Robert Browning as a champion of Dramatic Monologue
Critics praise Browning’s mastery of the dramatic monologue, a poetic form in which a speaker addresses a silent or absent listener during a moment of high intensity or deep emotion. The speaker is usually a character distinct from the poet—for example, the Greek hero Ulysses in Tennyson’s poem “Ulysses”. Browning’s dramatic monologues require the reader to make many inferences: it is not always immediately clear who the speaker is, whom he is speaking to, and what setting they are in. “My Last Duchess” takes place in 16th century Italy. The speaker is a duke who is negotiating with the agent of a powerful count to marry the count’s daughter. Here is how he begins his poem:
That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall,
Looking as if she were alive. I call
That piece a wonder, now: Frà Pandolf’s hands
Worked busily a day, and there she stands.