Ulysses And My Last Duchess

A dramatic monologue is defined as a poem written in the form of speech of an individual character to an imaginary audience. “Ulysses” and “My Last Duchess” are two poems that portray this. Both poems are similar in the way they are structured, but different in their subject. “Ulysses” is a poem about seeking knowledge and a physical journey, while “My Last Duchess” is about power and pride. In this paper I will compare and contrast the preoccupation with the genius, hero, and exceptional figure found in each poem.

Ulysses has a heroic soul and while looking back on his life, he questions how his experiences have shaped him into the man he has become. He is not satisfied with his life in the sense that people are not aware of his knowledge and accomplishments. While standing before the royal palace of Ithaca he speaks cynically towards his life stating that:

“It little profit that an idle king

By this still hearth, among these barren

crags, that hoard and steep and feed

and not know me”

As the reader it seems like he has come to the realization of what he has achieved throughout his lifetime and what is still left to be done. He continues on by saying:

“I cannot rest from travel, I will

drink, Life to lees”

He is refusing to rest and you can see his thirst and want for knowledge. He comes across as a soldier, too old to fight any longer, but unable to let go of the war. He has the drive to achieve more and fulfill his time on Earth. This shows the power of knowledge throughout his experiences. Ulysses believes he is more civilized and higher than the people around him. In doing this he realizes that he has earned this due to his personal efforts. With this in mind it shows his drive to make the best of every moment with the years he has left, and choose to look past the thoughts he has about everyone else. Ulysses did not like to control people, but did want to bring good for everyone. He decides to embark on another voyage out to sea. He inspires his sailors to achieve their goals before there dead:

“Death closes all. But something ere

The end some work of noble note,

may yet be done”

Although these men are old, he encourages them to hold on to their courage and bravery. Ulysses shows the true qualities of an extraordinary man unwilling to “settle” and one that will fight to end to achieve his goals.

“My Last Duchess” is also an example of a dramatic monologue, but very much different from “Ulysses”. This is a poem about an aristocratic duke. He is very powerful and is always reminding others of his authority. He expects others to be humble in front of him and obey his every command. The Duchess did not listen to him and in anger he killed her. The Duke reveals his character when talking about his dead wife. While doing this he has allowed us to see his imperfections and concludes the faults he found in his wife. At the beginning of the poem, the duke is talking to a representative of the fiancée’s family in front of the portrait of his dead wife:

“That’s my last duchess painted on the wall,

Looking as if she were alive”

This seems to be a very vivid picture that gives life to his late wife, almost as if she were still alive. He liked to show off to others and is obviously a fan of art and paintings. Maybe he did this to show that he came from the elite? He showed knowledge when speaking about the painting, but lacked the respect towards the human being. The Duke was very greedy and possessive, wanting to be the only one to enjoy the beauty in his wife. She was beautiful, kind-hearted, and giving….totally opposite of her husband. He did not return any form of love or emotion back to her. He was a very selfish man and in my opinion this is what slowly killed her, long before her death. People need love, care, and compassion. I think because he came from an elite family he expected people to obey him and do whatever he wanted. Maybe he was raised this way and just never knew better. His life was based on possessing a pretty wife, and obtaining some beautiful paintings. Ulysses is an extremely materialistic person that will never find true happiness. The Duchess was to do what she was told or she would be punished. She was just another tool used to benefit him. One day the Duke “gave commands”, the duchess talked back, and the Duke killed her. Sadly she suffered while married to the Duke, but her death saved her from anymore torture. Although the Duke was the main character I think our hearts all go out to the Duchess who paid the ultimate price. She was a gentle, kind-hearted woman, who feels prey to a cold-hearted, jealous, and selfish man.

In conclusion, you can see the difference between Ulysses and the Duke. Ulysses was not happy with the people around him, and believed he was more civilized then those around him. However, this feeling did not destroy his politeness, and he felt as if he had earned his status. On the other hand, the Duke had no self-worth, nor did he have any intentions of finding any. He was happy with his power and art.