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Read Poetry to Analyse Meaning: 'My Last Duchess'

In this worksheet, students are introduced to the dramatic monologue form of poetry by reading 'My Last Duchess' by Robert Browning.

Key stage:  KS 3

Curriculum topic:  Reading

Curriculum subtopic:  Understand Meaning

Difficulty level:  

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QUESTION 1 of 10

Read the following long poem 'My Last Duchess' (1842) by Robert Browning and answer the questions that follow.

 

 

*******************

My Last Duchess

 

That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall,

Looking as if she were alive. I call

That piece a wonder, now; Fra Pandolf’s hands

Worked busily a day, and there she stands.

Will’t please you sit and look at her? I said

“Fra Pandolf” by design, for never read

Strangers like you that pictured countenance,

The depth and passion of its earnest glance,

But to myself they turned (since none puts by

The curtain I have drawn for you, but I)

And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst,

How such a glance came there; so, not the first

Are you to turn and ask thus. Sir, ’twas not

Her husband’s presence only, called that spot

Of joy into the Duchess’ cheek; perhaps

Fra Pandolf chanced to say, “Her mantle laps

Over my lady’s wrist too much,” or “Paint

Must never hope to reproduce the faint

Half-flush that dies along her throat.” Such stuff

Was courtesy, she thought, and cause enough

For calling up that spot of joy. She had

A heart—how shall I say?—too soon made glad,

Too easily impressed; she liked whate’er

She looked on, and her looks went everywhere.

Sir, ’twas all one! My favour at her breast,

The dropping of the daylight in the West,

The bough of cherries some officious fool

Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule

She rode with round the terrace—all and each

Would draw from her alike the approving speech,

Or blush, at least. 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. Who’d stoop to blame

This sort of trifling? Even had you skill

In speech—which I have not—to make your will

Quite clear to such an one, and say, “Just this

Or that in you disgusts me; here you miss,

Or there exceed the mark”—and if she let

Herself be lessoned so, nor plainly set

Her wits to yours, forsooth, and made excuse—

E’en then would be some stooping; and I choose

Never to stoop. Oh, sir, she smiled, no doubt,

Whene’er I passed her; but who passed without

Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands;

Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands

As if alive. Will’t please you rise? We’ll meet

The company below, then. I repeat,

The Count your master’s known munificence

Is ample warrant that no just pretense

Of mine for dowry will be disallowed;

Though his fair daughter’s self, as I avowed

At starting, is my object. Nay, we’ll go

Together down, sir. Notice Neptune, though,

Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity,

Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me!

 

*******************

In this poem, the Italian Duke is showing a visitor one of his possessions at his castle. What are they looking at?

 

typical landscape in Italian region Tuscany - stock photo

an antique piece of furniture

a painting of the Duchess

a collection of jewels

In the poem, the Duke is showing the visitor a painting of his wife the Duchess. What is the name of the artist who painted it?

 

Old engraved portrait of Princess Victoria, Duchess de Nemours. Created by Janet-Lange, published on L'Illustration Journal Universel, Paris, 1857 - stock photo

Fra Pandolf

Claus of Innsbruck

Neptune

Now reread the first part of the poem again:

 

*******************

That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall,

Looking as if she were alive. I call

That piece a wonder, now; Fra Pandolf’s hands

Worked busily a day, and there she stands.

Will’t please you sit and look at her? I said

“Fra Pandolf” by design, for never read

Strangers like you that pictured countenance,

The depth and passion of its earnest glance,

But to myself they turned (since none puts by

The curtain I have drawn for you, but I)

 

*******************

 

 

Select the lines below that show that the Duke is talking to somebody else even though they never speak.

That's my last Duchess painted on the wall

Will't please you sit and look at her?

(since none puts by The curtain I have drawn for you, but I)

I said "Fra Pandolf'' by design

The Duke pulls the curtains back to reveal the portrait. He is the only one allowed to do this. What do you think the poet is trying to reveal about his character with this detail?

