This Essay Like The Summary Of My Last Duches

6551 words - 27 pages

There is here a problem of framing, of bordering and delimitation, whose analysis must be very. finely detailed if it wishes to ascertain the effects of fiction.---Jacques Derrida, "Le facteur de la verite"If we are to approach a text, it must have an edge.---Jacques Derrida, "Living On: Border Lines"The interaction of creativity with interpretation concerned Robert Browning throughout a career in which he made the dramatic monologue converge sound, silence and audition, as well as image and vision. Reading such a poem is like being drawn into it, having to side with its personae, while feeling extraneous or beside the point; more than sympathy or.judgment, these alternatives lead readers to ...view middle of the document...

The printed poem is a stable verbal icon, but it becomes metamorphic if we gain the duke's grace, the envoy's hearing, the duchess's fixed glance, and Fra Pandolf's gifted words to draw it out.Browning learned from his earlier Pauline, Paracelsus, and Sordello to make his poetry less introverted, more collaborative. Although "My Last Duchess" is complete before us, our work supplements Browning's. By removing himself as the center of attention, the poet allows us to replace him when reading is keen and trim. That is, strong readers possess a character that puts our work at the cutting edge of language, which nevertheless resists all displays of finishing. Reading, although susceptible to elimination, marks off those openings and surfaces where a poem passes for us or is about us. We achieve this complicity with the poet by seeing through the eyes of characters who shape the dramatic circumstances, while we also register, experience, and cross their limits. One result of dissolving lines between paragon and parergon, or cynosure and scope, is that we glimpse "truth / Beyond mere imagery on the wall" (The Ring and the Book 12:858-59). The drama within "My Last Duchess" turns out(ward) to shatter the poem as a mere typographical replica of the "last Duchess" "That's. . . painted on the wall" (1, emphasis added). The duke minds Fra Pandolf's work, however good it may be, less for its potent image than for its (un)canny pretext; Browning's outstanding poem, too, is iconographic, another speaking picture which we heed, while it sizes us up as critical guests. At the start of their respective careers, a Renaissance aristocrat (whose best art may be showing his art) and a Victorian poet are discovering "That Art remains the one way possible / Of speaking truth, to mouths like [theirs], at least" (The Ring and the Book 12:839-40). Art "speaking truth" evokes critical dialogue, our wandering looks and unstoppable smiles. Our exposing "My Last Duchess" to interpretive light and its characters to the dust of history transfigures the duke's action when he "puts by / The curtain" (9-10) covering a work of art. We also are uncovered by having to change how we view ourselves and our stance in relation to an artist and the work of art.The union of painted image with dramatic utterance induces an almost ghostly experience--convivial, dizzying, transcendent, factitious--for not only the duke's sole guest but also Browning's audience. The craft of dramatic monologues can be disorienting as we try to reconcile our physical sensations of sound and type, besides our moral-aesthetic attitudes. Julia Wedgwood, for example, in a letter to Browning (February 21, 1869) struggles with The Ring and the Book, particularly the dual representation of the villainous Guido Franceschini, in terms that apply to the structure of "My Last Duchess":I feel, after finishing the Poem, as if I could not contemplate it without a sort of a squint. Or rather (for you, of all men, ought to...

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