My Last Duchess

This study guide will help you analyse the poem “My Last Duchess” by Robert Browning. We will show you examples of elements in the text that will be relevant for your analysis. In these notes, we will focus on composition, characters and narrator, language and style, rhythm and rhyme, imagery and metaphors, theme and message. 

Robert Browning (1812-1889) was a British poet and playwright during the Victorian era. He is mostly appreciated for the way he wrote dramatic monologues. In his writings, he approached social and historical themes and wrote about them with irony and black humour. 

“My Last Duchess” is a poem based on real historical people, namely Alfonso II d'Este, the fifth Duke of Ferrara (1533–1598) and his wife Lucrezia di Cosimo de' Medici. Lucrezia was only 14 years old when she married the Duke and died three years after that.

Excerpt from the study guide: 

The sentence structure

The poem is constructed using rather long sentences which help create descriptive images. Sometimes, the sentences are written with breaks outlining speech pauses or with chiasmus and inverted syntax, mirroring a natural oral speech. Here is an example of caesura:

“For calling up that spot of joy. She had
A heart—how shall I say?—too soon made glad,” (ll. 21-22)

And here is one example of inverted syntax:

“The depth and passion of its earnest glance,
But to myself they turned (since none puts by” (ll. 8-9)


In the poem there are three references to the smiles of the Duchess in four consecutive lines, indicating the obsession the speaker seemed to have with his wife smiling at everybody:

“Never to stoop. Oh sir, she smiled, no doubt,
Whene’er I passed her; but who passed without
Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands;
Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands” (ll. 43-46)


The speaker is sometimes sarcastic and ironic when he talks about other men enjoying his wife’s smiles. However, this irony only shows his irritation and jealousy:

“The bough of cherries some officious fool
Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule
She rode with round the terrace—all and each
Would draw from her alike the approving speech,” (ll. 27-30)

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My Last Duchess

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