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Explore How Themes Develop in 'My Last Duchess'

In this worksheet, students can evaluate how key themes develop in 'My Last Duchess'. Students will be able to look at how consistent key themes are in the poem, how they change and why.

'Explore How Themes Develop 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 revise how key themes develop in 'My Last Duchess'?

 

 

Thought bubble

 

 

This activity will help you understand how Browning's language choice and tone develop these key themes in the poem. In other words, what is the effect of these key themes on the reader? What exactly is Browning trying to show about these key themes? First, let's identify the main themes in the poem.

 

 

Power

Jealousy

Arrogance

Possessiveness

Sex

Art and Culture

Murder

 

This activity is designed so that you, not only identify these key themes and ideas in the poem according to the language Browning uses but explore how these themes develop in the poem. So how does Browning develop one of these themes in his poem?

 

 

 

 

Here's an example of an evaluation on the theme of possessiveness

 

Browning uses the possessive pronoun "my", in the quote "that's my last Duchess, painted on the wall", to depict the Duke as a controlling and power-hungry man. The Duke described the Duchess as his property, even after she has died. The painting of the Duchess serves as a symbol of the Duke's possessive control over her when she was alive.

 

If you want to make this activity more of a revision exercise then jot these themes down. If you want to use this activity to test yourself, then go ahead and try to memorise these key themes/motifs. 

 

 

It's up to you how you want to use this activity!

 

 

Remember, it's not a race. So take your time with each step!

 

How does Browning present the theme of sex in the quote: 

 

"Paint must never hope to reproduce the faint half-flush that dies along her throat"

 

Pick one correct answer from the options below.

The Duke and Duchess had a lot of sex

The Duke is suggesting that the Duchess was easily pleased by other men, implying that she cheated on him

The Duke cheated on the Duchess

Looking at jealousy.

 

Pick two quotes which show this theme.

"...but who passed without much the same smile?"

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

"Notice Neptune though, taming a sea-horse..."

"She thanked men-good! But thanked somehow- I know not how..."

In the table below, tick the box next to the quote which you think shows either power or art and culture.

Looking at the theme/motif of murder.

 

 

What one quote, from the options below, indicate that the Duke killed the Duchess?

"Notice Neptune, though, taming a sea-horse"

"I gave commands, then all smiles stopped altogether"

"That's my last Duchess painted on the wall, looking as if she were still alive"

"Twas not her husbands presence only, called that spot of joy into the Duchess' cheek"

Looking at the theme/motif of arrogance,

 

how does Browning present this theme?

 

Write the number of the most detailed answer. Only one is correct.

 

1. Browning presents the theme through the language he uses, which suggests that the Duke killed his wife.

2. Browning presents this theme through the use of personal pronouns which portray the Duke as egotistical and arrogant. The first sentence begins with "that's my last Duchess" and the last sentence ends with "cast in bronze for me!". The Duke's arrogance is portrayed through his preoccupation with himself.

3. Browning presents this theme through the symbolic painting of the Duchess which portrays how possessive and obsessed the Duke is with the Duchess. Even after her death, the Duke is obsessed with the Duchess and monitors who gets to look at her.

Let's have a look at this quote:

 

"She looked on, and her looks went everywhere. Sir 'twas all one! My favour at her breast..."

 

Tick the two themes this quote shows.

 

Definition: a "favour" is basically a fancy term for a gift given to a lover. In this case, we assume the "favour" is an expensive necklace as it sits against the Duchess' 'breast' (another word for the upper chest).

 

Love

Sex

Arrogance

Jealousy

Power

Which quote best shows the theme/motif of power?

 

"I choose never to stoop"

"His fair daughter's self, as I avowed...is my object"

"Just this or that in you disgusts me"

"Twas all one! My favour at her breast, the dropping of the daylight in the West"

Let's link how sex and jealousy are connected.

 

In the table below, tick the box if you think the quote shows either theme. If the quote shows both themes, then tick under both themes.

