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Robert Browning

My Last Duchess

Easier questions:
Lines 46-57

Lorraine Knickelbein
Grens High School
Updated: 3 March 2014
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Robert Browning's "My Last Duchess" is a dramatic monologue, spoken by the Duke of Ferrara who explains to a suitor's ambassador why he had ordered his previous wife to be executed.

The Duke reveals himself to be an irrationally jealous man who could not bear to have his wife even smiling at any other man. Eventually his jealousies got the better of him and he gave orders, and his wife was executed. But, with her death, came the death of happiness all about him.



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Robert Browning was born in 1812 in Camberwell near London. His family had made a fortune in plantations in the West Indies, which meant that the young Robert grew up surrounded by books and had already written his own poetry anthology by the age of 12, although it went unpublished.

He was home-tutored and was fluent in several European languages. As a teenager, he was surrounded by the work of the Romantic poets but would not be able to go to university because his parents objected to the Church of England which held sway at both Oxford and Cambridge.

He despised the idea of a "formal career". Indeed, he was probably wealthy enough to survive without one and, in any case, he stayed at home till his early 30s. Instead he dedicated his life to the reading and writing of poetry, relying on his father to sponsor him, at least till he married and left home.

Only at the age of 33 did he meet someone with whom to spend the rest of his life. This was Elizabeth Barrett, a poet although a semi-invalid who was six years older than he. When they eventually married, her father disinherited her because he objected to any of his daughters marrying. Nevertheless, the union of the two was good for both their literary careers.

The couple chose to leave England and settled in Italy, at first at Pisa and then Florence. It was there that Browning became a student of Italian art and literature, something which would reflect in his poem "My last duchess". They had a son whom they nicknamed "Penini".

Browning was a prodigious writer of poetry but would come under severe criticism for apparently abandoning England in favour of Italy. He would die in Venice in December 1889. He was then 77 years of age.

Have you looked at the questions
in the right column?
TEST YOURSELF!
Read the left column and then answer
the following questions:



I choose never to stoop.
  • What does this convey about the nobleman's character? (2)

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This grew; I gave commands;
Then all smiles stopped together.
  • Why did the Duke give "commands"? (2)

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  • What commands did he give? (2)

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  • How do we know that the nobleman is very powerful? (2)

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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.
  • What does "company" refer to here? (1)

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  • Supply a synonym for "munificence". (1)

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I repeat,
The Count your master's known munificence
Is ample warrant that no just pretence
Of mine for dowry will be disallowed.
  • Explain the meaning of these lines in your own words. (3)

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  • What is a "dowry"? (2)

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  • What does the Duke say his "object" is? (1)

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Nay, we'll go together down, sir.
  • Supply a synonym for "nay". Why would it have been necessary for the Duke to say "Nay"? (3)

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Notice Neptune, though,
Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity,
Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me!
  • What does the Duke point out to the envoy on the way down? (2)

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  • Why does he specifically mention "Claus of Innsbruck"? What does this tell us about the Duke's character? (4)

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  • What warning do these words have for his future bride? (2)

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  • What is the point of the envoy's visit to the nobleman? (2)

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