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Analyse Language in 'My Last Duchess'

In this worksheet, students will be able to exercise their analysis on language in 'My Last Duchess'.

'Analyse Language in 'My Last Duchess'' worksheet

Key stage:  KS 4

GCSE Subjects:   English Literature

GCSE Boards:   AQA, Pearson Edexcel

Curriculum topic:   Poetry, Poetry Anthology Collections

Curriculum subtopic:   Power and Conflict: 'My Last Duchess', Relationships: 'My Last Duchess'

Difficulty level:  

Worksheet Overview

QUESTION 1 of 10

Want to practise your language analysis in 'My Last Duchess'?

 

Thought bubble

 

Good! You've come to the right place. All you need to do is refer to the poem 'My Last Duchess' in your anthology! 

 

Here's a quick recap of the poem: The poem is a dramatic monologue, set in the Renaissance period, in which a wealthy man of high nobility- the Duke of Ferrara-shows a marriage broker a painting of his late wife- his "last Duchess". The Duke defames his ex-wife, portraying her as someone who is easily impressed and seems to smile too much! Long story short, the Duke is awful, controlling and domineering- it's quite clear that, as the poem unveils, the Duke is revealed to have killed his wife.

 

Throughout the entire poem, the Duke emphasises how powerful he is. However, to a reader, his delusion and thirst for authority becomes more and more apparent. 

 

 

 

Take notes as you do this activity. It'll definitely help you absorb more information if you're writing all the new things you learn alongside. Take your time and absorb the teacher's explanation- it's full of helpful gems!

 

Looking at the quote:

 

"...to reproduce the faint, half-flush that dies along her throat..."

 

 

Tick two boxes which best explain the language used in this quote.

The quote uses a simile to show the kindness of Duchess

The quote uses the verb "dies" which hints that the Duke killed the Duchess

The quote uses a metaphor which symbolises the Duchess' death

The quote uses adverbs

"She looked on, and her looks went everywhere"

 

What can you infer from this quote?

 

Pick one number out of the options below.

 

1. The quote is a hyperbole (the technique of exaggerating) to show the Duke's jealousy

2. The quote uses a simile, to emphasise the Duchess' flaws

3. The quote uses adjectives, which shows that the Duke is jealous

Pick one number out of the options below which symbolises the Duchess as innocent.

 

Remember: symbolism is when an object/animal is given a deeper meaning which usually relates to a person or wider theme.

 

1. "Then all smiles stopped together..."

2. "...the white mule she rode with round the terrace"

3. "Looking as if she were alive"

 

"The depth and passion of its earnest glance, but to myself they turned (since none puts by the curtains I have drawn for you, but I)..."

 

 

Which explanation best describes the quote? Write one correct number.

 

1. The quote emphasises the Duke's control over the painting. The use of the personal pronouns "myself" and the repetition of "I" emphasises the Duke's dominance over the painting; he sees his control over the painting as a way of controlling the Duchess' gaze.

2. The repetition of the pronoun "I" shows that the Duke is humble.

3. The quote uses metaphor to show that the painting is hidden behind a curtain.

Pick out two quotes from below which show a semantic field of sex.

 

"...called that spot of joy on the Duchess' cheek..."

"Will't you please sit and look at her?"

"That's my last Duchess, painted on the wall"

"...the faint half-flush that dies along her throat..."

"Or that you disgust me"

Fill out the table with the language devices that are present or not present in the poem

 

 

"She had a heart- how shall I say?- too soon made glad, too easily impressed..."

 

Fill in the blank with your choice of three words from the selection below:

 

imagery

pleasure

hatred

calculating

beautiful

rhetorical question

simile

repetition

"...painted on the wall, looking as if she were alive"

 

 

Fill in the blanks with three words out of the selection below. 

 

ironic

transformation

field

adjective

semantic

personification

sexuality

Link the correct language device to the quote.

 

Column A

Column B

Simile
"Looking as if she were alive"
Symbolism
"...too soon made glad, too easily impressed..."
Repetition
"The dropping of daylight in the West"
Present continuous verb
"Notice Neptune, though, taming a sea horse"

Last question!

 

 

 

 

Fill in the table linking a language device to its effect.

  

  • Question 1

Looking at the quote:

 

"...to reproduce the faint, half-flush that dies along her throat..."

 

 

Tick two boxes which best explain the language used in this quote.

