However, the word perhaps tells us that the Duke was not present at the time of the conversation, thus making the voice not a fully corporeal voice that could potentially represent not just the artist, but also the discourse of art and the role of the artist. Rather, Fra Pandolph words are just a screen behind which we can discern the ugly face of the Duke’s jealousy. They are just mere echoes of the real voice of the character of the Duke masked behind the patriarchal and aristocratic discourse provided to him by society and whose position in society requires him to make use of and be guided by them. Browning, also, seems to incorporate the voices of all other male visitors to his court who have had the chance to see the painting like the envoy, but once again they represent voices only formally because their main function is to intensify our awareness of the Duke’s paranoia:

Strangers like you that pictured countenance,
The depth and passion of its earnest glance,
But to myself they turned

They are designated as “strangers”, a curious lexical choice that indicates that the Duke is expressing emotions that he doesn’t want to admit, but that also do not belong among the official values and norms of the behaviour of a patriarchal husband and man, nor should they be part of the patriarchal discourse. The analysis is indicative of the presence of a number of different voices, but also psychological, emotional, ethical and social discourses struggling within the character of the Duke. His words indicate a deep internal conflict, with all the voices refracting within his own and destabilizing and fragmenting his voice and speech. This is best illustrated by the syntactical, lexical and grammatical choices and disruptions that Browning uses to a great effect.

“She thanked men—good! but thanked
Somehow—I know not how—as if she ranked
My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name
With anybody’s gift”

However, the most important voice that is repressed is also a voice that in the present is silent and by all evidence dead. That is the voice of the Duchess, which in the monologue is only represented by her portrait. The image in itself is inanimate and can only speak through visual language that needs to be given a voice, to be interpreted and told by another person. In this instance this function is not performed directly by the poet as an objective observer and narrator, Browning instead leaves this to the Duke.

“This grew; I gave commands;
Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands
As if alive.”

Still, as our analysis has shown, the Duke is far from an objective narrator, moreover he wants to completely control the voice and the identity of the Duke. That he fails at the end and the traces of the truth emerge from his speech as is seen in the passage above, just adds to the conclusion that language cannot fully control reality or the perception of it.

Finally, we hope that through this brief analysis of the role of the voice of the dramatis personae in the dramatic monologue “My Last Duchess” we managed to showcase how Browning plays in a subtle manner with the structure of the dramatic monologue, but also effectively demonstrates its nature and potential as a narrative form. The reader of a dramatic monologue is put in a position to follow the plot, be introduced to the content and the various meanings and symbolism of the poems through the narration of only a single character. This at first impression looks like a case of limited focalization that is fully controlled by the poet. However, just like the main character, the poet can never, no matter how much he desires, hide or limit all the repressed meanings that inevitably emerge on the surface with every new reading and interpretation. This is what makes the dramatic monologue as a genre a proper challenge both for the poet and the reader, a trait that certainly contributed to its popularity and vitality as a poetic form in the 20th century.

AuthorMilan Damjanoski
Translated byMilan Damjanoski
2019-06-14T20:55:19+00:00 May 30th, 2019|Categories: Literature, Essays, Blesok no. 125|0 Comments