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Robert Browning

Robert Browning
(1812-1889)

English poet, noted for his mastery of dramatic monologue.

Browning’s Early Literary Career
As a youth, began to write poetry, influenced by Percy B. Shelley, whose radicalism urged a rethinking of modern society. However, Browning's earliest works earned him nothing but some negative attention for their expression of strong sensations their morbid tone. Thus for a time he set poetry aside to work on plays, finding in their fictional world an apt space for experimentation and development as a creative mind. Most of the plays did not find success, however, and Browning turned back again to verse.

Browning’s Works
Browning's first important poem was the lengthy Paracelsus, which appeared in 1835. Really a long dramatic monologue, the poem described the career of the sixteenth-century alchemist, and achieved popular success, establishing Browning as a familiar name with the reading public, if not yet as a great poet. In 1841 Browning put out Pippa Passes, a loosely structured set of poems that draw from the sensationalism of modern media.

This was followed by 1842's Dramatic Lyrics and 1845's Dramatic Romances and Lyrics. Along with the 1855 volume Men and Women and the 1864 book Dramatis Personae, these two collections, although not wild successes, contain most of the poems today considered central to the Browning canon.

But the poet achieved true literary stardom with the publication of his verse novel The Ring and the Book, a historical tragedy based on a group of documents Browning had found at an Italian bookseller's. Inspired by Shelley in his early writings, and greatly inspired by his wife Elizabeth Barrett in his later writings.

Works of Robert Browning
Pauline (1833) The Ring and the Book (10 verse narratives, 1868) My Last Duchess (a dramatic monologue that explores the idea of possessive/distorted love) (1842) Porphyria‘s Lover (a poem of love lust, and murder) (1836-42) Home-Thoughts, from Abroad (1845) Bells and Pomegranates (a series of his works,1841-46)

My Last Duchess

Lucrezia de Medici, Duchess to Alphonse II of Ferrara

Setting: Italian Renaissance
It was a time when morally dissolute men like the Duke in this poem exercised absolute power.

A time that produced magnificent art like the Duchess's portrait.
The poem clearly refers to the historical Alfonso II, Duke of Ferrara (a city in northeast Italy), whose first wife died suspiciously within two years of their marriage

My Last Duchess
Emphasizing the word Last as the ending of the poem implies; the Duke, identified as "Ferrara" in the poem's speech prefix, is negotiating for his next Duchess. Ferrara: most likely, Browning intended Alfonso II (1533-1598), fifth duke of Ferrara, in northern Italy, from 1559 to 1597, and the last member of the Este family. He married his first wife, 14-year-old Lucrezia, a daughter of the Cosimo I de' Medici, in 1558 and three days later left her for a two-year period. She died, 17 years old, in what some thought suspicious circumstances. Alfonso contrived to meet his second to-be spouse, Barbara of Austria, in Innsbruck in July 1565. Nikolaus Mardruz, who took orders from Ferdinand II, count of Tyrol, led Barbara's entourage then.

Summary
This poem is basically about a Duke who is so jealous towards his wife and how she acts with other men, he gives 'The orders' to have all the smiles stop (He had her killed). The Duke is the speaker of the poem, and tells us he is entertaining an emissary who has come to negotiate the Duke's marriage (he has recently been widowed) to the daughter of another powerful family. As he shows the visitor through his palace, he stops before a portrait of the late Duchess, apparently a young and lovely girl.

My Last Duchess
1. That's my last Duchess painted on the wall, 2. Looking as if she were alive. I call 3. That piece a wonder, now: FràPandolf's hands 4. Worked busily a day, and there she stands. 1. 2. 3. 4. 墙上的这幅画是我的前公爵夫人, Frà Pandolf is a fictitious artist who works with 看起来就像她活着一样。如今, cadavars -- he dresses dead people, and takes their 我称它为奇迹:潘道夫师的手笔 pictures. He is a member of religious orders and so, 经一日忙碌,从此她就在此站立。 on the surface of things, unlikely to have seduced the Duchess.

The Opening
We always drop unprepared into a Browning dramatic monologue, into several lives about which we know nothing. Soliloquies or speeches in a play have a context that orients the audience, but Browning's readers have only a title and, in "My Last Duchess," a speech prefix, "Ferrara." It is as if we turned on a radio and, having selected a frequency, overhear a very private conversation, already in process and, as we may come very gradually to appreciate, about a murder and the maybe-killer's search for the next victim. Readers familiar with Browning's writing and sensitive to nuance perceive the speaker's pride and cold-bloodedness.

