My Last Duchess

Original Text: 

Robert Browning, Dramatic Lyrics (1842).

2Looking as if she were alive. I call
4Worked busily a day, and there she stands.
5Will 't please you sit and look at her? I said
7Strangers like you that pictured countenance,
8The depth and passion of its earnest glance,
9But to myself they turned (since none puts by
10The curtain I have drawn for you, but I)
11And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst,
12How such a glance came there; so, not the first
14Her husband's presence only, called that spot
15Of joy into the Duchess' cheek: perhaps
17Over my Lady's wrist too much," or "Paint
18Must never hope to reproduce the faint
19Half-flush that dies along her throat"; such stuff
20Was courtesy, she thought, and cause enough
21For calling up that spot of joy. She had
23Too easily impressed; she liked whate'er
24She looked on, and her looks went everywhere.
26The dropping of the daylight in the West,
27The bough of cherries some officious fool
28Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule
29She rode with round the terrace--all and each
31Or blush, at least. She thanked men,--good; but thanked
32Somehow . . . I know not how . . . as if she ranked
34With anybody's gift. Who'd stoop to blame
35This sort of trifling? Even had you skill
37Quite clear to such an one, and say, "Just this
38Or that in you disgusts me; here you miss,
41Her wits to yours, forsooth, and made excuse,
42--E'en then would be some stooping; and I chuse
43Never to stoop. Oh, sir, she smiled, no doubt,
44Whene'er I passed her; but who passed without
46Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands
47As if alive. Will 't please you rise? We'll meet
48The company below, then. I repeat,
50Is ample warrant that no just pretence
51Of mine for dowry will be disallowed;
52Though his fair daughter's self, as I avowed
53At starting, is my object. Nay, we'll go
55Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity,


1] First published in Dramatic Lyrics, 1842; given its present title in 1849 (Dramatic Romances and Lyrics).
The emphasis in the title is on last, as the ending of the poem makes clear; the Duke is now negotiating for his next Duchess. Fra Pandolf (line 3) and Claus of Innsbruck (line 54) are artists of Browning's own invention.Title: 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. In 1842 the title was "Italy and France. I. -- Italy" (then the poem was paired with "Count Gismond: Aix in Provence," which followed). 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. This source was discovered by Louis S. Friedland and published in "Ferrara and My Last Duchess," Studies in Philology 33 (1936): 656-84. Back to Line
3] Frà Pandolf: a painter not recorded in history, a member of religious orders and so, on the surface of things, unlikely to have seduced the Duchess. No known painting has been linked to Browning's poem. Back to Line
6] by design: when put the query, "By what design?", Browning answered: "To have some occasion for telling the story, and illustrating part of it" (A. Allen Brockington, "Robert Browning's Answers to Questions concerning some of his Poems," Cornhill Magazine [March 1914]: 316). Back to Line
13] you: presumably Browning had in mind Nikolaus Mardruz. Back to Line
16] mantle: loose cloak without sleeves. Back to Line
22] When questioned, "Was she in fact shallow and easily and equally well pleased with any favour or did the Duke so describe her as a supercilious cover to real and well justified jealousy?" Browning answered: "As an excuse -- mainly to himself -- for taking revenge on one who had unwittingly wounded his absurdly pretentious vanity, by failing to recognise his superiority in even the most trifling matters" (Brockington). Back to Line
25] My favour: a love-gift such as a ribbon. Back to Line
30] approving: "forward" in 1842. Back to Line
33] a nine-hundred-years-old name: Lucruzia's family, the Medici, had their recent origin in merchants, but the Este family went back 650 years (Complete Works, III [1971]: 372). Back to Line
36] to make: "could make" in 1842. Back to Line
39] exceed the mark: overshoot the target (from archery). Back to Line
40] lessoned: put to school, instructed; possibly punning on "lessened," `diminished.' Back to Line
45] I gave commands: when asked what this meant, Browning said first, "I meant that the commands were that she should be put to death," but then continued, "with a characteristic dash of expression, and as if the thought had just started in his mind, `Or he might have had her shut up in a convent"' (Hiram Corson, An Introduction to the Study of Robert Browning's Poetry, 3rd edn. [Boston, 1899]: viii). Back to Line
49] The Count: presumably Ferdinand II, count of Tyrol, who led the negotiations for the marriage of Alfonso II and Barbara of Austria. Back to Line
54] Neptune: the Roman god of the sea, whose chariot is often shown pulled by sea-horses. Back to Line
56] Claus of Innsbruck: a painter not recorded historically, from an Italian city, renowned for its sculpture, that Browning visited in 1838. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
F. E. L. Priestley
RPO Edition: 
3RP 3.111.