‘My last Duchess’ is based on real historical figures; the narrator is Duke Alfonso II who ruled a place in northern Italy between 1559 and 1597. The Duchess that he speaks of is his first wife, Lucrezia de’ Medici who died in 1561 aged 17, only two years after he married her. In real life, Lucrezia died under suspicious circumstances, she may possibly have been poisoned. The poem is set in 1564, three years after the death of the Duchess.
An emissary has been sent to see the Duke from the Count of Tyro, father of the Duke’s next wife; while he is there the Duke shows him a picture of his late wife and then begins to slyly remark on her character, suggesting to him that she was unfaithful to him – and hinting that he might have killed her because of it. There are lots of personal pronouns in this poem, some of which are particularly significant as one of the themes is the narrator’s high opinion of himself and his selfishness. However many of the words also relate to his love of possessions, including his former wife.
The narrator, in a moment of modesty, says he is not very good with words “Even had you skill in speech- which I have not” and, in a sense, he’s right. Throughout the poem you can see that the Duke thinks the world revolves around him simply because he has “a nine-hundred-years-old name” in which he states his last duchess did not respect this and valued his priceless gift amongst everybody else’s. In criticising the character of his late wife, he reveals the unpleasant side of his nature.
The relationship between the Duke and the Duchess, like that between the Duke and his art objects, is portrayed as that of a collector, who values both art and the Duchess as possessions, reflecting on his own status.
The Duke believes strongly that his late wife was an adulterer “Too easily impressed; she liked whate’er She looked on, and her looks went everywhere” He portrays the relationship of Duchess and painter as possibly adulterous, but he is an unreliable narrator, and therefore the reader is more likely to assume that the Duchess’ smiles simply meant that she was generally friendly and good-natured rather than a harlot.
Carol Ann Duffy uses he poem to try and challenge the stereotypical assumptions about Shakespeare’s wife, the idea that she was left at home whilst he sought the excitement of London. As well as the idea that their relationship was not a positive one. Duffy reimagines the gift of the second best bed, not of a place of lost love, but as the place where husband and wife experienced their most romantic and intimate moments.
Anne Hathaway, the poem, is written in the form of a sonnet which is usually associated with love as the poem is written about Shakespeare and his wife, the poem also pays homage, as Shakespeare wrote nearly 200 sonnets during his life time. The beginning of the poem is a quote from Shakespeare’s last will ‘item I gyve unto my wife my second best bed…’ From being a mundane gift to a neglected spouse, the bed in Anne Hathaway’s eyes is that of a ‘spinning world’ of a passionate love, a bed full of adventurous memories of husband and wife.
Duffy uses literary terminology such as ‘verb’ ‘noun’ and ‘assonance’ to make the link between Anne Hathaway and Shakespeare. She could be suggesting that there is a strong link between how Shakespeare writes about the relationships between lovers in his plays and his own relationship with the wife he barley sees. Much of the imagery in this poem is sexual and allows us to see the relationship between husband and wife as one that is both spiritually and physically fulfilling.
Duffy describes in little words that of a loving physical relationship between Anne Hathaway and Shakespeare, about how his ‘words were shooting stars which fell to earth as kisses’. Carol Anne Duffy also shows how their relationship was deeper-spiritual as their love took Anne Hathaway to ‘a spinning world of forests, castles, torchlight, cliff tops, seas’ it shows the reader how their love was passionate and took her to new highs. Duffy also uses’ these places to pay homage top Shakespeare’s craft- she alludes to his other works not just that of his sonnets. Duffy writes from Anne Hathaway’s point of view, and uses enjambment throughout the poem.
This expresses Anne’s love for Shakespeare as well as Anne’s personal thoughts about their relationship. As well as this Duffy uses the sonnet form which is usually strict to show how Shakespeare’s marriage was not restrictive she does this by using a non-strict form of the sonnet. Also she uses ‘s’ sounds to show the whispers of soft love. I believe she uses the ‘s’ sounds to also show how Shakespeare’s and Anne’s relationship was private, even with his public persona he was able to keep his relationship just between himself and his wife.