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Robert Browning (1621 words) Essay

Robert Browning
The creation of a plausible character within literature is one of the most
difficult challenges to a writer, and development to a level at which the reader
identifies with them can take a long time. However, through the masterful use of
poetic devices and language Browning is able to create two living and breathing
characters in sixty or less lines. When one examines these works one has to that
they are quite the achievements for they not only display the persona’s of two
distinct men but also when compared show large differences while dealing with
essentially the same subject. A brief examination of the structural aspects of
“Porphyria’s Lover” is needed before further analysis is done. One can
break the poem up into twelve stanzas with an ababb stanzaic rhyme structure,
though it is most often printed as a block poem. This would make it an
alternately rhymed quatrain with a fifth line attached to create a couplet
ending. The majority of the lines contain four iambic feet, though a few are
nonasyllabic. Five of the twelve stanzas spill into the next stanza, thus
detracting from their free-standing integrity. These stanzas are not
syntactically self-containing and therefore the end-couplet value is undercut.

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If we examine the end of the eighth stanza we see that there is enjambment into
the ninth stanza. In one long yellow string I wound, Three times her little
throat around, And strangled her. (Browning, Porphyria’s Lover”, Lines
39-41) This does detract from the couplet though it emphasizes the tone, making
the understated nature even more sociopathic. This is one example of how this
simple tool in itself masterfully accentuates the overall tone of understatement
and the impression of lackadaisical unaffected speech. The majority of the words
in this poem are monosyllabic which adds to the mood. However, what is more
important is that the words that are polysyllabic are quiet and unassuming. They
do not break the tense tranquility of the piece. Burrows points out that, Much
of the force of the narrative lies in its almost na?ve simplicity and in the
corresponding quiet, matter-of-fact tone of voice, a tone which in effect is not
shouting ?Horrible murder! Read all about it!’ but murmuring, ?I am going
to tell you a nice little bedtime story.’ (Burrrows, page 53) Despite the fact
that the metrical pattern is often strayed from, some lines contain 3 or 5
stresses, the poem is rhythmically appealing. According to Burrows, “ suggests the accents and modulations of speech and also remains quietly
unemphatic.” (page 56) A similar analysis of “My Last Duchess” is also
needed before the two can be compared adequately. The frigid decorum of the Duke
is established by the imperceptible, but unfailing, rhyming couplets. The
inability for the reader to notice these during recital of the poem is due to
the extreme prevalence of enjambment within the work. According to Burrows,
“It is decidedly the ?open’ couplet that he uses, and there are many
?run-on’ lines since syntactical pauses rarely coincide with couple-endings
or line endings.” (page 116) The meter of the poem is iambic pentameter though
the rhythm feels more irregular due to the deliberate disregard for the formal
couplet pattern. This also creates the sense or beat of regular speech and helps
to create the tone of the Duke’s voice. The Duke does not seem as formal in
this poem (as his created persona suggests him to be normally). This laxness is
done in a coldly calculating way creating a visible fa?ade. Burrows realizes
that, The quiet, casual conversation tone prevails throughout the except for one
brief moment when the Duke reaches the understated climax of his last
duchess’s history and his phrases harder into a lapidary laconism. (Burrows,
page 120) This grew; I gave commands; Then all smiles stopped together.

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(Browning, “My Last Duchess”, lines 45-6) There is a literary implement that
this poem has not contained within “Porphyria’s Lover” to any knowledge.


This is the use of historical allusion. Louis S. Friedland, through his
research, has shown that the Duke is most likely based on Alfonso II, the fifth
Duke of Ferrara. (DeVane, pages 108-9) He lived in Italy during the Renaissance,
and the similarities are impressive. Alfonso II married a daughter, Lucrezia, of
the Medici family. She was not well educated and was from what would have been
considered by nobility an upstart family. She came with a sizeable dowry and
they married in 1658. Three years later she was dead, and there was a strong
suspicion of poisoning. The Duke then went to seek the hand of Barbara, the
daughter of Ferdinand I of Spain, and the niece of the Count of Tyrol. The count
was in charge of arranging the marriage and used Nikolaus Madruz, a native of
Innsbruck, as his courier. The mention of Claus from Innsbruck in the poem is
most likely the Duke’s method of softening him up, of saying, “I know your
people and respect their work.” The similarities between the two poems are
skin deep. Both the poems trace the history of a jaded man’s obsession with a
woman that did not meet his expectations culminating in her murder. From this
point the poems start diverging. In “Porphyria’s Lover” the Lover is not
speaking to anyone specifically, and it is quite feasible that he is speaking to
himself after he has committed the act, perhaps, for the purpose of
self-justification. The Duke is speaking to the representative of the Count
whose ward he is trying to marry. There are, of course, the obvious differences
in the class situation of each of these men. The Lover is of lower social
position than Porphyria, and because of this she is unwilling to marry him. The
Duke is nobility and one gets the impression the Duchess might not have been.


