The poem “My Last Duchess” by Robert Browning is about a powerful Duke and his beautiful wife who lived in 16th century. The Duke here is the speaker of the poem and is talking to an emissary who has arrived to discuss about his marriage to the daughter of yet another powerful family. The poem begins with Duke mourning for the loss of his wife but the way he speaks and the poem moves on we feel the tone of detestation in Duke’s words.
But at the same time the Duke loved his wife and was not ready to tolerate her unfaithfulness and so he gives orders to decease her.
It is clear from the words, “I ave commands; Then all smiles stopped together. ” This is the story of marriage relationship of 16th century when men were extremely powerful and would easily kill women if they doubted her character especially in royal families. In the beginning of the poem the Duke shows his palace to the visitor and stops in front of the portrait of his last duchess who looks like a beautiful young lady.
The Duke recalls the portrait session and tells the visitor about it and describes about the Duchess also.
He told that the Duchess used to flirt with almost everyone and never cared for his “gift of a ine-hundred-years old name”. She had a dual personality one that was reality and the other laid in the picture, a beautiful young lady. The Duke here very cleverly chooses words to describe about the Duchess, her flirty behavior and also about her death. After giving a brief and partly hidden description of the demise of his last Duchess he very smarty returns to the topic of his another marriage with another girl and talks to emissary. He walks away from the portrait of the Duchess and points out other distinguished works of art in his collection.
The Last Duchess” is a poem comprised of rhyming words and mere monologue in which the speaker with the influence of his powerful personality gives away horrifying information in a colorful manner. Here the poet seems to have distinct views from speaker and poet’s main aim here is to reveal the real character of the Duke and not the Duchess. Although there is no such direct intension but by disclosing character of Duchess as per the Duke and punishment she received from her husband, the poet wants the reader to feel the cruelty and harshness in Duke’s character.
The Dukes in the 16th entury were very powerful so much so that they could kill or punish anyone and were not answerable for that. Browning was quite fascinated with the Italian Renaissance because of its religious, moral and human beauty and appreciation impact on society. The poem “The Last Duchess” involves the reader completely and focuses on the psychology of people of that era. It depends upon the reader what aspect he considers of the poem- the horrified fate of the Duchess, the beautiful and dramatic development, which is very much powerful or the beauty of language.
The reader gets completely nvolved in the poem and this is the power and beauty of Browning’s poetic language. He forces his reader to get engrossed in the story depicted in poem and leaves him to think on the social structure, Duke’s character, Duchess’ character or her fate and decide for himself. It depends upon the attitude of the reader that makes him decide what exactly dominated the poem. When we compare each and every aspect of this poem to Shakespeare’s “Othello” we find that both the works are of more or less the same era and brings out the picture of the society at that time.
Othello” is a tragic story of deception, manipulation and revenge written in the form of play by Shakespeare. The main character of the drama is Othello who is a black military man and is very powerful. He wins the heart of a white woman Desdemona and they seem to be fully devoted to each other. Initially Othello and Desdemona appear to be ideal couple and it seemed that Desdemona would do anything for Othello. But love of Othello and Desdemona gets horrifyingly hindered by the plans of wicked Iago, who appears to be very faithful and honest but in actual he is the sinister villain inside.
For this purpose he uses few people along with his wife and there are quite a lot of circumstances in the play where Iago manipulates and exploits it for his selfish fulfillment. Where “Othello” is a story completely based on manipulations and revenge, “The Last Duchess” is the poem in which Duke punishes his wife because of her unfaithfulness. In the end Othello also kills his wife because Iago with the help of his manipulated proofs make him believe that his wife is unfaithful towards him. But it was not the truth here.
Whereas Duke’s wife is flirtatious which is clear from the Duke’s wordings, “Too easily mpressed: she liked whate’er she looked on, and her looks went everywhere. ” And he punishes her because he has the power to do so. According to the Duke he has done the right thing. In both the works, “Othello” and “The Last Duchess”, the husbands love their wives but could not tolerate their unfaithfulness. The whole story of “Othello” is based on revenge that Iago takes because Othello did not promote him as lieutenant.
He creates and controls the proofs unscrupulously and convinces Othello that his wife is disloyal towards him but it was not the truth. The Duke as well as Othello, both are very powerful and outgoing and can go to any extent to prove that what they do is right. Othello is a dark man and his dark color is also reflected in his character. He is quite mysterious and believes that there is some kind of magic brewing everywhere. Apart from this he has a trusting nature and believes anyone completely and also because he is not very observant, he does not try to find out the truth himself and believes what Iago creates round him.
Othello is not able to understand European women and since he had seen Desdemona’s deception for her father he emembers his words, “Look to her, Moor, if thou has eyes to see: She has deceived her father, and may thee” (I, iii, lines 286-7) Othello when comes to know that he had been tricked by the words and deeds of Iago, is unable to handle the anguish and he becomes his own judge and sentences himself. Othello understands that he had not killed Desdemona for revenge but because of his jealousy.
He took a knife and stabbed himself saying, “ I kissed thee ere I killed thee. No way but this, killing myself, to die upon a kiss. ” (V, ii, line 359-60) Othello is jealous and kills his wife because he is convinced that his wife is unfaithful and he believes that he is doing justice. But the Duke watches his flirtatious wife for sometime who is not even ashamed of what she is doing and then he orders to kill her. The era in which Duke and Duchess live did not allow women to be seen with any other man than their husbands.
It is quite possible that Duchess must be unaware that her husband saw her with her new male interest. The royal families at that time would kill their wives if they were not faithful to their husbands. And the Duke follows the same tradition of justice. Both the story depicts the marriage relationship of that era and the form of justice in royal families. In “The Last Duchess” the Duke is planning to get married again because he justifies his decision of killing his wife. His wife was a cheat and she had created the element of distrust by herself.
But the picture of the wife in Shakespeare’s Othello is completely different where Othello’s wife is not only faithful but also devoted to him and his values. Even Iago’s wife cannot hold this injustice and tells Othello the true story and his shows that she had the guts to tell the truth even if it was against her husband. But the Duchess is a cheat and also is not bold enough to tell her husband about it. So the picture of women is completely different in Browning’s poem “The Last Duchess” and Shakespeare’s “Othello”.
The only thing common in both the works is that men were powerful in that era and could not tolerate unfaithfulness of their wives. In “Othello” Iago is portrayed as a very clever character that very smartly weaves his plans just like a chess player and the game of chess. He even uses people in his act of anipulation and makes them do exactly how he wants them to. Here Iago targets a newly wed couple who have not known each other for long and they are not quite aware of the likes and dislikes of each other.
Iago tells Othello in such a manner that anyone would believe what he said and Othello believes him as honest and trusts him completely. Othello did not know much about Desdemona before marriage and very easily believed Iago. Othello’s origin also resists him in understanding a European woman and her ethics of life and life-partner. So while comparing Shakespeare’s “Othello” and Browning’s “ The last Duchess”, we ee that the situation, plot and circumstances all are quite different in both the stories.
The wives in both the stories are completely different in character and one is killed because she was a cheat but Desdemona is killed because of the circumstances created by Iago who wants to take revenge from Othello. Here we pity Othello because he acts according to the manipulated circumstances and anyone would react to those situations as he did. And when he comes to know about the truth he is unable to bear the torment and kills himself whereas the Duke has plans to marry another girl.