CORRECT ANSWER
The quote uses the verb "dies" which hints that the Duke killed the Duchess
The quote uses a metaphor which symbolises the Duchess' death
EDDIE SAYS
The quote is a metaphor- the "half flush... dies along her throat". Of course, the flush can't die (remember, it's a painting) however, the Duke is exercising his control over the Duchess, even extending this to a painting of her. The painting represents his continuous paranoia- it's his last bit of control over her. Look at the use of the present tense verb "dies". Remember that the Duke is the narrator of the poem. So he is the one who is monologuing the entire poem (his control extends to being the only voice in the poem- we never hear about the Duchess' point of view, do we?). The use of the present tense verb "dies" then, makes us feel that the Duke is excited, almost, over watching the flush die over the Duchess' throat in the painting. The painting is a constant reminder of the Duke's control over the Duchess, a constant reminder to himself that he was and is responsible for her death!
  • Question 2

"She looked on, and her looks went everywhere"

 

What can you infer from this quote?

 

Pick one number out of the options below.

 

1. The quote is a hyperbole (the technique of exaggerating) to show the Duke's jealousy

2. The quote uses a simile, to emphasise the Duchess' flaws

3. The quote uses adjectives, which shows that the Duke is jealous

CORRECT ANSWER
1
EDDIE SAYS
The quote uses a hyperbole. The adverb "everywhere" really exaggerates the Duchess and makes her seem as if she is looking at everyone but the Duke himself- this use of advertising and hyperbole is intentional. It reflects the Duke's jealousy; remember, we aren't given an insight into the Duchess' intentions. Instead, Browning has this dramatic monologue narrated from the Duke's point of view, on purpose, to highlight his jealousy and arrogance.
  • Question 3

Pick one number out of the options below which symbolises the Duchess as innocent.

 

Remember: symbolism is when an object/animal is given a deeper meaning which usually relates to a person or wider theme.

 

1. "Then all smiles stopped together..."

2. "...the white mule she rode with round the terrace"

3. "Looking as if she were alive"

 

CORRECT ANSWER
2
EDDIE SAYS
Consider the adjective "white"- it symbolises innocence. Pair this adjective with the "mule" and we have a small sense of what really pleased the Duchess. As the Duke points out, rather rudely, the Duchess seems to be impressed by the smaller things in life- "a heart...too soon made glad". The Duke is annoyed because his "favour at her breast" (which means a piece of expensive jewellery he gifted her- in this case a necklace) would impress the Duchess as much as "a white mule" or the sun setting ("the dropping of daylight in the West"). So, from our perspective, the Duchess seems quite sweet and genuine. She isn't materialistic- the natural world impresses her and puts a smile to her face. But for someone as selfish and arrogant as Browning's Duke, the fact that the Duchess is impressed and happy over small, natural things makes his "favour" (his expensive and unnecessary necklace) seem equal to anything. And for the Duke, this is a criminal offence. As he states in line 33 "my gift of nine-hundred-years-old name with anybody's gift" adding "who'd stoop to blame...?" which suggests that he's seriously bothered by the fact that the Duchess doesn't seem to prioritise him and his gift (which symbolises the importance of his title: a Duke) over anyone else's gift. The irony, here, is that the Duke clearly does blame the Duchess for not "appreciating" him and his title, but his own arrogance gets in the way. So, again. in painting this negative picture of the Duchess, we are able to see the Duke for what he really is. Look at the way the Duchess is painted in the poem- she seems sweet and genuine. The words that are used to describe her, by the Duke himself, can't mask her appeal. We have a semantic field which portrays her as quite a lovely woman- "joy", "heart", "approval", "blush". The fact that the Duke uses these words to put the Duchess down emphasises how cruel and arrogant he is. Her joy seems to make him angry.
  • Question 4

"The depth and passion of its earnest glance, but to myself they turned (since none puts by the curtains I have drawn for you, but I)..."

 

 

Which explanation best describes the quote? Write one correct number.

 

1. The quote emphasises the Duke's control over the painting. The use of the personal pronouns "myself" and the repetition of "I" emphasises the Duke's dominance over the painting; he sees his control over the painting as a way of controlling the Duchess' gaze.

2. The repetition of the pronoun "I" shows that the Duke is humble.

3. The quote uses metaphor to show that the painting is hidden behind a curtain.

CORRECT ANSWER
1
EDDIE SAYS
Throughout the entire poem, you may have realised that pronouns are very significant. The Duke repeats the pronoun "I", "myself" and "my" quite often. He often refers to the Duchess and "My Duchess"; she's his property and he displays this quite well through the repetition of personal pronouns. In this quote, the Duke's possessiveness is highlighted- he reveals that the painting of the Duchess is concealed by "curtains" that only he can control.
  • Question 5

Pick out two quotes from below which show a semantic field of sex.