She is not grateful for his “gift of a nine-hundred-year-old name.” The use
of the word gift implies that she has just recently become aristocracy. These
class differences are easily seen in the diction and the attitude that is
characteristic of each of these men. The intent of the Lover, though brought to
action in an insane way, is much more noble than that of the Duke. –she, Too
weak, for all her heart’s endeavour, To set its struggling passion free, From
pride, and vainer ties dissever, And give herself to me forever. (Browning,
“Porphyria’s Lover”, lines 20-25) His murder of her is the only way that
he can think of for them to be together. This is what Porphyria yearns for
though she is to weak to break social taboo and marry him. The Duke does not
kill the Duchess out of love, but because he is insecure. His ego cannot take a
woman that is so visibly strong and democratic in nature. The murder is the
Duke’s way of removing and affront to his perception of aristocracy, and also
of eliminating his feelings of jealousy and insufficiency. The women in both of
these poems are definitely secondary though Browning lets the Duchess become a
freer entity than Porphyria. The Duchess manages to escape the Duke’s
possessive “My” while Porphyria is never really able to escape the
Lover’s, “she was mine, mine.” The Lover’s murder results from the fact
that he is unable to be with his female ideal due to her weakness while the Duke
was oblivious to the fact that he already had this female ideal as his wife. The
idealness of the Duchess is evident through the description of her personality.

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She is always smiling, gracious, and kind to all without distinguishing based on
class. The symbols that Browning uses, such as “the white mule” and “the
bough of cherries” brought to Porphyria by a worshipper, are traditionally
associated with the Virgin Mary. Porphyria is not ideal though she does possess
many admirable qualities. The Lover refers to her as “perfectly pure and
good.” Symbolically we see her positive nature through her blazing up the”cheerless grate” and making “all the cottage warm” which both, cottage
and grate, represent the Lover. Her name, Porphyria, as Burrows mentions, comes
from porphyry, a beautiful red stone with a lovely glow. (page 59) From this we
see that her only flaw is her inability to give herself fully to the Lover due
to class and pride. Thus Browning leaves the reader with a greater ambivalence
toward her. Through the differences he instills in the characters of the Duchess
and Porphyria Browning changes the readers conception of the Duke and the Lover.


One is horrified by both of their acts, but is much more tolerant of the
dejected and hurt Lover than of the snobbish and misogynistic Duke.


“Porphyria’s Lover” and “My Last Duchess” are two of Browning’s
impressive monologues that, through the use of poetic devices, develop unique
male protagonists. Evident class differences and social issues arise from these
works. “Porphyria’s Lover” contains the detail and development that would
normally be found in a short story while the much denser “My Last Duchess”
could be said to encompass an entire novel. Thus we can see that these brief
works both show a unique mastery by Browning of creating the fictional psyche.


The bizarre interrelationship between man and woman is fully captured within
these works. There is pain, jealousy, rejection and happiness. The majority of
the spectrum of emotions associated with love and marriage is contained by these
pieces. From them we can learn the nature of love should allow people to conquer
class distinction and that marriage should avoid sexist male tendencies.


Inadequacy is a feeling that pervades both poems, and is evident through the
voices of their protagonists. One can see its horrifying effect immediately. Men
need to learn to deal with their possessive and aggressive natures in a way that
creates a love that is beneficial to both partners not to just one. Browning, in
these works, is painting the side the Romantics before him neglected to.


Bibliography
Robert Browning: Selected Poetry, (London: Penguin Books, 1989), pp. 17-8 and
25-6 Burrows, Leonard, Browning the Poet, (Perth: University of Western
Australia Press, 1969), pp. 51-61 and 115-121 DeVane, William Clyde, A Browning
Handbook, (New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, Inc. 1955), pp. 108-9

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Robert Browning (1621 words) Essay
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Artscolumbia
Robert Browning
The creation of a plausible character within literature is one of the most
difficult challenges to a writer, and development to a level at which the reader
identifies with them can take a long time. However, through the masterful use of
poetic devices and language Browning is able to create two living and breathing
characters in sixty or less lines. When one examines these works one has to that
they are quite the achievements for they not only display the per
2018-12-27 13:44:07
Robert Browning (1621 words) Essay
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