My Last Duchess by Robert Browning is a dramatic monologue, which consists of different types of themes such as power and envy. Browning begins the poem by stating, thats my last Duchess painted on the wall/Looking as if she were alive (1-2). Margaret Atwood, a poet, and her narrator interact with Brownings poem My Last Duchess in class with their teacher Miss Bessie, at home by herself, and with her boyfriend Bill. Browning has incorporated a lot of ambiguity in the poem, and the narrator recognizes them during her interaction. At initiation in the fiction, the narrator in Atwoods work begins by introducing the reader to a class discussion about Brownings poem. Conflict begins to emerge between the narrator and her boyfriend Bill when they analyze the poem. Their teacher, Miss Bessie, appears to play a part in their breakup. The poem becomes a source of conflict between the narrator and Bill because of his inability to comprehend it.
The narrators understanding of the Duke in his last Duchess affected her relationship with Bill in many ways. Primarily, the narrator seems to have a clear knowledge of the Duke in the poem as she tries to explain to Bill the Dukes role in the monologue. However, Bill is repulsive and negates the Dukes choices. The narrator explains to Bill that in the poem, the Duke and the envoy are upstairs having a conversation (73). Bill replies, Who cares whether they are upstairs or downstairs? (73) From a readers perspective, Bill seems to be deviant and is uninterested in analyzing the poem even with help from her girlfriend. The narrator explains to Bill why the Duke chose to act in a particular way in the poem, but Bill feels like he should have behaved differently. The narrator affirms, Bill couldnt seem to focus. He grasped the list of opposite characteristics that made sense to him (80). More so, at Bills house, the narrator and her boyfriend argue about the Dukes actions, and each of them gives their opinion. However, the argument intensifies, and Bill tells the narrator how she thinks she is so smart, and that he does not need her help (83). Eventually, the breaks up, and the narrator leaves Bills house.
Miss Bessie, their teacher, plays a huge part in the breakup between Bill and the narrator. During their class discussion, Miss Bessie sarcastically calls out to Bill as the attentive reader (62). The narrator feels like Miss Bessie humiliated Bill with her sarcasm (63). After their breakup, the narrator begins to think that analyzing the poem could be a waste of time just as Bill has mentioned earlier (85). Additionally, during that period, she continues to think about what Miss Bessie could be doing at home. From the readers perspective, the narrator feels disappointed that they had to read and analyze the poem although his boyfriend Bill was not good in English literature. Despite the fact that she had a better understanding of the poem, the breakup made her feel bewailed. She laments, Who chooses books and poems that would be on the curriculum (84). She thinks to herself that perhaps Miss Bessie and her colleagues were responsible for choosing the poem for the curriculum (85). She complains that it is complicated compared to detective stories, which are comprehensible (85). Evidently, the narrator blames Miss Bessie for introducing the poem in class due to its ambiguities that made it difficult to understand while studying with Bill.
In the poem, the narrator recognizes many ambiguities in the text. First, her discussion of the envoy with Bill continued to trouble her (76-77). The narrator has a conversation with herself at home wondering why the Duke had to spill the beans to a complete stranger if his intentions were to convince the envoy to settle the deal on the marriage (77). However, she convinces herself that the Duke was being considerate and wanted the envoy to understand his likes and dislikes (77). The other ambiguity that the narrator recognizes in the poem is why the Duke would want to go downstairs together with the envoy after their conversation. She thought that the Duke did that because he was stopping the envoy from barging in front (78). In the poem, Browning states that the Duke said, Nay, well go/together down, sir (53-54). Nevertheless, the narrator feels like that was not the case and that the Duke wanted to go downstairs with the envoy to set them on an equal footing (78). The narrator feels like the Duke, the envoy, and the Count were in cahoots, as the marriage was a trade-off (78). Notably, the narrator interprets the Dukes actions in her way.
In summary, the class discussion of Robert Brownings poem My Last Duchess is an obvious source of conflict between the narrator and her boyfriend Bill. Bills repulsiveness and inability to understand the poem seemed to have brought disagreements between the couple. Miss Bessie, on the other hand, played a role in their argument because of her sarcasm during class. Overall, if Bill had paid keen interests in understanding the poem, their breakup would not have occurred.
Atwood, Margaret. My Last Duchess. Moral Disorder. Virago Press, 2007. pp. 57-86.
Browning, Robert. My Last Duchess. Ed. Kelly Mays. The Norton Introduction to Literature,
Shorter Twelfth Edition. Norton, 2016. pp. 1103-1104.
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