess” and the emphasis on the lifelike quality of the portrait (“Looking as if she were alive”) serve as foreshadowing. These lines hint at the Duchess’s death and suggest that there’s a sinister story behind her no longer being alive.

The Duke’s casual mention of her as his “last” Duchess implies that she is part of a series, which suggests that she has been replaced or could be replaced. It foreshadows the reveal of the callous and controlling nature of the Duke. The admiration for the portrait as a “wonder” now also subtly indicates that the Duke values the Duchess more in her captured and controlled state as a piece of art than he did when she was alive and free to express her joy and affections.

Example#4

Caesura

Browning uses caesuras—strong pauses within lines—to create a slow, emphatic pace that accentuates the Duke’s self-importance. For example,

“Sir, ’twas all one! My favour at her breast,
The dropping of the daylight in the West,
The bough of cherries some officious fool
Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule
She rode with round the terrace – all and each
Would draw from her alike the approving speech,
Or blush, at least.”

In the poem, the use of commas and dashes creates pauses within the lines, such as “the white mule / She rode with round the terrace – all and each.” The caesura here marked by the dash forces a pause that adds emphasis and a dramatic quality to the Duke’s recounting of the Duchess’s indiscriminate appreciation for everything. No matter it’s a grand gesture or a simple act of kindness. This use of caesura reflects the Duke’s irritation and disapproval of the Duchess’s behavior, which highlights his desire for her exclusive admiration.

Example#5

Rhyme Scheme

The ABAB rhyme scheme adds a sing-song musicality that contrasts with the darkness of the message. Here is the example from the poem: –

“I call
That piece a wonder, now: Frà Pandolf’s hands
Worked busily a day, and there she stands.”

The rhyme scheme goes: A – “call” B – “now” A – “hands” B – “stands”. So the end words of the first and third lines rhyme (call/hands), forming the “A” rhyme. Similarly, the end words of the second and fourth lines rhyme (now/stands), forming the “B” rhyme. This creates a repetitive ABAB rhyme scheme in these four lines that stand alone as a discrete section.

The rhyming couplets create a sense of rhythm, musicality and closure within each couplet while also linking the lines together. This contributes to the conversational flow of the dramatic monologue and creates emphasis on certain rhyming words. The use of rhyme scheme is a common technique in narrative poetry, which Browning masters in this particular poem. The structured rhyme also parallels the rigid control the Duke tries to exert over his scene and story. So the rhyme scheme ultimately emphasize both the form and themes of the poem.

Example#6

Personification

The Duke personifies the painting. This suggests he finds more life in a motionless object than his spirited wife. He says:

“There she stands / As if alive”.

Browning uses personification to describe the painting of the Duke’s late wife. The use of words “There she stands / As if alive,” ascribe lifelike qualities to the inanimate painting. The visual depiction of the Duchess is personified as standing there as if she were alive herself. This literary device gives human attributes to a non-living thing, the ability to be alive, stand or possess a presence in the room

Example#7

Irony

Great irony arises from the mismatch between the Duke’s polite words and the cruel, possessive nature that caused his wife’s early death.

“Will’t please you sit and look at her? I said
‘Frà Pandolf’ by design, for never read
Strangers like you that pictured countenance,
The depth and passion of its earnest glance,
But to myself they turned (since none puts by
The curtain I have drawn for you, but I)
And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst,
How such a glance came there; so, not the first
Are you to turn and ask thus.”

The Duke is showing a portrait of his late wife to an emissary negotiating his next marriage. He draws aside a curtain revealing the portrait saying only he is allowed to do so. The irony is that while he pretends to hide the portrait to respect his former wife’s privacy. In reality, he is using it to illustrate her flirtatious nature, which led him to have her murder. So his words suggest respect and his intentions are quite the opposite.

Example#8

Allusion

The Duke alludes to mythological figures like Neptune and Claus of Innsbruck to inflate his own status and cultured persona.

“Notice Neptune, though,
Taming a sea-horse,
thought a rarity,
Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me!”

In these lines, the Duke alludes to the Roman god Neptune who was the god of the sea in mythology, as well as Claus of Innsbruck, who was a real-life sculptor during the Renaissance.

The Duke is showing a visitor around his art collection, which includes a bronze statue of Neptune taming a sea-horse, made by the sculptor Claus of Innsbruck. The poet alludes to these figures from mythology and art history, which makes the Duke appear more knowledgeable, cultured and worldly. The references enhance his elite self-image.

Read also: Allusion in Literature

Example#9

Symbolism

The bronze statue of Neptune symbolizes the Duke’s need for domination, much like the sea god controls the horse. It reflects his attitude toward the Duchess.

“Oh, sir, she smiled, no doubt,
Whene’er I passed her; but who passed without
Much the same smile?”

In these lines, the Duke describes how the Duchess would freely smile at people she passed. Her smile symbolizes her warm, cheerful and welcoming nature towards all people. However, the Duke’s cynical tone when mentioning her smiles to “who passed without” shows that he interpreted her friendliness as flirtation or romantic interest. Her innocent smile is thus symbolic of her misunderstood actions and the Duke’s unfounded jealousy and possessiveness.

Example#10

Hyperbole

Browning uses hyperbole to emphasize the Duke’s extreme and unreasonable expectations of his Duchess. The Duke’s exaggerated dissatisfaction with the Duchess’s behavior highlights his controlling and jealous nature. For instance, when he says,

“as if she ranked
My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name
With anybody’s gift,”

The hyperbole lies in his outrage that the Duchess would value his ancient lineage on par with more mundane kindnesses she receives. This exaggeration reveals the Duke’s inflated sense of self-importance and his unreasonable demands for exclusivity in his wife’s affections.

Literary devices used in my last duchess
My Last Duchess Literary Devices

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