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‘My Last Duchess’

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"My Last Duchess" My last Duchess is a poem which at first glance seems like the wistful musings of a widower. However as one reads further, they are forced to realize that this is the reflection of a man (the Duke) who may very well have had a hand in the death of "my last Duchess painted on the wall". The setting is a Duke preparing to meet a new crop of young women to take the place of his deceased wife and he is discussing her portrait with what appears to be a marriage broker. In discussing the color in his painted wife’s cheeks, he states "She had A heart—how shall I say—too soon made glad, Too easily impressed.". It is here that one begins to realize that what he felt towards his wife was actually malice without a trace of love.
Moreover it becomes clear that he tells this marriage broker about the faults of his last wife specifically to advise what he will and will not tolerate with the next wife. While he does not state with specificity how his new wife is to conduct herself, it is clear that she will only exist as a result of his mercy. Indeed, the new wife is already set up in a trap because she will be demanded to figure out what her role is as his duchess which is impossible.
This situation could be compared to women of royalty, first ladies, and wives of powerful men. Women whom are the wives of powerful men are expected to enhance their husbands. They are not supposed to find joy or amusement in anything other than that which their husband does and they are aware that they are a direct reflection of the man they are married to. In My Last Duchess, it is clear that the Duke is appalled that the deceased duchess did not hold her name and position in society to its’ proper level. Indeed, as far as the Duke is concerned, it is his name and position that should have been paramount to everything — his "gift of a nine-hundred-years- old name.". The Duke is angry that she found joy in society other than his, and that she blushed in the company of others. Simply stated, the duke believes that his former wife failed completely to understand and fulfill her position and he is foreshadowing the fate of the new duchess should she fail as well "I command the smiles stop." This statement confirms that the Duke is a narcissistic masogonist.
Finally, as the monologue continues, one realizes with bone chilling certainty that he was in fact the reason for her death. "Much the same smile This grew. I gave commands. Then all smiles stopped together – There she stands As if alive.". It is clear that the Duke had a strong hand in the death of the Duchess but what is so tragic is that she is dead because she was merely a sweet compassionate human. She paid with her life for simply being human and acting like woman instead of the ice duchess that the Duke had envisioned.