Impact of Wealth and Power in My Last Duchess by Robert

Impact of Wealth and Power in My Last Duchess by Robert


  1. Introduction

    1. General introduction: Poem’s title, poet, focus

    2. Thesis: Through the words of a member of a Victorian royal family, Robert Browning skillfully exposes the despicable aspects of wealth and power.

  2. Body

The negative aspects influences of wealth and power from the poem:

    1. The speaker is has no sad feelings associated with loss. Instead of being in mood of loss, he is pride of his financial ability

    2. Exposing the speaker’s cruelty by describing the desirable qualities and experiences of the Duchess

    3. Wealthy and power precedes jealousy which leads the speaker to order for the murder of the Duchess.

  1. Conclusion

    1. Restating the thesis

    2. Brief restatement of the main points

Impact of Wealth and Power in My Last Duchess by Robert

The Essay

This Victorian poem, Robert Browning’s My Last Duchess, revolves around a painting of the late Duchess of Ferrara. In the poem, her life-time husband describes her human qualities, how she enjoyed life, how she died, and the aftermath of her death. Through the reactions of the speaker, the Duke, to the aspects described in the life of the Late Duchess, the reader can inevitably learn about the personality of the Duke. The motivation for the personality of the Duke is clearly linked to his wealthy, powerful position that the royal family places him as the Duke. This way, the central argument of this paper is, through the words of a member of a Victorian royal family, Robert Browning skillfully exposes the despicable aspects of wealth and power.

There are several instances in the poem that illustrate the negative aspects of wealth and power. First, the Duke has lost a wife, and yet the emotions associated with loss are not apparent in the poem. As the poem opens, the speaker’s pride is clearly exposed. The speaker prides himself: “That piece a wonder, now: Frà Pandolf’s hands (3). The speaker identifies the artist by name, implying that he must have been a respected painter of his time. This word choice in this line gives an idea of the unfeeling personality of the speaker. Having been his own wife, one would expect that he is emotionally touched by her death. However, the use of the word piece shows the insensitive nature of the speaker. Although the painting is an image, that image should symbolize the Duchess. However, in this case, the speaker seems to be impressed by the quality of the painting, rather than what it symbolizes. His financial ability to get the best known painter is what makes him insensitive to the fact that this painting symbolizes his departed Duchess.

Second, Browning used description to demonstrate that the speaker is actually cruel. The speaker describes some aspects of the Duchess which to him are undesirable. However, to the reader, and probably the rest of humanity, these are the traits that would be appealing. This presents a kind of ironical situation in that what the speaker disliked about the Duchess, is actually what humanity would appreciate; and because of this, the speaker becomes the revolting character. By way of example, the Duchess’ sociable nature was something that the speaker disliked. This illustrated by the speaker’s observation that his late spouse “had a heart” and that she was “too soon made glad” and that she was always grateful to men; she always expressed gratitude to them.. The speaker explains that the Duchess was “Too easily impressed” and that “she liked whate’er/ She looked on…” (21-24). These illustrations demonstrate that the Duchess was an ordinary woman who would appeal both to people and nature. As a matter of fact, people will be appealed to those others who are easily sociable. Again, enjoying aspects of nature such as sunrise is an admirable aspect. From the way the speaker reacts to the Duchess personality, it is evident that the speaker is not happy with her. For instance, the speaker is not happy with the way the Duchess expressed appreciation to those men who offered her gifts. The speaker feels that the Duchess is discriminative in the way she expresses gratitude. This is clearly illustrated by the speaker’s observation that the Duchess thanked men “as if she ranked/My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name/With anybody’s gift…” (31-34). This is a clear indication that the speaker felt that the Duchess was biased against him when it came to being appreciative. It is interesting to note that it is power and wealth that the speaker believes he should be thanked for. In noting that his gift to her of a 900-year old is more valuable than any other gift, it clearly demonstrates the value that the speaker attaches to wealth and wealth. In other words, wealth and power overshadows desirable human traits.

Third, wealth and power led the speaker to order for the murder of the Duchess. The speaker admits that due to jealousy, he decided to order for the murder of the Duchess. The jealousy arose from the personality of the Duchess: showing respect to every one, smiling to every person who walked past her, and being grateful to everyone. When the speaker felt that he could not stomach this personality anymore, he “gave commands/Then all smiles stopped together/There she stands/As if alive” (45-47). The speaker does not give details on the kind of the order he gave, but from the choice of words, they can be inferred. After indicating that he issue order upon getting fed up with her smiles and appreciations to everyone, the next line reports that “all smiles stopped together” before unashamedly noting that now she stands on a wall as if when were breathing. These instances show that he killed her; and has no regrets about it. The reasons for murdering her basically connected with her inability to sufficiently recognize her wealthy and powerful position; and smile to him and thank him differently from others who do not belong to the same social status. It should be noted that the speaker does not demand to be treated differently because he is her husband, but rather because he holds a wealthy and powerful position as the Duke of Ferrara.

In conclusion, this paper has demonstrated that power and wealth associated with Victorian royal families displaced the desirable human qualities. The analysis of My Last Duchess by Robert Browning has highlighted some of the negative aspects of wealth and power. The speaker developed intense dislike for the Duchess to the extent that he ordered for her death. Even in her death, the Duke does not seem to have any feeling for wrongdoing. The root cause of this insensitivity, the paper has demonstrated, is wealth and power. The speaker has insisted that the Duchess should have recognized her wealthy and powerful position, which he obtained because of him.


Browning, R. (1993). My Last Duchess. In X. J. Kennedy and D. Gioia. Literature: An introduction to fiction, poetry, and drama (6th ed.) (pp. 594-595). New York: Harper Collins.

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