Ok, granted this will only be my second post on this forum, but I am in need of some help. I have to analyze and explicate the poem "My last Duchess" and Sonnet 130 “My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun" On top of that, I need to compare and contrast the two poems. I definetly could use some assistance from some of the great minds on this forum. Thanks to all that assist me in advance.

Hi Markus,
For the duchess, read this thread:

My Last Duchess by Robert Browning

I'll have to get back to you on sonnet 130Emotion: yawn
Such a quick response, thanks. I wait in anticipation for your assistance on the Sonnet.

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Hi Markus

I'm very far from a great mind, but I'll give it a go!


My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red, than her lips red:
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damasked, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound:
I grant I never saw a goddess go,
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:
And yet by heaven, I think my love as rare,
As any she belied with false compare.

It was fashionable to compare one's lover to the beauties of nature (see "shall I compare thee ...") On the surface, the poet here compares his lover unfavourably with such beauties, and in fact makes her sound highly undesirable:
her breasts are dun

black wires grow on her head

the breath that from my mistress reeks etc.

In fact, the poet is telling us that there is no need to make false comparisons. She is not a mythical goddess, but a real woman, and her beauty and his love for her are real, and not simply imaginary.
I think my love as rare,
As any she belied with false compare.

Compare this with Ferrara's description of his duchess, and his constant criticism of her behaviour. He seeks perfection and control, whilst Shakespeare loves his woman for her self, and because she is not some mythically perfect being.

You might also compare the two women in terms of pictures: Shakespeare's catalogue of attributes versus the more 'impressionistic' picture (literally) of the duchess in Browning's poem. (All we know about the latter's appearance is the 'faint half-flush'; and even that may be painter's hyperbole.)

It may be worth noting that although the woman in Shakespeare's poem isn't necessarily unattractive, black hair and a dark complexion weren't considered desirable in his day.

If you look through the neighbouring sonnets, you'll see that this wasn't a particularly ethereal relationship. This may be another point of contrast with Browning's poem: we don't get a sense of strong physical interest, on the duke's part. (Though this may simply be because Browning was writing in the more restrained 19th century.)

Does anyone else have anymore ideas on this topic. I am trying to compile as much help as I can, as much comparing and contrasting everyone can do is greatly appreciated.

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The speaker in Shakespeare's poem concentrates, positively, on the woman's physical attributes.

The speaker in Browning's poem concentrates, negatively, on the Duchess's psychological attributes.

You might also compare and contrast the diction: Shakespeare's is ornate and figurative; Browning's, plain and conversational.

Similarly, the rhythm: how each poet makes use of the iambic pentameter. Compare the use of enjambement; the closeness to rhythms of everyday speech; the regularity of the metre.

As a tangent: find a comparable passage in one of Shakespeare's plays. For instance, in Othello, there's a speech early on in which Othello describes his early days with Desdemona. (I don't have a copy to hand; but look for the passage that includes the lines 'She loved me for the dangers I had passed; and I loved her, that she did pity them'.) This can be contrasted with the Duke's retrospective.

Act 1, scene iii

Her father loved me; oft invited me;
Still question'd me the story of my life,
From year to year, the battles, sieges, fortunes,
That I have passed.
I ran it through, even from my boyish days,
To the very moment that he bade me tell it;
Wherein I spake of most disastrous chances,
Of moving accidents by flood and field
Of hair-breadth scapes i' the imminent deadly breach,
Of being taken by the insolent foe
And sold to slavery, of my redemption thence
And portance in my travels' history:
Wherein of antres vast and deserts idle,
Rough quarries, rocks and hills whose heads touch heaven
It was my hint to speak,--such was the process;
And of the Cannibals that each other eat,
The Anthropophagi and men whose heads
Do grow beneath their shoulders. This to hear
Would Desdemona seriously incline:
But still the house-affairs would draw her thence:
Which ever as she could with haste dispatch,
She'ld come again, and with a greedy ear
Devour up my discourse: which I observing,
Took once a pliant hour, and found good means
To draw from her a prayer of earnest heart
That I would all my pilgrimage dilate,
Whereof by parcels she had something heard,
But not intentively: I did consent,
And often did beguile her of her tears,
When I did speak of some distressful stroke
That my youth suffer'd. My story being done,
She gave me for my pains a world of sighs:
She swore, in faith, twas strange, 'twas passing strange,
'Twas pitiful, 'twas wondrous pitiful:
She wish'd she had not heard it, yet she wish'd
That heaven had made her such a man: she thank'd me,
And bade me, if I had a friend that loved her,
I should but teach him how to tell my story.
And that would woo her. Upon this hint I spake:
She loved me for the dangers I had pass'd,
And I loved her that she did pity them.
This only is the witchcraft I have used:
Here comes the lady; let her witness it.
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