 SexJealousy
"She had a heart...too soon made glad"
"Twas not her husband's presence only which called that spot of joy into the Duchess' cheek"
"She liked whate'er she looked on and her looks went everywhere"
"...such stuff was courtesy...and cause enough for calling up that spot of joy at her throat"

Looking at the theme/motif of murder, pick the answer you think best shows how Browning presents his theme.

 

The theme of murder is presented though the Duchess' death

The theme of murder is implicit in the poem; we assume that the Duchess was murdered because of the Duke's power and ego. We believe that he's capable of killing the Duchess as Browning builds the Duke up as a cruel, arrogant and controlling man

The theme of murder is explicitly stated in the poem, as the Duke states, outright, that he killed the Duchess

Last question! An easier one, for all your hard work.

 

 

What one theme/motif out of the three listed is the most obvious in the poem?

 

Sex

Control

Love

  • Question 1

How does Browning present the theme of sex in the quote: 

 

"Paint must never hope to reproduce the faint half-flush that dies along her throat"

 

Pick one correct answer from the options below.

CORRECT ANSWER
The Duke is suggesting that the Duchess was easily pleased by other men, implying that she cheated on him
EDDIE SAYS
There's a semantic field of sex in the poem; look at the words "faint" "half-flush" and even the reference to the Duchess' "throat" could be taken as sexual (back then, women's body parts were meant to be covered and never really referenced- so the Duke referencing his late Duchess' throat seems suggestive and leaves her sexually vulnerable to anyone looking at her painting!). The Duke's paranoia over the Duchess cheating on him can be detected through his constant references to her being "easily impressed" or "too soon made glad". His jealousy leaks out of the poem- as much as he claims to not stoop to her level, his jealousy eats up at him. The Duke can't seem to move on from his earlier suspicions, even after the Duchess' death.
  • Question 2

Looking at jealousy.

 

Pick two quotes which show this theme.

CORRECT ANSWER
"...but who passed without much the same smile?"
"She thanked men-good! But thanked somehow- I know not how..."
EDDIE SAYS
We've looked at how jealous the Duke seems to be over the Duchess smiling at other men, and we can add that the Duke's jealousy is also over the Duchess' nice personality. Honestly, she genuinely seems nice in comparison to the Duke! The theme of jealousy links in well with the theme of possessiveness- the Duke had no control over his wife during her life, which led to jealousy (and paranoia). It was this lack of possession that ultimately resulted in the Duchess' murder. Following from that thought, what do you think the purpose of the painting may be, and why do you think the Duke conceals it with a curtain?
  • Question 3

In the table below, tick the box next to the quote which you think shows either power or art and culture.

CORRECT ANSWER
EDDIE SAYS
The two themes, art and power, seem opposing at first. However this exercise illustrates how the two themes overlap. The Duke asserts dominance through the painting of the Duchess- art, therefore, is symbolic of the Duke's power over the Duchess. Even after he's killed her, he still re-writes the narrative of her life, manipulating how others perceive her. We are never given an insight into the Duchess' mind, her thoughts and feelings, because the Duke is the main speaker, in control of what we are told about the Duchess. We're left, then, to read between the lines and form our own conclusions.
  • Question 4

Looking at the theme/motif of murder.

 

 

What one quote, from the options below, indicate that the Duke killed the Duchess?

CORRECT ANSWER
"I gave commands, then all smiles stopped altogether"
EDDIE SAYS
In order to pick out the presentation of certain themes, we have to be able to infer. That is, we need to be able to read between the lines, looking at the language used and tone established. The theme of murder is implicit in the quote, not explicit, and therefore, something we can infer from the subtle language choice.
  • Question 5

Looking at the theme/motif of arrogance,

 

how does Browning present this theme?

 

Write the number of the most detailed answer. Only one is correct.

 

1. Browning presents the theme through the language he uses, which suggests that the Duke killed his wife.

2. Browning presents this theme through the use of personal pronouns which portray the Duke as egotistical and arrogant. The first sentence begins with "that's my last Duchess" and the last sentence ends with "cast in bronze for me!". The Duke's arrogance is portrayed through his preoccupation with himself.

