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Robert Browning’s “My Last Duchess” Handout

Robert Browning’s “My Last Duchess” Handout
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A five-page, fill-in-the-blank activity which will give your students a thorough understanding of the psychological richness of Browning’s portrayal of both the duke and his last duchess. First your class will work on brief exercises on the dramatic monologue, the genre of “My Last Duchess,” and on the historical basis of the poem.
The major section of the handout deals with a line-by-line explication of the five divisions of the poem: introductory situation, problem, development, climax, and denouement or resolution.
The themes of aristocracy vs. democracy and the oppression of the Duke’s male chauvinism vs. the natural desire of his “last Duchess” for a woman’s rights are examined through a contrasting characterization of the protagonist and antagonist. Your students will also examine the irony and symbolism of the poem.
To the Answer Key, which I have provided on separate pages, I have appended three pages of notes to the teacher. I compiled these for a graduate-level course in Victorian Poetry. You can select which ones, if any, you wish to incorporate into your classroom.
These notes provide much more information on the historical Duke of Ferrara, Lucrezia de’ Medici (his first duchess—and I explain why Browning had Ferrara call her his “last” duchess), his second duchess Barbara of Austria (who incidentally is misidentified in a footnote in some Norton anthologies), and even his third and truly “last” duchess, Margherita of Mantua.
I report Browning’s own comments on the poem and examine why there is a dating error in the poem: The historic Ferrara/Este family is not 900 years old, as the Duke in the poem asserts, but only c. 500.
In addition I note a grammatical error (strangely not previously recorded) which Browning made in the poem. Difficult vocabulary and grammatical items, not covered in the student handout, are also explained.
Prepared by Professor William Tarvin, Ph.D., who has published many articles on literature in scholarly journals.
Total Pages
9 pages
Answer Key
Included
Teaching Duration
30 minutes
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