 

Old room with empty picture frame - stock photo

That the Duke is the only person in the castle tall enough to reach.

That the Duke lives alone.

That the Duke is in charge and very controlling.

As the Duke talks about the painting to the visitor, we get to learn about his wife:

 

*******************

And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst,

How such a glance came there; so, not the first

Are you to turn and ask thus. Sir, ’twas not

Her husband’s presence only, called that spot

Of joy into the Duchess’ cheek; perhaps

Fra Pandolf chanced to say, “Her mantle laps

Over my lady’s wrist too much,” or “Paint

Must never hope to reproduce the faint

Half-flush that dies along her throat.” Such stuff

Was courtesy, she thought, and cause enough

For calling up that spot of joy. She had

A heart—how shall I say?—too soon made glad,

Too easily impressed; she liked whate’er

She looked on, and her looks went everywhere.

 

*******************

 

 

He explains how many visitors comment on the look of joy on her face. What, according to the Duke, made her happy?

him

everything

Now read the next section of the poem:

 

*******************

Sir, ’twas all one! My favour at her breast,

The dropping of the daylight in the West,

The bough of cherries some officious fool

Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule

She rode with round the terrace—all and each

Would draw from her alike the approving speech,

Or blush, at least. 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.

 

*******************

 

 

Click the options that would make the Duchess happy.

bunch of cherries

a sunset

flowers

the white mule

a white horse

The Duke is clearly cross because he feels the Duchess should appreciate his gift more than the others. What is his gift to her?

jewellery

the title of Duchess

a castle

The Duke didn't tell the Duchess he was unhappy with her behaviour. What two reasons does he give for this?

 

*******************

Who’d stoop to blame

This sort of trifling? Even had you skill

In speech—which I have not—to make your will

Quite clear to such an one, and say, “Just this

Or that in you disgusts me; here you miss,

Or there exceed the mark”—and if she let

Herself be lessoned so, nor plainly set

Her wits to yours, forsooth, and made excuse—

E’en then would be some stooping; and I choose

Never to stoop.

 

*******************

He was scared of her.

He wasn't skilled in explaining himself clearly.

He didn't want to embarrass her.

He didn't want to 'stoop' or bow down to her in any way.

Later in the poem we learn what the Duke's solution was to his wife's behaviour:

 

*******************

Oh, sir, she smiled, no doubt,

Whene’er I passed her; but who passed without

Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands;

Then all smiles stopped together.

 

*******************

 

 

What does it suggest he has done?

left her

had her killed

smiled at her to hide his feelings

At the time the poem was set, it is likely that the Duke would have had her beheaded. Which piece of punctuation does the poet use in the suggestion of her death to suggest finality, that she has died?

 

*******************

This grew; I gave commands;

Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands

As if alive. Will’t please you rise? We’ll meet

The company below, then.

 

*******************

semi-colon

question mark

full stop

Which two words below do you think best sum up the Duke?

kind

nervous

proud

controlling

On the way downstairs, the Duke shows his guest another piece of artwork. What does he show him?

 

*******************

Nay, we’ll go

Together down, sir. Notice Neptune, though,

Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity,

Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me!

 

*******************

a painting of Neptune taming a seahorse

a statue of Neptune taming a seahorse

a bronze statue of Claus of Innsbruck

The poet uses this statue as a metaphor at the end of the poem. How does this statue reflect the Duke and Duchess' relationship?

Like Neptune, the Duke tried to control everything around him but ironically the only way he could control his wife was to kill her.

Like Neptune, the Duke and Duchess enjoyed riding horses together and training them.

Look at the poem as a whole again. What is the best way of describing the rhyme scheme?

ABAB

AABB

ABBA

What is the controlled rhyme scheme of AABB better known as?

rhyming doubles

rhyming couplets

rhyming pairs

Why is it fitting that the Duke should use rhyming couplets in his speech?

