The narration of the Duke is accompanied by a unique speech pattern. Browning uses enjambment or sentences which do not conclude at the end of the line. For example in the first two lines of the poem, the sentence ends after “alive,” but the line ends with “call” – rhyming the couplet but not finishing the thought. Instead of the rhyme creating a sense of closure and balance in the poem it does exactly the opposite. The lines are not smooth and they shadow the personality of the obsessive and rambling Duke.
The diction throughout the poem, though changing towards the end, is indicative of the bewitching allure of the lady and her delicate fineness. For example, the speaker wonders at “the depth and passion of its earnest glance” and “the spot of joy” on her cheek, as well as how “she thanked/as if she ranked.” The initial descriptions contain very intimate and attached reverence to the woman in the painting, but as the story progresses, the diction becomes more objectifying and detached, and the blush on her cheek is mentioned as a “spot,” losing its luster and becoming an observable phenomenon. The way the duchess thanks as if ranking people is accusatory, yet bewilderment seems to justify this observation. In addition, the diction changes towards the end as the speaker continues his monologue; “Who’d stoop to blame this sort of trifling,” or “that in you disgusts me” and “I gave commands.” The diction is clearly showing some annoyance in the speakers tone. It seems that in an attempt to control the duchess from his suspicious tone, the speaker begins taking action and his anger shines its true colors from a moment’s inattention. Therefore, the diction adjusts tactfully yet unknowingly with the details which the speaker shares with his guest revealing the speakers true emotions towards this girl.
There is a far greater use of detail in this poem then imagery; the duchess’ odd behaviors are highlighted by the suspicious speaker as he recounts her tale. For example, “her husband’s presence only, called that spot of joy on (her) cheek,” and “She had a heart-how shall I say?- too soon made glad,” and finally, “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.” This final comment reminds me of the guilty confession of a murderer often fabricated in the works of Edgar Allen Poe. The sly interjection of “how shall I say,” might imply that he is trying to outwit his guest by describing the free-loving spirit of the duchess, as with the other comment he makes. In addition, the speaker describes the painting “as if she were alive,” then again towards the end, “There she stands as if alive,” and quickly changes subjects, as they head towards the company below, to the Neptune statue cast in bronze.
This emphasis on the life of the painting can either explain the affair between the duchess and the painter, or the guilt the speaker might feel for having unjustly killed her. The ease in which the speaker is able to change subjects to his statue indicates that he has hidden something from his guest and he wishes to lesson any attention he may have brought. Throughout this poem, the many plots are equally plausible, though, through attention to the detail. There is no real basis to assume homicide; therefore the jealousy and astute observation lead the reader to believe that the duchess has not been loyal to him.
Finally, the point of view in this poem is highly successful in unveiling the plot, distancing the speaker far enough from the reader in order to follow his thoughts as they reveal his frustration. For example, “I said Fra Pandolf by design, for never read strangers like you that pictured countenance,” and “Oh, sir, she smiled, no doubt,” and finally, “We’ll meet the company below.” The exchange between the speaker and this guest, lacking input from the other person, makes the monologue all the more obscene, because the speaker is almost ranting to himself, and foolishly speaks too much. In this sense, the plot unfolds on one level, and we can see that he is not confessing anything to the audience, but rather mistakenly describes his most profound sentiments. In addition, the speaker talks to the other man and he describes the painting and the woman in depth -in casual conversation; “The Count your Master’s known munificence is ample warrant.” The effect of this conversation again helps unfold the plot and allows the reader to distance himself from the speaker. With each assertion from the speaker, the reader can verify that his words were not purposeful, and thus again aid in the plot development of this connection with his resentment and jealousy towards the duchess. Therefore, the point of view in the poem enforces the plot and provides a simple means of conveyance to the audience.
The macabre story of the Duke ends with the final three lines of “My Last Duchess” “Notice Neptune, though, Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity, which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me!”(Lines 54-56) These last three lines are important in that the statue of Neptune taming the wild sea-horse is most likely meant to symbolize the Duke’s own tendencies for dominating and controlling those he has relations with.
The poem contains diction and detail, which aided the monologue that describes a painting of a loving woman, who by these elements, may have been having an affair with the painter of her portrait. The overall message seems to be a slander on women, as the duchess is given no individual rights, and is controlled by the speaker who is not very clear about his feelings towards her.
“My Last Duchess” is an intricately written piece of narration that creates a tone which draws together the skill of voiced inner dialogue and meter. The combination creates a piece of writing which reveals the mind of a murderer, dominating man, and a society in which women are mere possessions.