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My Last Duchess

by Hafsa Faruq

My last duchess

For my creative project, I chose to illustrate Robert Browning’s “My Last Duchess,” which first appeared in 1842 in Browning’s Dramatic Lyrics. The poem is a dramatic monologue, where the speaker is an arrogant Duke, who is about to get married for the second time. The Duke shows the portrait of his late wife to the visitor and describes how her cheerful nature displeased him. He also accuses her of flirting with other men and saying “Sir, ‘t was not/ Her husband’s presence only, called that spot/ Of joy into the Duchess’ cheek” (13-15). The Duke is also disturbed because the Duchess smiled at everyone she met and did not preserve her smiles exclusively for her husband. The subsequent actions of the possessive and jealous Duke resulted in demise of the Duchess. After that the Duchess remained captured in a painting, only for the Duke to look at whenever he wanted.

That is the moment I have tried to capture in my illustration, when the Duchess is imprisoned within a frame: “That's my last Duchess painted on the wall, /Looking as if she were alive” (1-2). In the poem it is a painting, but in my illustration it is a pencil sketch. In the sketch I have placed the Duchess in front of a large window with long vertical grills which also resemble a cage. By doing this I tried to portray the Duchess confined in all ways and to suggest that she was not able to escape from the Duke’s rage and possessiveness. In the background I sketched a dark moon which indicates the grief, loneliness and melancholy of the Duchess’ unhappy conjugal life. She is turning her face away from the moon but at the same time she is also not looking directly towards the viewers because her viewer would be only her dominating husband, whose order is the reason behind her early demise. For the Duchess’ costume I have chosen a skirt which obviously has a crinoline inside, implying her imprisonment even more. Also the turtleneck collar of her dress seems to prevent her from speaking, which is similar to the fact that the Duchess has no voice throughout the poem. The wedding ring which she is wearing is the sign of her marriage to a man of blue blood and she is condemned to carry it because it shows that she belongs only to the Duke. However, even in this gloomy situation, I tried to portray the Duchess’ easy-going nature by sketching her head slightly tilted as if she is not bothered by the Duke’s disapproval of her playful nature. Also her long flowing hair represents her carefree soul.

Beside the illustration of the Duchess I have written the first two lines of the poem inside an oval-shape frame, which actually looks like a vintage mirror. For both the illustration and the text I used pencil sketch because I found this medium to be simple yet elegant, just like the Duchess. Moreover, I thought pencil sketch would be the best medium to uphold the somber situation of the poem “My Last Duchess.”