Example research essay topic: A Formalist Approach To “my Last Duchess” By Robert Browning – 801 words

Robert Brownings My Last Duchess begins
appropriately with a literary deception. The title
suggests that the poem is about the Duke of
Ferraras former wife. However, after second and
later readings, it becomes apparent that the
subtitle Ferrara truly depicts what the poem is
really about, for we learn more about the Duke of
Ferrara than we learn about the Duchess. As the
Duke talks about the Duchess, he really reveals
his own controlling characteristics. This irony is
significant, because it sets up the paradoxical
nature of the rest of the poem. My Last Duchess is
based upon a series of ironic twists and deceptive
appearances, which are supported by the poems form
and literary devices.

The general form of My Last
Duchess betrays the Dukes true demeanor. The poem
is a dramatic monologue, written in heroic
couplets. In a dramatic monologue, the speaker
addresses a silent listener, revealing himself in
the context of a dramatic situation at hand
(Bedford 97). In the case of My Last Duchess, the
Duke is speaking to an envoy of a count whose
daughter he is trying to wed; with his words, the
Duke reveals himself to be a questionable and
potentially dangerous match who is very
controlling and yet out of control. This obsession
is evident in the dramatic monologues use of
heroic couplets. Heroic couplets should be rhymed
and end-stopped.

But in My Last Duchess, many of
the lines feature enjambment, with the Dukes
controlling words pushing over the line as
illustrated in lines two, three, five, and six.
The enjambment is not pure coincidence; the
enjambment exemplifies that the Duke is out of
control. The caesuras-breaks in the lines-seem to
implicate that the Duke is struggling to make his
point as he tells the envoy She thanked men,
–good; but thanked Somehow . . . I know not how .
. .

as if she ranked My gift of a
nine-hundred-years-old name With anybodys gift.
(lines 31-34). Here the Duke is frantic about the
idea that the Duchess is treating him in the same
manner she treats ordinary men. The repetition of
certain words, such as Fra Pandolf and smile,
suggest that the Duke has some sort of jealous
fixation. The Duke does not mention Fra Pandolf to
show admiration; he repeats the name to suggest
that perhaps Fra Pandolf chanced to say, Her
mantle laps Over my Ladys wrist too much in an
attempt to seduce the Duchess (lines15-17). The
word, smile, is tied to the Dukes suspicions about
the Duchess behavior toward men. This is
demonstrated when the Duke tells the envoy Oh,
sir, she smiled, no doubt, Wheneer I passed her;
but who passed without Much the same smile? (lines

With these two lines, the Duke is
obviously hinting at the seductive behavior
carried out by the Duchess. Certain phrases in My
Last Duchess are very crucial to the poem. For
example, the Duke says he is not a master of
speech, yet ironically his words betray him, for
he is speaking through a very elevated poetic form
which he mishandles with broken speech and
enjambed lines. But at the same time, we know that
he used language to give commands which ultimately
put an end to the Duchess smiles. Thus, the
control he has over the language is a dangerous
one. Through several readings of the poem, we see
that the Duke is a collector-of brides, of art,
and of statues.

At the beginning of the poem the
Duke reveals that he has a gallery in which he has
his last Duchess painted on the wall (line1). In a
final attempt to exercise his control, the Duke
controls who sees the painting, since none puts by
The curtain he draws. The symbolism hidden within
the painting of his Duchess is closely stranded
together with the symbolism in the sculpture of
Neptune Taming a sea-horse (line 55). The image of
Neptune taming the sea horse suggests that the
Dukes view of art and women are the same. Thus,
the sculpture depicts the Dukes control he intends
to have over his future wife which he refers to as
his object (line53). A formalistic approach to
literature involves a close reading of the text.
Formalists believe that all information necessary
to the interpretation of a work must be found
within the work itself; there is no need to bring
in outside information.

I found this approach to
be very frustrating, however, for I had to view
the text in isolation. This was rather difficult,
for I felt an urge to look up information about
the history, society of the time, and about the
authors life, in order to successfully analyze the
poem. However, one advantage to the formalist
approach was that I was able to analyze the work
through the lens of a formalist, without much

Research essay sample on A Formalist Approach To my Last Duchess By Robert Browning