Saturday, June 27, 2009

Death of a Duchess

One of my favorite mysteries is captured in Robert Browning's chilling poem "My Last Duchess." You can read the poem here. In this famous work, Browning alludes to the historical Alfonso II, Duke of Ferrara. It is hinted that the Duke, who speaks well of himself but not so well of the "last Duchess," who has died mysteriously and whose portrait hangs upon his wall, may have in fact killed her, which raises the question of whether Browning thought Ferrara killed his first wife, as well.

Alfonso's first wife was Lucretia de Medici, who died mysteriously within two years of the Duke's ascension to the throne. Poor Lucretia's death, though suspicious, was never linked to the Duke, and it was left to history, and poets like Browning, to surmise about her fate.

Browning's Duke is controlling and suspicious, and he hints that his first wife was unfaithful to him, which provides a likely motive for her murder. However, the most chilling part of the poem is that the Duchess cannot now speak, nor perhaps could ever speak, on her own behalf, and remains only as a painting over which the Duke has utter control.

Art link here.


Eric Mayer said...

Sadly appropriate entry with all the well-known folks who have recently died. I just read that Walter Cronkite will be gone soon too. I always detest hearing people telling the "truth" about those who are dead and can no longer speak for themselves.

Julia Buckley said...

Yes! And it makes you wonder if the dead would be horrified, or if they would laugh at what was said.

Did you ever read the Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters? A great piece of literature where the dead do in fact speak, and sometimes heartbreakingly so.