It is a controlled rhyme scheme which reflects his love of control.

It is a regular rhyme scheme to show how the Duke just accepts situations.

It gives the poem a rhythm which reflects the Duke's carefree personality.

This poem is a dramatic monologue. Research what a dramatic monologue is and choose the correct definition below.

a poem in which a speaker and listener have a conversation

a poem in which something dramatic happens

a poem in which a speaker addresses a silent listener

  • Question 1

In this poem, the Italian Duke is showing a visitor one of his possessions at his castle. What are they looking at?

 

typical landscape in Italian region Tuscany - stock photo

CORRECT ANSWER
a painting of the Duchess
EDDIE SAYS
The Duke is showing a visitor to the castle a painting of the Duchess.
  • Question 2

In the poem, the Duke is showing the visitor a painting of his wife the Duchess. What is the name of the artist who painted it?

 

Old engraved portrait of Princess Victoria, Duchess de Nemours. Created by Janet-Lange, published on L'Illustration Journal Universel, Paris, 1857 - stock photo

CORRECT ANSWER
Fra Pandolf
EDDIE SAYS
Fra Pandolf is the name of the artist.
  • Question 3

Now reread the first part of the poem again:

 

*******************

That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall,

Looking as if she were alive. I call

That piece a wonder, now; Fra Pandolf’s hands

Worked busily a day, and there she stands.

Will’t please you sit and look at her? I said

“Fra Pandolf” by design, for never read

Strangers like you that pictured countenance,

The depth and passion of its earnest glance,

But to myself they turned (since none puts by

The curtain I have drawn for you, but I)

 

*******************

 

 

Select the lines below that show that the Duke is talking to somebody else even though they never speak.

CORRECT ANSWER
Will't please you sit and look at her?
(since none puts by The curtain I have drawn for you, but I)
EDDIE SAYS
The lines that show the Duke is speaking to someone else are:
"Will't please you sit and look at her?"
"(since none puts by The curtain I have drawn for you, but I)"
  • Question 4

The Duke pulls the curtains back to reveal the portrait. He is the only one allowed to do this. What do you think the poet is trying to reveal about his character with this detail?

 

Old room with empty picture frame - stock photo

CORRECT ANSWER
That the Duke is in charge and very controlling.
EDDIE SAYS
The detail of the Duke drawing back the curtains reveals to the reader that the Duke is in charge and very controlling.
  • Question 5

As the Duke talks about the painting to the visitor, we get to learn about his wife:

 

*******************

And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst,

How such a glance came there; so, not the first

Are you to turn and ask thus. Sir, ’twas not

Her husband’s presence only, called that spot

Of joy into the Duchess’ cheek; perhaps

Fra Pandolf chanced to say, “Her mantle laps

Over my lady’s wrist too much,” or “Paint

Must never hope to reproduce the faint

Half-flush that dies along her throat.” Such stuff

Was courtesy, she thought, and cause enough

For calling up that spot of joy. She had

A heart—how shall I say?—too soon made glad,

Too easily impressed; she liked whate’er

She looked on, and her looks went everywhere.

 

*******************

 

 

He explains how many visitors comment on the look of joy on her face. What, according to the Duke, made her happy?

CORRECT ANSWER
everything
EDDIE SAYS
According to the Duke, everything made the Duchess happy.
  • Question 6

Now read the next section of the poem:

 

*******************

Sir, ’twas all one! My favour at her breast,

The dropping of the daylight in the West,

The bough of cherries some officious fool

Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule

She rode with round the terrace—all and each

Would draw from her alike the approving speech,

Or blush, at least. 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.

 

*******************

 

 

Click the options that would make the Duchess happy.

CORRECT ANSWER
bunch of cherries
a sunset
the white mule
EDDIE SAYS
The Duchess was made happy by a bunch of cherries, a sunset and the white mule.
  • Question 7

The Duke is clearly cross because he feels the Duchess should appreciate his gift more than the others. What is his gift to her?