That's my last Duchess painted on the wall
Stress "That's" and Ferrara reduces a woman, once his spouse, to something he casually points out, a thing on a wall. Emphasize "my" and Ferrara reveals his sense of owning her. Pause over "last" and we might infer that duchesses, to him, come in sequence, like collectibles that, if necessary, having become obsolescent, are to be replaced. If "Duchess" gets the stress, he implies that he acquires, not just works of art, but persons; and that Duchesses are no different from paintings. The line suggests self-satisfaction.

I call / That piece a wonder, now
Ferrara continues, cheerfully, describing the painting, not the Duchess: "I call / That piece a wonder, now." The phrase "That piece" must mean "that portrait," surely, though there is something intangibly common, almost vulgar, in his expression. That sense of "piece," as "portrait," is archaic now and may have been so when Browning wrote the poem. This context, a man speaking of pictures of women, connotes something quite different, what the term has meant for centuries, and still means now: OED: "Applied to a woman or girl. In recent use, mostly depreciatory, of a woman or girl regarded as a sexual object."

5. 愿坐下看看她吗?我有意提起 6. 潘道夫,因为外来的生客(例如你) 7. 凡是见了画中描绘的面容、 8. Ferrara then invites his listener,那真挚的眼神的深邃和热情, standing beside him, to sit down 9. 没有一个不转向我(因为除我外 "and look at her." As readers, Ferrara also speaks to us, as if we 10. 再没有别人把画上的帘幕拉开), too were there, because Browning, who as a lyric poet would 11. 似乎想问我可是又不大敢问; address us directly, has disappeared behind this character. 12. 是从哪儿来的——这样的眼神? 13. 你并非第一个人回头这样问我。

5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12.

Will 't please you sit and look at her? I said "FràPandolf" by design, for never read Strangers like you that pictured countenance, The depth and passion of its earnest glance, parentheses. Note the extra thought added within the The myself they turned (since none this by this But to Duke did not need to include puts informationa- digression might then be one of for you, but at The curtain I have drawnthose pointsI) which he reveals more than as intends to his me, if they And seemed he they would ask audience. durst, How such a glance came there;

Lines 7 - 12
As "Strangers" (7), knowing nothing about this place and its people, we must be told why he named, "by design," the painter, giving him the honorific, "Frà " ('brother'), due a member of religious orders and a celibate man. The Duchess's look: her – "pictured countenance,/ The depth and passion of its earnest glance", That "glance" (again) causes ignorant observers, if they dare (11), to look as if they would ask Ferrara, and only Ferrara, because (as he tells us pointedly) the portrait is curtained off, and only he can pull back the curtain to reveal it, just what elicited that "passion" in her.

Lines 7 - 12
His listener does not ask this question, though he may look as if he would like to ask. He just sits where he is told to sit and hears what others, of his type, would sometimes want to ask (but in fact seldom do ask) and, more, hears what Ferrara would say in answer to that rare question. Was she looking at a lover, at sometime who desired her? That is one question her look suggests, but of course that is impossible, for Frà Pandolf, a celibate religious, could never bring forth that "passion." No, her look did not rise, Ferrara implies, from sexual passion, but from a more general emotion.

12. 13. 14. 15. 16. 17. 12. 13. 14. 15. 16. 17.

先生,不仅仅是她丈夫的在座 使公爵夫人面带欢容,可能 潘道夫偶然说过:“夫人的披风 盖住她的手腕太多,”或者说: “隐约的红晕向颈部渐渐隐没, 这绝非任何颜料所能复制。”

Sir, 'twas not Her husband's presence only, called that spot Of joy into the Duchess' cheek: perhaps FràPandolf chanced to say, "Her mantle laps Over my Lady's wrist too much," or "Paint Must never hope to reproduce the faint

18. Half-flush that dies along her throat";

18. 19. 20. 21. 22.

这种无聊话,却被她当成好意, 也足以唤起她的欢心。她那颗心—— 怎么说好呢?——要取悦容易得很, 也太易感动。她看到什么都喜欢, 而她的目光又偏爱到处观看。 such stuff Was courtesy, she thought, and cause enough For calling up that spot of joy. She had A heart . . . how shall I say? . . . too soon made glad, Too easily impressed; she liked whate'er

18. 19. 20. 21. 22.

23. She looked on, and her looks went everywhere.

Frà Pandolf alludes to the "spot of joy," spreading downwards from her cheeks (15) as he was painting her.

