In my experience students find this poem quite difficult, but if they persevere they end up loving it! Here are some activities you can try to teach this brilliant poem.
- Begin with the title
Ask student to work in pairs to mind map ideas for what the poem could be about. For lower ability you may want to provide some prompts such as:
- What is a Duchess? What kind of role is it? Do you think the role may have changed over time?
- Why is the adjective “last” included? What might this suggest?
- Why do you think the determiner “my” is being used instead of the alternative “the”? What might this suggest?
- Vocabulary match up
The vocabulary in this poem can be a little challenging, so a simple match up activity can help to increase the confidence of your students when tackling the poem.
|Mantle||A type of cloak|
|Dowry||Money paid by a man to the bride’s family when they get married|
|Neptune||Roman god of the sea|
- Group task: Element focus
Split the class into groups. Each group should be given a particular area of the poem to research and explore. They then have responsibility to feedback their ideas to the rest of the class. Here are some ideas for the areas which could be explored:
- Form (dramatic monologue, iambic pentameter, rhyming couplet, enjambment etc.)
- Structure (framed narrative, building up to a kind of confession)
- Power and Objectification (The Duke’s need for power and control, seeing her as a possession)
- Dramatic Irony (where can the reader see an implied, more sinister reading?)
- Characterisation (each character could be explored through quotation selection and analysis)
- Feelings and attitudes
The Duke displays may negative feelings and attitudes in the play. Ask students to provide evidence (in the form of quotations) for each of the following:
- Ask your students to play detective
Ask them to imagine they have been given the task of proving that the Duke murdered the Duchess. They must find their evidence from the text in the form of quotations. In order to make this activity more challenging, they should rank order their evidence (quotations) in terms of which is most convincing. This adds an evaluative element to the activity. You could also extend this by asking the students to create an interview with the Duke.
- Different perspectives
A useful homework is to ask the students to imagine they are the visitor the Duke was addressing. They should write a diary entry or a piece of dialogue to a friend explaining what happened that day. This can be useful for helping students to get the events of the poem clear in their minds.
7. I’ve created a short missing word video based on the poem with can be used for a starter, plenary or as a discussion starting point:
I hope you find some of these ideas useful. If you have an activity you have used with the poem please feel free to tell us all about it in the comment box!