 

CORRECT ANSWER
"...called that spot of joy on the Duchess' cheek..."
"...the faint half-flush that dies along her throat..."
EDDIE SAYS
Remember, semantic field is a bunch of words/quotes which all display a theme/motif in the poem! You can also refer to this as a lexical field. The semantic field of sex is significant in this poem. After all, the Duke's paranoia was about the Duchess' infidelity (that means when someone cheats on their partner), which ultimately led to her murder... Remember, the words used to describe the Duchess' joy over the small things? "joy", "half-flush", "blush"- they all take a sexual turn, especially when the Duke narrates "she thanked men". When we consider it, the Duke could be twisting the Duchess' joy into words which have a dual meaning of sexual pleasure. Whether the Duchess was actually having an affair, or simply smiling at these other "men" is never clarified- its the Duke's jealousy and arrogance that Browning wants us to focus on.
  • Question 6

Fill out the table with the language devices that are present or not present in the poem

 

 

CORRECT ANSWER
EDDIE SAYS
Hopefully, the table has got you thinking about the significance of certain language devices over others...why do you think certain devices are used and how do they add to the overall attitudes or ideas expressed in the poem? Specifically, think about how individual techniques may combine together to create an important point.
  • Question 7

"She had a heart- how shall I say?- too soon made glad, too easily impressed..."

 

Fill in the blank with your choice of three words from the selection below:

 

imagery

pleasure

hatred

calculating

beautiful

rhetorical question

simile

repetition

CORRECT ANSWER
EDDIE SAYS
The Duke's calculating and spiteful nature seems to really show through his tactful use of rhetorical questioning, embedded into the quote. Browning uses the device to emphasise the Duke's spiteful but tactful nature- the Duke can't really get away with saying that he outright hated the Duchess' personality. But he can subtly insert little hints that he has, perhaps, orchestrated this speech before, subtly making his dramatic monologue seem like he just thought it up. Remember, rhetorical devices, in speech, are used to persuade: yes this is a poem, not a speech but Browning purposefully constructs the poem to seem like a one-man speech and intentionally inserts little structural and language devices to make the Duke seem more calculated and manipulative! There's a semantic field of pleasure- the Duchess is described as "glad" and "impressed"; the reference to her "heart" seems to make her more vulnerable and open. She seems to be quite a genuine woman; her happiness is apparent on her face, as she is described as blushing and flushing a lot. She probably carried her heart on her sleeve. It's as if she was the Duke's polar opposite.
  • Question 8

"...painted on the wall, looking as if she were alive"

 

 

Fill in the blanks with three words out of the selection below. 

 

ironic

transformation

field

adjective

semantic

personification

sexuality

CORRECT ANSWER
EDDIE SAYS
The simile helps to reinforce how much the Duke wants control over the Duchess. He still imagines a part of her to be alive, through the painting. This is his way of holding possession over her (remember- he keeps a curtain over the painting to control those who look at it, as well as who the Duchess looks at!)
  • Question 9

Link the correct language device to the quote.

 

CORRECT ANSWER

Column A

Column B

Simile
"Looking as if she were alive"
Symbolism
"Notice Neptune, though, taming a...
Repetition
"...too soon made glad, too easil...
Present continuous verb
"The dropping of daylight in the ...
EDDIE SAYS
There's a lot to unpack in the poem, but it's not as hard as it seems when we pinpoint the key themes of the poem and how they are reflected through language!
  • Question 10

Last question!

 

 

 

 

Fill in the table linking a language device to its effect.

  

CORRECT ANSWER
EDDIE SAYS
Remember that every linguistic device needs to be evaluated- what is the effect on the reader and what are the attitudes presented by the poet? Keep this in the back of your mind and be creative when you think about the different possibilities. Metaphor and symbolism, in most poems, add depth and evoke imagery. So, wherever a metaphor is used, remember that the poet has used it to add more meaning to what's being said, the explicit meaning is usually hidden intentionally. In this way, the writer adds layers and depths that are meant to be uncovered on a second or third reading. When it comes to rhetorical questions, poets usually use this device to engage the reader. In the case of this poem, it seems as if the Duke is exercising his skills as a talented, powerful speaker. It's clear the Duke has lots of influence and power; rhetorical questions, in speech, are used to persuade and engage the audience. It seems as if the Duke is attempting to come across as likeable, manipulating the person he's talking to (probably a marriage-broker) into making him seem likeable. Of course the more we find out about the Duke, the more twisted his manipulations of rhetorical devices become. Lastly, let's cover the semantic field of sex: the language the Duke uses in this poem seem dual. His words are purposefully manipulative and duplicitous. So, at first the words may evoke feelings of innocence and joy, but, upon a second reading, when we view the Duke's jealousy in another light, the words have a sexual meaning. The Duke may be blaming the Duchess for infidelity.
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