Using the ideas from the Critcal Anthology on Marxism, write about Browning’s poem, ‘My Last Duchess’. In your answer, you may wish to consider some of the following points:
The duke could represent the bourgeoisie. He has reduced the status of his (now dead) wife from that of a human being to an object. Within this system, nothing is free – even his ‘gift’ of a ‘900 year old name’ is an exchange of power. The Duke’s refusal to ‘stoop’ – ‘I choose never to stoop’ shows the hostility towards change which is characteristic of the bourgeoisie. It is significant that he uses the word ‘choose’ which draws attention to his freedom and autonomy – luxuries the proletatiat do not have. Furthermore, the Duke’s dictatorial qualities may well remind us of figures such as Stalin in that he is willing to kill off those who pose a threat to his society.
The duchess could represent the socialist of views of those such as Marx and Engels. She doesn’t subscribe to the dominant ideology of capitalism, but values all ‘gifts’ equally – they all ‘draw from her alike the approving speech’. She views herself and others as equals, and is, in this respect, a Communist.
Fra Pandolf could represent the proletariat. It is not he who paints the Duchess, but his ‘hands’. Rather than viewing his as an individual, the Duke devalues him according to that which he can produce.
The final image of the poem is definitely worth exploring. How does a bronze sculpture of Neptune taming a sea-horse help to enhance the poem’s Marxist themes?