AQA new specification · For Pupils · literature · poetry

Comparing My Last Duchess with Ozymandias

Here are the slides from this week’s lessons. The PPT is available here:


We began with a short refresher on the poem:


The next lesson was centred on the use of structural features – caesura in particular, so it’s worth thinking about what we mean by structure and form. This analogy was useful:


This was a useful activity in getting students to think about punctuation and line breaks.




We selected a few lines from the poem and explored the ways in which caesura contributes to meaning:


This is the slide I showed to explain dramatic monologue. Thank you to


Finally, here is a grid which contains some details for comparison. One thing I’ve added here is the idea that the Duke is emasculated by his wife. He cannot cope with what he sees as her wandering eyes and it is interesting that he makes a big deal about the ‘bough of cherries some officious fool/Broke in the orchard for her’. Now cherries are a symbol of sexuality and so there is a clear suggestion here that the Duke felt, well, incompetent around his wife.

My Last Duchess Ozymandias
Form and structure Browning uses the dramatic monologue as a means of slowly revealing the Duke’s character as he condemns himself; the monologue also shows that he likes the sound of his own voice as no other voice is heard. Browning delays the final image of Neptune to the end of the poem which provides a dramatic symbol of the Duke’s lust for power and his own vanity. Iambic pentameter reflects the cadences of natural speech – as do the asides and hesitations provided by the hyphenated sentences. These asides also reflect the Duke’s careful thought processes which reveal his scheming and manipulative tone. The element of control is provided by the tight rhyming couplets which are obscured by the enjambment, all of which reinforces the poem’s themes of duplicity, control and concealment.

Caesura is used to great effect in this poem – see the examples above

Shelley uses the sonnet form as a means of mocking the subject matter. A Petrarchan sonnet, the octet describes the shattered ruins whilst the sestet contrasts the hubris of Ozymandias’ words with the final devastating image of utter desolation revealing how utterly futile human achievements can seem in the face of the ravages of time. Like Duchess, iambic pentameter reflects the rhythms of speech but also the tightly controlled metre reflects the sense of control which is a theme of the poem.

The multi-layered perspectives (story within a story) reflect the legendary status of the ruins.

Like MLD, end stops and caesura are used to highlight key moments in the poem- ‘king of kings:’ is end stopped drawing our attention to Ozymandias’ arrogance

Language details and techniques Here the simple diction hides the Duke’s complex motives and his manipulation of the speaker. Caesura draws out attention to particular words – ‘I call that piece a wonder, now’ as the Duke finally has control over his wife. The references to her body parts – hands, cheek, throat – suggest he views women as objects which is confirmed in that final image of Neptune ‘taming a sea-horse’. The symbolism here is almost too heavy-handed – the Duke thinks he is a God-like figure who has utter control over his women but it is as if he needs to make this clear to his guest – again reflecting both his arrogance and his insecurity.

The asides are interesting (“how shall I say” for they reflect the Duke’s hesitations as he chooses his words carefully but also reinforce his disbelief at his wife’s inability to give him the ‘respect’ he demands. The ‘gift’ of a 900 year old name also reveals his pride in status and class.

Finally, the Duke feels EMASCULATED by his wife’s behaviour – she admires an ‘officious fool’ for giving her a bough of cherries – cherries are symbol of sexuality so the ‘fool’s’ behaviour can be seen as a challenge to the Duke’s authority and masculinity.

Setting is important: the desolate images of ‘ boundless and bare’ sand which ‘stretch far away’ suggest a vast emptiness, a less than salubrious setting for the relics of a once mighty ruler. The obstinate endurance of the ‘wrinkled lip’ and ‘sneer of cold command’ fill line 5. The plosive ‘c’ repeated here conveys the harshness of its subject. The brash arrogance of Ozymandias is captured in the wording on the pedestal – the imperative ‘look’ directs us to his ‘works’; he commands us to ‘despair’ but this is ironic as there is nothing to see – only ruins and the lonely sands of the desert.

Semantic field of ruin builds a complete picture of the scene: ‘shatter’d’, ‘decay’ for example contribute to the ironic contrast between reality and Ozymandias’ dream of an enduring legacy.

Poet’s voice/attitude / perspective Browning is clearly criticising the nobility from a moral standpoint. His use of dramatic monologue and the asides reveal a man who tries to deceive but is ultimately undone by his eagerness to boast of his power. The Duke is a Machiavellian character who is manipulative and deceitful. His sole purpose in revealing the painting – and his story – to the Count’s envoy is to illustrate his power and influence and provide a warning to future wives about their behaviour. As a radical, Shelley’s point is to undermine the arrogance of those who think that their power is limitless and their legacy eternal. Like the Duke, Ozymandias believed in power and clearly abused this (“sneer of cold command’).
Ideas, messages, AO3 etc Corruption of power; Browning using the Duke as a message to his own readers about the unscrupulous morals of past nobility and perhaps trying to show Victorians how they have progressed (had they?). Objectification of women and men’s need to control their wives – the Duke is misogynistic (disrespects women).

The Duke feels insecure as is shown in his insistence on control and his arrogant tone. He fears being emasculated by his wife and so deals harshly with her. Browning’s message reflects Victorian concerns about the rise of women’s rights.

Human achievements will ultimately be eroded by time.

Shelley’s radical politics come to the fore here.

The description of the statue – vast, trunkless, colossal reminds us of Romantic ideas of the Sublime. The statue is terrible in its appearance and the face still manages to retain its power to overwhelm.

However, you could also say that the true sublime image in the poem is the boundless desert that has swallowed up Ozymandias’ power and eaten away at his legacy. (Like the end of the Prelude, it is as if nature cannot be controlled).–+notes
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