I mentioned that before that flash fiction takes some getting used to because of its resemblance to poetry, so I thought I’d throw a poem into the mix. This one comes from one of my favorites: Robert Browning. His specialty is the dramatic monologue, with faulty narrators inspiring dramatic irony in spades. “My Last Duchess” epitomizes the genre. It might not have a speculative element in it, but that doesn’t keep it from being an entertaining read (and study)–and with all of his work in the public domain, you can feast on several more after “My Last Duchess”.
Study Guide: As with the flash fiction piece, there is an emphasis on comprehension, along with some attention to the form.
My Last Duchess—by Robert Browning
1. What type of P.O.V. is it? Who is speaking?
2. Who is that person speaking to?
3. What is the topic of conversation?
4. What is the setting?
5. What is going on? (plot)
6. Which line could be considered the climax of the piece?
7. What happened to the Duke’s last duchess?
8. What kind of person is the Duke? Consider his estimation of himself vs. what the reader might divine–here’s where the dramatic irony kicks in.
9. What kind of person was the Duchess? Consider how that might differ from the Duke’s opinion of her. Even though we’re only getting details of her through his distorted lens, can you read between the lines (heh) and see her perhaps more clearly than he does?
10. Poetry often uses stylized and inverted grammar. Can you find a few examples of that?
11. What type of concrete imagery is used? Why might the Duke call up such imagery?
12. Why did the Duke show off the picture to the listener?
13. What is the symbolic significance of the statue the Duke points out at the end?
14. What is particularly ironic about the lines “and I choose/ Never to stoop” (42-43)?
So, the Duke is a bit of a bastard, isn’t he? Browning is a master at giving voice to some pretty twisted personalities, often letting them hang themselves by their own ropes. If this one whet your appetite for Browning, try “Soliloquy of a Spanish Cloister” next.