Her embarrassed, but not at all displeased, awareness that someone likes her reveals itself in a blush, a colouring in a small patch ("a spot") as blood flows to the face.
That, Ferrara says, reveals a "joy" felt by the Duchess in herself, at being herself, at being looked at approvingly, no matter who -whether a celibate painter, or her husband the duke -- did the looking.

24. 先生,她对什么都一样!她胸口上 25. 佩戴的我的赠品,或落日的余光; 26. 过分殷勤的傻子在园中攀折 He jumps from describing what might have 27. 给她的一枝樱桃,或她骑着 happened in the portrait painting session to 28. 绕行花圃的白骡——所有这一切 a full-scale indictment of his都会使她同样地赞羡不绝, 29. wife's behavior. 30. 或至少泛起红晕。 24. Sir, 'twas all one! My favour at her breast, 25. The dropping of the daylight in the West, 26. The bough of cherries some officious fool 27. Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule 28. She rode with round the terrace--all and each 29. Would draw from her alike the approving speech, 30. Or blush, at least.

Ferrara obsessively reviews the reasons why that joy was "a spot." The more he talks, the more his contempt and selfjustifying anger show. Unable to recognize "courtesy" as insincere, she was made happy by it, in fact, took joy in "whate'er /She looked on, and her looks went everywhere." A sprig of flowers from the duke for her bosom (24) meant joy to her, no less than a sunset (25), a courtier's gift of some cherries from the tree (26-27), and the white mule whom she rode "round the terrace" (28).

30. 31. 32. 33. 34.

她感激人.好的! 35. 你有口才(我却没有)能把你 Note the dashes, which often indicate broken thoughts, 但她的感激(我说不上怎么搞的) 的意志 仿佛把我赐她的九百年的门第 influence of strong emotion. Why perhaps uttered under the 36. 给这样的人儿充分说明:“你 这点 与任何人的赠品并列。谁愿意 does Browning uses this kind37. punctuation in this section? of 或那点令我讨厌。这儿你差得 屈尊去谴责这种轻浮举止?即使 远,

What do the Duke's words unconsciously reveal?

30. 31. 32. 33. 34. 35. 36. 37. 38.

She thanked men,--- good; but thanked Somehow --- I know not how --- as if she ranked My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name With anybody's gift. Who'd stoop to blame This sort of trifling? Even had you skill In speech--(which I have not)--to make your will Quite clear to such an one, and say, "Just this Or that in you disgusts me; here you miss, Or there exceed the mark."

38. 而那儿你超越了界限。”

38. and if she let 39. Herself be lessoned so, nor plainly set 40. Her wits to yours, forsooth, and made excuse, 41. --E'en then would be some stooping; and I chuse 42. Never to stoop.
38. 39. 40. 41. 42. 即使她肯听 你这样训诫她而毫不争论, 毫不为自己辩解,——我也觉得 这会有失身份,所以我选择 绝不屈尊。

Her humility and general good nature disgusted (37) Ferrara for the way they seemed to trifle (34) with, or understate the value of his own gift, a place in a noble family 900 years old (32). Lacking the cunning to flatter Ferrara, she also could not detect his outrage; and he said nothing to her about what he felt. She wore her feelings openly, in her face, but to the Duke any outward expression of his concern would have meant "stooping" (33), that is, lowering himself to her level. He attributes this silence to his lack of "skill / In speech“ (34-35), which the poem disproves. When he describes her as missing or exceeding the "mark" (38), Ferrara develops his metaphor from archery, as if she was one of his soldiers, competing in a competition for prizes (his name).

Obviously the Duchess was very popular with the men surrounding her. Ferrara explains that she was popular with a lot of men, even "some officious fool / Broke in the orchard for her." And she also was easily impressed:" too soon made glad, / Too easily impressed." The Duke is telling of his intolerance of her actions. He hated the way in which she treated other men as an equal to the Duke. So one day all the smiles and blushes she was giving to others stopped.

42. Oh, sir, she smiled, no doubt, 43. Whene'er I passed her; but who passed without 44. Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands; 45. Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands 46. As if alive.
42. 哦,先生,她总是在微笑, 43. 每逢我走过;但是谁人走过得不到 44. 同样慷慨的微笑?发展至此, 45. 我下了令:于是一切微笑都从此制止。 46. 她站在那儿,像活着一样。

Analysis
This elliptical chain of four curt, bleak sentences brings Ferrara back to where he started. If the Duchess smiled everywhere, could her smiles be stopped by anything short of death by execution? What Ferrara's commands were, he does not say, but "As if alive", the second time he uses the phrase, has a much more ominous sound. At the beginning, Ferrara could indeed be speaking mainly about the "life-like" portrait, but as his anger grew, he shifted to the Duchess herself. She cannot be "life-like." Ferrara killed the joy that defined the "depth and passion" of her being. He finally controlled before whom she could "blush," for he alone draws back the curtain on the portrait.

