Exploring Love And Its Corruption: My Last Duchess, Andrea Del Sarto & Two In The Campagna

Robert Browning’s signature dramatic monologue form is used in both My Last Duchess as well as Andrea del Sarto to explore the idea of love, and how it can corrupt a person’s character or potential. Although the dramatic monologue is the dominant form in these two poems, it is not the subject that is being spoken about. Instead, the narrator is the central character and the core theme. The form demands that the reader fill in the dramatic scene, by using imagination and inferences, and based on clues from Browning’s characters about their obsessions. Two in the Campagna differs in its metrical poetry structure. It is made up primarily of Iambs.

My Last Duchess as well Andrea Del Sarto explores different attitudes and perceptions regarding loyalty and jealousy in relational dynamics. Browning uses “my” to convey the Duke’s attitude and the Duchess’s status as an object in his control. Andrea Del Sarto’s narrator, who is aware that his spouse has an adulterous liaison with his “cousin”, chooses comfort over opposing dominance and controlling the marriage dynamic. Browning uses the questioning tone “Must You Go?” to show the narrator’s desperation to maintain the status quo. However, he is unable to enforce boundaries on his partner due to his inability to command an imperative. My Last Duchess’s Duke, however, does not provide any evidence to support his claim that the Duchess has been unfaithful. The use of the adverb “perhaps”, however, implies the fictitious nature of evidence that would prove the Duchess to be unfaithful. This undermines the credibility with which the Duke claims the “spot on her cheek” was the result of other men. The Duke is violent when he confronts the Duchess with his perception of adultery. He then orders the execution, thereby asserting control and objectifying her. While the narrator does not want to assert his control, he uses his single imperative “Go, my Love,” despite hesitations, in order to let her continue behaving as she had before. Browning uses this command to emphasize that the control that is exercised by his narrator in his relationship is a simple one.

Like Andrea Del Sarto’s narrator, the protagonist of Two in the Campagna struggles with the idea that love is a transient emotion. The narrator asks his audience to imagine open fields in the Campagna, which surrounds Rome. This is a spatial-temporal paradigm where love can be controlled and tamed. Browning represents this land symbolically as a zone of liminality where social norms do not apply and permissiveness becomes possible. This liminality is subverted by the structure of the poem, which has the first four stanzas in tetrameter, and the last in trimeter. Browning shows that even when in a realm of social change, and separation, human limitations and mortality still remain. Browning makes reference to an “old tricks” in order to illustrate the illusionary nature that is experienced by the poet. “Trick” has deceptive connotations, which Browning used to highlight the narrator’s experience of reality. Contrastingly, the narrator from Andrea Del Sarto accepts reality as it is, regardless of its temporal constraints. “Since that’s where my previous life lies, then why change it?” Browning used the phrase to highlight the narrator’s desire to escape the confines of time.

The Duke in My Last Duchess, however, is able to achieve his ultimate goal, despite the fact that he has no time constraints, only at the end of life. Browning uses the Duke’s simile, that the painting portrays the Duchess looking “as if she was alive”, to prove that he is his prized partner. Her ekphrastic trapping, however, makes her the subject of the Duke’s control, something he could not achieve during the Duchess’s life. The narrator comments, “In hell, perhaps new chances…one more chance”. This is in contradiction to the narrator previous statement that he regretted little and “would still change less”. Browning uses this narrator’s fantasy of the afterlife as a way to convey Andrea Del Sarto’s regret that he did not achieve his artistic greatness while alive, but desire to do so when he dies. Browning uses the narrator’s unique perspective on the afterlife in Two in the Campagna, who says “heaven is seen from its towers!” The exclamation point emphasizes the singularity of heaven.


  • rosssaunders

    Ross Saunders is an educational blogger and professor, who has written extensively on topics such as education reform, online learning, and assessment. He has also spoken on the topic at various conferences and universities.

rosssaunders Written by:

Ross Saunders is an educational blogger and professor, who has written extensively on topics such as education reform, online learning, and assessment. He has also spoken on the topic at various conferences and universities.

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