3. Browning presents this theme through the symbolic painting of the Duchess which portrays how possessive and obsessed the Duke is with the Duchess. Even after her death, the Duke is obsessed with the Duchess and monitors who gets to look at her.

CORRECT ANSWER
2
EDDIE SAYS
There are multiple quotes that portray the Duke's arrogance but there are also structural features too such as the cyclical use of personal pronouns which highlight the Duke's preoccupation with himself. Any piece of art or statue is simply an embodiment of the Duke or an example of the Duke's perception of power and influence.
  • Question 6

Let's have a look at this quote:

 

"She looked on, and her looks went everywhere. Sir 'twas all one! My favour at her breast..."

 

Tick the two themes this quote shows.

 

Definition: a "favour" is basically a fancy term for a gift given to a lover. In this case, we assume the "favour" is an expensive necklace as it sits against the Duchess' 'breast' (another word for the upper chest).

 

CORRECT ANSWER
Arrogance
Jealousy
EDDIE SAYS
The two themes are jealousy and arrogance. The Duke is jealous that the Duchess' attentions aren't focused on him- but he's arrogant enough to assume that his gifts are better than anything else in the world. We've discussed, before, how shallow the Duke is. His authority and control seem to extend to inanimate objects- the painting, the bronze statue of Neptune and, now, this necklace, which are symbols of his own sense of control and power. The Duke places weight on these inanimate objects- almost as if he's so shallow or insecure that these inanimate objects are the only way that he can display his personality. In fact, these objects seem to represent his core personality traits. Browning does this on purpose, using inanimate objects to highlight the Duke's true nature. The rhetoric that the Duke uses in his speech makes him seem manipulative and cunning- he calls the marriage broker "sir" as a show of respect, states that he isn't skilled in speech (even though he is) and goes on to lie about marrying his new bride because he likes her and not because of her big, fat dowry. We can be manipulated into believing that the Duke is quite humble, without these inanimate objects around to remind us that the Duke is, in fact, an arrogant lying murderer with a god complex.
  • Question 7

Which quote best shows the theme/motif of power?

 

CORRECT ANSWER
"I choose never to stoop"
EDDIE SAYS
The first quote is the right one!
  • Question 8

Let's link how sex and jealousy are connected.

 

In the table below, tick the box if you think the quote shows either theme. If the quote shows both themes, then tick under both themes.

CORRECT ANSWER
 SexJealousy
"She had a heart...too soon made glad"
"Twas not her husband's presence only which called that spot of joy into the Duchess' cheek"
"She liked whate'er she looked on and her looks went everywhere"
"...such stuff was courtesy...and cause enough for calling up that spot of joy at her throat"
EDDIE SAYS
The themes of sex and jealousy link together. Hopefully, this table has challenged you a bit helping you to form connections/separations between the two themes. It definitely makes sense that any reference to the theme of sex also connects to the theme of jealousy. We're looking at the Duchess through the Duke's eyes- he's the jealous one in the relationship. So, any reference to the Duchess as cheating on the Duke will be tinged with jealousy.
  • Question 9

Looking at the theme/motif of murder, pick the answer you think best shows how Browning presents his theme.

 

CORRECT ANSWER
The theme of murder is implicit in the poem; we assume that the Duchess was murdered because of the Duke's power and ego. We believe that he's capable of killing the Duchess as Browning builds the Duke up as a cruel, arrogant and controlling man
EDDIE SAYS
The theme of murder is definitely implied (implicit) in the poem- we can only infer from the language and structure that the Duke killed the Duchess in the quote "I gave commands; then all smiles stopped together". The abruptness of the quote, alongside the imperative in "I gave commands" suggests that the Duke definitely issued the murder of the Duchess. Then, we have the abruptness of the Duke moving on, quickly, right after this quote "Will't please you rise...?" shows how quickly the Duke is able to move on from the subject. He's clearly not upset.
  • Question 10

Last question! An easier one, for all your hard work.

 

 

What one theme/motif out of the three listed is the most obvious in the poem?

 

CORRECT ANSWER
Control
EDDIE SAYS
The theme of control is the most obvious one in the poem- look at all the references to the Duke's need for control, power and cruelty!
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