What shows the Duke’s arrogance and pomposity in ‘My Last Duchess’?

Choosing key quotes from Power and Conflict can be difficult. There are so many great ones to choose from. So, take a look at this quote that I find really useful, in my teaching and in my own Power and Conflict exam model answers, for exploring the Duke’s character in ‘My Last Duchess’:

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.

From ‘My Last Duchess’ by Robert Browning

Analysis of the quote

This moment occurs just before the Duke reveals that he arranged for his previous wife to be killed. Here he complains about what he perceives to be his last Duchess’ inability to learn how to behave in the humble, passive way he demands of his wives.

He claims that some aspects of her behaviour “disgust” him and that she “exceed[s] the mark” but also believes that he doesn’t have the skill to make his will “quite clear” to her; he believes that “stoop[ing]”, bending down, to her level and attempting to “lesson” her, (meaning ‘to teach her’), wouldn’t work.

Most importantly, however, the Duke reveals that he refuses to “stoop” to her level, to lower himself. Instead, as we learn a few lines later, he “gave commands” and “all smiles stopped.”

He has arranged to have his wife murdered.

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