CORRECT ANSWER
the title of Duchess
EDDIE SAYS
The Duke believes the Duchess should be more grateful for his gift of the title of Duchess.
  • Question 8

The Duke didn't tell the Duchess he was unhappy with her behaviour. What two reasons does he give for this?

 

*******************

Who’d stoop to blame

This sort of trifling? Even had you skill

In speech—which I have not—to make your will

Quite clear to such an one, and say, “Just this

Or that in you disgusts me; here you miss,

Or there exceed the mark”—and if she let

Herself be lessoned so, nor plainly set

Her wits to yours, forsooth, and made excuse—

E’en then would be some stooping; and I choose

Never to stoop.

 

*******************

CORRECT ANSWER
He wasn't skilled in explaining himself clearly.
He didn't want to 'stoop' or bow down to her in any way.
EDDIE SAYS
The Duke didn't tell the Duchess he was unhappy with her behaviour because he wasn't skilled in explaining himself clearly and he didn't want to 'stoop' or bow down to her in any way.
  • Question 9

Later in the poem we learn what the Duke's solution was to his wife's behaviour:

 

*******************

Oh, sir, she smiled, no doubt,

Whene’er I passed her; but who passed without

Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands;

Then all smiles stopped together.

 

*******************

 

 

What does it suggest he has done?

CORRECT ANSWER
had her killed
EDDIE SAYS
It suggests that the Duke has had her killed.
  • Question 10

At the time the poem was set, it is likely that the Duke would have had her beheaded. Which piece of punctuation does the poet use in the suggestion of her death to suggest finality, that she has died?

 

*******************

This grew; I gave commands;

Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands

As if alive. Will’t please you rise? We’ll meet

The company below, then.

 

*******************

CORRECT ANSWER
full stop
EDDIE SAYS
The poet uses a full stop to represent the end of the Duchess' life.
  • Question 11

Which two words below do you think best sum up the Duke?

CORRECT ANSWER
proud
controlling
EDDIE SAYS
The Duke is a proud and controlling character.
  • Question 12

On the way downstairs, the Duke shows his guest another piece of artwork. What does he show him?

 

*******************

Nay, we’ll go

Together down, sir. Notice Neptune, though,

Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity,

Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me!

 

*******************

CORRECT ANSWER
a statue of Neptune taming a seahorse
EDDIE SAYS
The Duke shows his visitor a statue of Neptune taming a seahorse.
  • Question 13

The poet uses this statue as a metaphor at the end of the poem. How does this statue reflect the Duke and Duchess' relationship?

CORRECT ANSWER
Like Neptune, the Duke tried to control everything around him but ironically the only way he could control his wife was to kill her.
EDDIE SAYS
The statue is a metaphor because like Neptune, the Duke tried to control everything around him but ironically the only way he could control his wife was to kill her.
  • Question 14

Look at the poem as a whole again. What is the best way of describing the rhyme scheme?

CORRECT ANSWER
AABB
EDDIE SAYS
The rhyme scheme is AABB.
  • Question 15

What is the controlled rhyme scheme of AABB better known as?

CORRECT ANSWER
rhyming couplets
EDDIE SAYS
AABB is better known as rhyming couplets.
  • Question 16

Why is it fitting that the Duke should use rhyming couplets in his speech?

CORRECT ANSWER
It is a controlled rhyme scheme which reflects his love of control.
EDDIE SAYS
The rhyming couplets suit the Duke because it is a controlled rhyme scheme which reflects his love of control.
  • Question 17

This poem is a dramatic monologue. Research what a dramatic monologue is and choose the correct definition below.

CORRECT ANSWER
a poem in which a speaker addresses a silent listener
EDDIE SAYS
A dramatic monologue is a poem in which a speaker addresses a silent listener.
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