46. 47. 48. 49. 50. 51. 52. 53.

Will 't please you rise? We'll meet The company below, then. I repeat, The Count your Master's known munificence Is ample warrant that no just pretence Of mine for dowry will be disallowed; Though his fair daughter's self, as I avowed At starting, is my object. Nay, we'll go Together down, Sir!

46. 47. 48. 49. 50. 51. 52. 53.

请你起身 客人们在楼下等。我再重复一声: 你的主人——伯爵先生闻名的大方 足以充分保证:我对嫁妆 提出任何合理要求都不会遭拒绝; 当然.如我开头声明的,他美貌的小姐 才是我追求的目标。别客气,让咱们 同下楼吧。

Ferrara invites his listener and us to rise from being seated and "meet / The company below" (47-48). When negotiating with the listener's master the Count for a dowry, Ferrara "stoops." But as we remember in Lines 41-42, he says he "chuse / Never to stoop." He not only lowers himself to the level of a mere count but generously offers to "go / Together down" with the listener, a servant, side by side, instead of following him and so maintaining symbolically a duke's superior level and rank. So for all his obsession with his noble lineage, Ferrara bargains with it openly.

53. Notice Neptune, though, 54. Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity, 55. Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me.
53. 但请看这海神尼普顿 54. 在驯服海马,这是件珍贵的收藏,

55. 是克劳斯为我特制的青铜铸像。
The "for me" at the end shows how really obsessed he his with himself.

Ferrara takes pride in saying: "I repeat" (47). But will he "repeat" in marriage as he does in his speech? He claims the Count's "fair daughter's self" is his "object"(52). Will she too, an objective achieved, become a thing, found on a wall like his last Duchess? Ferrara hints at his intentions by pointing out a second work of art, this time a sculpture, as he reaches the staircase. Neptune, the sea-god, is "Taming a sea-horse" (55), as Ferrara tamed his last Duchess. He controlled her in death like he could not in life, and the next Dutchess will be well aware of it.

Summary
The Duke begins reminiscing about the portrait sessions, then about the Duchess herself.

His musings give way to a diatribe on her disgraceful behavior: he claims she flirted with everyone and did not appreciate his "gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name.“
As his monologue continues, the reader realizes with ever-more chilling certainty that the Duke in fact caused the Duchess's early demise.

Summary Continued
When her behavior escalated, "[he] gave commands; / Then all smiles stopped together." Having made this disclosure, the Duke returns to the business at hand: arranging for another marriage, with another young girl. As the Duke and the emissary walk leave the painting behind, the Duke points out other notable artworks in his collection.

More Summary…
The Duke mimics others' voices, creates hypothetical situations, and uses the force of his personality to make horrifying information seem merely colorful. Indeed, the poem provides a classic example of a dramatic monologue: the speaker is clearly distinct from the poet; an audience is suggested but never appears in the poem; and the revelation of the Duke's character is the poem's primary aim.

Definitions of the dramatic monologue
a form invented and practiced principally by Robert Browning, Alfred Tennyson, Dante Rossetti, and other Victorians, have been much debated in the last several decades. Everyone agrees that to be a dramatic monologue a poem must have a speaker and an implied auditor, and that the reader often perceives a gap between what that speaker says and what he or she actually reveals. Robert Langbaum saw the form as a continuation of an essentially Romantic "poetry of experience" in which the reader experiences a tension between sympathy and judgment. One problem with this approach lies in the fact that readers do not seem ever to sympathize with the speakers in some of Browning's major poems .

Dramatic Monologue
Browninesque dramatic monologue has 3 requirements:
– The reader takes the part of the silent listener. – The speaker uses a case-making, argumentative tone. – We complete the dramatic scene from within, by means of inference and imagination.

Commentary
Browning has more in mind than simply creating a colorful character and placing the Duke in a picturesque historical scene. the specific historical setting of the poem harbors much significance: the Italian Renaissance held a particular fascination for Browning and his contemporaries, for it represented the flowering of the aesthetic and the human alongside, or in some cases in the place of, the religious and the moral.

