Wednesday, October 2, 2019
Use of Irony, Diction, and Imagery in My Last Duchess :: Robert Browning, My Last Duchess
In his dramatic monologue, Robert Browning uses irony, diction, and imagery to achieve a haunting effect. Robert Browning frequently wrote dramatic monologues to enhance the dark and avaricious qualities in his works. Browning's use of this particular style is to "evoke the unconstrained reaction of a person in aparticular situation or crisis" (Napierkowski 170). A poem may say one thing, but when mixed with dramatic monologue, it may "present a meaning at odds with the speaker's intention"(Napierkowski 170). This change may show the reader more insight into the poem without directly stating the underlying facts. The reader is allowed to "isolate a single moment in which the character reveals himself more starkly" (Napierkowski 171). Browning's use of dramatic monologue "disposes the reader to suspend moral judgement" (Napierkowski 171) causing a haughtiness to hover over many of his works. Browning uses irony in conjunction with dramatic monologue to produce a sinister and domineering effect. Irony, much like dramatic monologue, can make the reader question the true underlying meaning of the passage. This brief confusion causes an eeriness to be brought about in the work. In "My Last Duchess," verbal irony is demonstrated when the Duke says to his guests, "even had you skill in speech . . . which I have not"(35-36). Throughout the poem the Duke proves that he is "quite a polished speaker"(Markley 172). The Duke is not a modest man, but him making this seemingly humble statement in the midst of all his power stricken remarks establishes situational irony. Dramatic monologue can make an unforseen ironic statement have an ominous surrounding that totally encompasses the reader's attention. An individual may initially become very disturbed if an unannounced late night visitor knocked on their door, just as the Duke's unanticipated remark brought a weary feeling to the reader. Throughout "My Last Duchess," Browning uses diction to further increase the haunting effect of his dramatic monologue. His precise and scattered word choice is meant to make the reader recognize the underlying haughtiness in his speech to the Count's emissary. The Duke refers to his former wife's portraits "depth" and "passion" in order to place a cloudiness over the realism of the painting. This, along with the "faint" and "half-flush" appearance that "dies along her throat," brings about an overcast appearance to the poem. The Duke's "trifling" lack of "countenance" is evident in his jealousy of the Duchess's kindness toward others. Her benevolence "disgusts" the Duke, and causes him to "stoop" down to spouting off "commands" in her direction.