Browning's My Last Duchess

Students analyze how an author develops characters and central ideas, and consider the role that point of view plays in a text.  Students read and analyze Robert Browning’s dramatic monologue “My Last Duchess,” focusing on how the characters of the Duke and Duchess are developed through the Duke’s point of view and what role his point of view plays in the development of central ideas. We will focus closely on one poem to consider authorial choices with regard to the development of character and central ideas. As students read, discuss, and write about the text, they examine how Browning uses point of view and careful word choice to create meaning in the text, while leaving some matters uncertain. Students begin to consider the impact of developing one character through the words of another, in relation to issues of power and voice.

…I gave commands; Then all smiles stopped together.

There is one formal assessment in this unit: students to analyze how the revelation at the end of the poem impacts the development of the Duke’s character throughout the text. A successful response will draw on an understanding of the role that point of view and specific word choice play in the character’s development, and will rely on students’ annotations from previous lessons (RL.11-12.3, W.11-12.2.b, W.11-12.9.a).

Schedule Snapshot

  • Your work will span 6 lessons (roughly 2 weeks), with assignments outlined for each lesson.
  • Check that you’ve completed all assignments using the weekly checklist and share your work as you go.
1 Students begin an exploration of Robert Browning’s “My Last Duchess.” They listen to a reading of the poem and begin to analyze the first 8 lines of this text. In evidence-based discussion, students analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone in the introductory lines of the poem. Students learn to cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support their analysis
2 Students continue their study of Browning’s “My Last Duchess,” building their close reading skills through an exploration of lines 5–21 of the poem. At the same time, they are introduced to the skill of text annotation, which they then practice. They listen to a reading of the relevant section of the poem before annotating the text in pairs and engaging in small group discussion.
3 Students read lines 21–34 of “My Last Duchess,” continuing to gather evidence of the Duke’s character and the emergence of the Duchess’s character as described by the Duke. Students are assessed on their ability to follow established criteria in small group discussions about the question: What is the impact of Browning’s choice of speaker on the development of the Duchess?
4 Students read and analyze lines 31–43 from “My Last Duchess,” in which the Duke states that he never “stooped” to blame his wife for her actions. Students engage in an evidence-based discussion about the meaning of these lines and how Browning develops the Duke’s character in these lines.
5 Students read the final 14 lines of “My Last Duchess.” Students learn to identify central ideas in the poem. Students also continue to work with some of the poem’s challenging vocabulary and syntax. In pairs, students participate in evidence-based discussions to explain how the choice of Duke as speaker impacts the development of central ideas in the poem.
6 Students engage in an evidence-based discussion of Browning’s choices in introducing and developing the Duke in “My Last Duchess.” Students use speaking, listening, and textual analysis skills to participate in a collaborative discussion. This discussion prepares students to draft a one-paragraph analysis of how the revelation at the end of the poem impacts the development of the Duke’s character over the course of the poem. The assessment builds upon students’ understanding of Browning’s choices to develop the Duke’s character over the course of the text, and requires them to put into practice the writing standards introduced in the earlier lessons of the module. A brief multiple choice test covers vocabulary introduced throughout the previous 5 lessons.

Text Resources

My Last Duchess by Robert Browning



  • Responses to text-dependent questions focused on character development, central idea development, and word choice through discussion and informal writing prompts.
    • 5 sets of in-class lesson-specific questions
    • 5 sets of in-class ‘quick writes’ (paragraph-length short essays)
    • 4 written response homework assignments
  • Students individually write a single paragraph response addressing the following prompt: How does the revelation in lines 45–47 impact the development of the Duke’s character over the course of the poem?
  • Multiple choice test covering vocabulary introduced throughout the lessons.
  • Short Response Rubric (includes checklist): use for notebook entries, paragraphs, short essays, and short answer responses on quizzes.