Thursday, August 12, 2010

My Last Duchess-from a different angle

Ok, before you all think that this is going to be another post on Stephen's, let me tell you its not. Well, its is connected to Stephen's in a way but that's not going to influence it in a huge manner. In my next post though, I'll revert to the Stephanian mode again because each day spent here gives rise to a new experience.

Anyway, I had read this beautiful poem called 'My Last Duchess' by Robert Browning in the tenth standard. But, I now realize what a limited outlook we had formed then about the poem. For us, it had been concerned with this plain and simple plot about a duke looking at the painting of his last duchess, admiring it, and expressing his suspicions about how his wife could blush when the picture had been painted or how could she could have 'depth and passion' in her glance, despite his absence. He never appreciated the fact that she smiled 'in much the same way' at him and many others and so, he took steps to wipe her smile forever. So, this was all and the mot analytical thing that we were required to do was to judge the duke's character, invariably as a very cruel and remorseless man. Looking back, I realize that not critiquing the duchess's or the painter's characters left us with an incomplete knowledge of the poem.

First of all, we should try to find out why the duchess behaved as she did. One of the explanations for this is that she was young and immature and didn't quite know when and to whom she should limit her favours and smiles. Then again, having married into such an old and glorious family, she was expectd to know how to conduct herself. So, maybe she had married the duke just to get the family name for herself. Maybe, she had married the duke to meet this selfish end only and didn't bother anymore about loving the duke. Just because the duke had killed her or sent her off to a nunnery because of her close association with people of lower ranks, the duke cannot be blamed entirely. Yeah, I agree that his action was a bit harsh and the duchess didn't deserve being treated so unfairly without any evidence but even then, a man could not--just could not--tolerate the idea of his wife being unfaithful to him.Therefore, at a certain stage, my sympathies do lie with the duke.

Then, there are other things that can make the poem so much more interesting like the way it is read. Yes, a difference in the way it is read can bring a whole world of difference to its meaning. The first three lines of the poem, for example, read:
That's my last duchess painted on the wall,
Looking as if she were alive. I call
That piece a wonder now...
Normally, one would interpret the first two lines as the duke's admiration for the painting, which was as good as real or alive. However, if one overlooks the full stop between 'alive' and 'I' in the second line, the meaning changes to a recalling of the painting scene by the duke. This contrast of meaning can apply to all lines of the poem. Plus, there's this whole discussion about visible characters, invisible characters, what's the significance of their being visible/invisible, etc., etc., etc. So, I dedicate this post to Browning and hope to return in future with more posts about his creations.


Aritro Dasgupta said...

Browning in this poem brings out strikingly the conversation... On the one hand is the Borgia family who are Nouveou riche....and on the other is the Duke's family, the famed D'Este clan...the elan and elegance of the hosts versus the pretentiousness of the guests....The forever falling back on the past of the d'este's to the doubtless power the Borgia's 'presently' possess... The body language brought out is simply magnificent....

Sayantani said...

The sight of my little brother and sister arguing over the intellect of a poem already makes this a winner in my eyes.
So although I haven't read the poem yet, you both have given me reason enough to search for it and explore it on my own.

Aritro Dasgupta said...

Kanika Khurana Bhatnagar said...

Haven't read the poem...but I am intrigued

Butterfly said...

@Riju Dada
Yes, the host and guest conversation was brought up at a later lecture. :-)

@Tanni Didi
Ha ha ha!

Do read it soon. :-)