Thus the temporal setting allows Browning to again explore sex, violence, and aesthetics as all entangled, complicating and confusing each other: the lushness of the language belies the fact that the Duchess was punished for her natural sexuality. The Duke's ravings(胡言乱语) suggest that most of the supposed transgressions took place only in his mind. Like some of Browning's fellow Victorians, the Duke sees sin lurking in every corner. The reason the speaker here gives for killing the Duchess ostensibly differs from that given by the speaker of "Porphyria's Lover" for murder Porphyria; however, both women are nevertheless victims of a male desire to inscribe and fix female sexuality.

The desperate need to do this mirrors the efforts of Victorian society to mold the behavior--sexual and otherwise--of individuals. For people confronted with an increasingly complex and anonymous modern world, this impulse comes naturally: to control would seem to be to conserve and stabilize. The Renaissance was a time when morally dissolute men like the Duke exercised absolute power, and as such it is a fascinating study for the Victorians: works like this imply that, surely, a time that produced magnificent art like the Duchess's portrait couldn't have been entirely evil in its allocation of societal control--even though it put men like the Duke in power.

Form
Rhyme Scheme: iambic pentameter The lines do not employ end; rather, they use enjambment, where sentences and other grammatical units do not necessarily conclude at the end of lines. Consequently, the rhymes do not create a sense of closure when they come. This poem depicts the themes of love, relationships and possessions.

Rhyme Scheme
Browning uses many techniques, including a simple rhyme scheme, enjambment, and caesura to convey various characteristics and qualities . Browning uses an AA BB rhyme scheme, which is very common to ballads and songs.

Figurative Language
The indirect allusions to the death of the speaker’s wife lead the reader to think that the speaker committed a vengeful crime out of jealousy. His flowery speech confuses & disguises any possible motives, however, and the mystery is left unsolved. Based on the poem's style, structure, and historical references, it becomes evident that even if the speaker did not directly kill his wife, he certainly had something to hide.

A poem like "My Last Duchess" calculatedly engages its readers on a psychological level. Because we hear only the Duke's musings, we must piece the story together ourselves. Browning forces his reader to become involved in the poem in order to understand it, and this adds to the fun of reading his work. It also forces the reader to question his or her own response to the subject portrayed and the method of its portrayal. We are forced to consider, Which aspect of the poem dominates: the horror of the Duchess's fate, or the beauty of the language and the powerful dramatic development?

Thus by posing this question the poem firstly tests the Victorian reader's response to the modern world --- it asks, Has everyday life made you numb yet? and secondly asks a question that must be asked of all art --- it queries, Does art have a moral component, or is it merely an aesthetic exercise?

Quiz
1. Who was the author of "My Last Duchess"?
A. Elizabeth Barrett Browning B. Lord Tennyson C. Arthur Hugh Clough D. Robert Browning

Quiz
2. Who is the presumed speaker of "My Last Duchess"?
A. Robert Browning B. Alfonso II, Duke of Ferrara C. The Duchess of Ferrara D. Fra Pandolf

Quiz
3. What is the object of the Duke's discussion at the beginning of the poem?
A. The Duchess, who is standing by the wall B. A Painting of the Duke C. Neptune D. A painting of the Duchess

Quiz
4. How old does the Duke say his name is?
A. 900 B. 600 C. 300 D. 100

Quiz
5. What is the current object of the Duke's desire (as he sees it)?
A. A painting B. A Neptune sculpture C. The Duchess D. The Count's Daughter

Quiz
6. Who was the sculptor of Neptune in the poem?
A. Carlo Crivelli B. Giotto di Bandone C. Claus of Innsbruck D. Lorenzo Ghiberti

Quiz
7. Who was the author of "My Last Duchess"?
A. Love B. Hate C. Fear D. Stoop

Quiz
8. What does the Duke say was one of the faults of the Duchess?
A. She hated him. B. She smiled too much. C. She was never impressed. D. She was a snob.

Quiz
9. What is the rhyme scheme of this poem?
A. Blank verse B. Dactylic meter C. Anapestic meter D. Enjambed rhyming couplets

Quiz
10. What type/style of poem is "My Last Duchess"?
A. Haiku B. Free form C. Dramatic monologue

D. Ballad

Quiz
11. What happened to the Duke's last duchess?
A. He murdered the Duchess. B. He sent the Duchess to a convent. C. He divorced the Duchess. D. We don’t know.

Quiz
1. Where are the Duke and his companion?
A. Outside B. In a dining hall C. In the attic D. On the grand staircase



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