My Last Duchess is an example of a dramatic monologue. It is written in the first person an Italian Duke. The audience the Duke is speaking to is a representative of a count whose daughter the Duke wishes to marry. The Duke shows the representative a painting done of his late wife, his duchess. He starts by exhibiting it with a great sense of pride: “Will’t please you sit and look at her?”, this is because he had it painted by a famous painter ‘Fra Pandolf’; “That piece a wonder now, Fra Pandolf’s hands worked busily a day”. The Duke speaks of how beautiful his wife was “called that spot
Of joy into the Duchess’ cheek” but also how she did not respect him enough, and he says he hired someone to kill her; “I gave commands, then all smiles stopped together”.
The Duke is a very proud man “my gift of nine hundred years old name” he is saying here that when marrying his duchess, she took on his name, which was a gift and had a history of nine hundred years, he sees it as an honour. However he feels she does not appreciate it “as if she ranked
My gift… With anybody’s gift”
The counts magnificent pride is also illustrated through his enthusiasm for the painting of his duchess. This is why he makes a point of telling the counts representative the history of it and asks him to stop and look at it “Will’t please you sit and look at her?”.
From the Dukes title we can straight away see that he is a very powerful man, secondly we notice he was not scared to confess he had his wife killed: “I gave commands; Then all smiles stopped together”. He sees himself as above the law, that no one could prosecute him for killing.
The Duke has moved on from his late wife and is already in search of a new wife, this shows he did not necessarily love his late wife but that he wanted to have a someone by his side, someone to control and have them do what he wants. He is very selfish and seems only interested in collecting people like objects.
Porphyria’s lover is also a dramatic monologue. At first glance you note that Porphyria must be someone important as the name suggests precious jewel. This poem is about Porphyria a young woman from a background of high status who has become part of a relationship with a man from a low status background, who has an obsessive love for her. Unfortunately because of Porphyria’s status she must keep her relationship a secret, as her family would not approve. Porphyria’s lover wants to have a proper relationship with her, to settle down and live together. He does not want to be a secret, and it may seem to him that she is ashamed of him. So he sees the only way he can have control of her and keep her is to kill her.
Porphyria’s lover starts by describing the setting around the cottage of her lover: “It tore the elm-tops down for spite, And did its worst to vex the lake”. The use of the word ‘vex’ indicates trouble and danger which prepares the reader for what is to come. Following this Porphyria appears to be angelic: “When glided in Porphyria; straight She shut the cold out and the storm” “…and all the cottage warm”. It seems her presence casts out unpleasant things and she brings warmth to the environment around her.
One of the first similarities and differences between these two poems are status and control.
In both poems the person of higher status is in control of the relationship; in ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ it is Porphyria and in ‘My Last Duchess’ it is the Duke. The difference to go with this, is, in ‘My Last Duchess’ the man is in control “I gave commands”. In ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ the woman is in control “she put her arm about my waist” Porphyria is the active person.
Both men want complete control of their relationships and almost ownership/possession of their lovers. The men want control so badly they are willing to have the women killed. Because the Duke already has a lot of control he hires someone to murder his wife. In comparison Porphyria’s lover, who has no control, kills her himself, by strangling her with her hair. Hair can be quite a sexual thing and when he strangles her with her own hair, it is almost as if Porphyria, and her lover are killing her together, his hands and her hair. For the first time, they did something together and it was not only her in control, he has achieved his aim.
Another similarity is the men are both killers, and the women are both killed. But the difference is, Porphyria is killed out of love, she is only killed because it was the only way her lover could stay with her forever. The duchess is killed out of spite and principal, the Duke did not love his wife as he just has her killed and he moves on, searching for a replacement.
Another difference is that the Duke is a powerful man and sees himself as above the law, at his level there is only his law so he will get away with his wife’s death even if someone finds out. On the other hand Porphyria’s lover has no power at all and will be in especially big trouble because he killed some of a lot higher class than himself.
In My Last Duchess the Duke was married to his lover, which should show a strong relationship. In Porphyria’s Lover, Porphyria is only a partner/girlfriend of her lover, which should show they do not have as strong a relationship as the Duke and his Duchess. The ironic difference is that the Duke’s marriage is weak and he doesn’t love his wife he just owns her, this is why not long after her death he is in search of a new wife; the counts daughter he just likes to have a woman as a possession, someone to have control of. Porphyria’s lover does love her and wants to keep her forever.
Another similarity is that in both poems the men are telling the story. The difference that goes with this is that Porphyria’s Lover is written at present, her lover is telling the story as it happens. In My Last Duchess, the Duke has moved on he is already waiting to re-marry he is telling his story in the past tense.
In Porphyria’s Lover he regresses upon killing her, contemplating whether or not, killing Porphyria was the right thing to do “I am quite sure she felt no pain”. But he reassures himself: “All night long we have not stirred, and yet God has not said a word”. If God has not punished him yet, then killing Porphyria was not such a terrible thing. The Duke in My Last Duchess only looks back on killing his wife when he tells the representative but he does not show guilt, he is more proud that he has such power “I gave commands, then all smiles stopped together”.
Porphyria’s Lover does not tell his story to a particular person, like the counts representative in My Last Duchess, Porphyria’s Lover is just telling it to an audience, to anyone who will listen, usually when people do this they have something they want to get off their chest, in this case Porphyria’s death. Again this shows guilt and regret from Porphyria’s Lover, he still loves her and has compassion for her. The Duke does not care, he is only worried about himself, and he has moved on, this again shows he is very selfish.
Structure is another major theme of the two poems. Looking at the structure is another way of seeing where control lies. Rhyming couplets show control and the rhyme scheme in My Last duchess, is rhyming couplets the whole way through, so evidently the Duke has lots of control. In Porphyria’s Lover’s there are only rhyming couplets towards the end, as he kills her, this is the only time in the poem where he has control.
On a superficial level, Robert Browning’s two monologues are very similar, with the bright, innocent ladies murdered by their twisted, neurotic partners.
But on a deeper level there are large differences in the class and circumstances of his characters. In My Last Duchess, the pompous, cruel Duke murders his wife out of convenience. Whereas in Porphyria’s Lover the lonely, isolated man kills his adoring lover so he can keep her with him – beautiful and loving forever. He was sure that she wanted to die because she did not struggle: “So glad, it has its utmost will”.
The Duke chooses ‘never to stoop’ and is overly conscious of class and social etiquette. Porphyria’s Lover is a total contrast to this. Instead of trying to be magnificent and powerful, like the Duke. Porphyria’s Lover is silent and eerie; he seems to be disinterested in life, sitting in the cold, with the “sullen wind” and the door open. But the two characters are alike in that they share common values; they want to be appreciated and be the only person in their partner’s life. These values can be seen as very selfish.
Porphyria in lines 21-30 is “murmuring” how she loves her partner, but she was above him in status so she cannot “set” her heart’s “struggling passion free”, and make their relationship public. She seems very arrogant and assured of his love. And yet in lines 15-30 the impression you might get of Porphyria is of a sweet, caring girl who is besotted with her lover and is giving him a mini speech about how she loves him.
Both women are uniform in their cheerfulness, as the men are comparable in their callousness. The men are intense whilst the women light.
My Last Duchess is written in a statelier and higher approach. This immediately becomes apparent when comparing it to Porphyria’s Lover, which is written in eight syllables per line and has a more ordinary feel to it.