Language and style

Here, we address the language and style of the poem “My Last Duchess” by Robert Browning.

Playing with language

The poet plays very little with language in this poem, as it is meant to be a monologue from a very self-absorbed aristocrat. Consequently, it would be very unlikely for such a person to be very playful with language. Nevertheless, a certain playfulness surfaces through the couplets rhyme and iambic rhythm along with certain ambiguous statements. The most obvious is the reference to the Duke commanding the smiles to stop:

“Much the same smile? This grew; Igave commands;
Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands
As if alive. Will’t please you rise? We’ll meet” (ll. 45-47)

We do not know exactly what this command refers to. It might have been that the speaker ordered the woman to be killed, or maybe he only had her living somewhere in seclusion, where she could not meet other men.

Tense of the verbs

The poem starts in the present tense, continues with the past tense and ends returning to present tense. In the beginning, present tense is used to establis...

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