Robert BrowningThe creation of a plausible character within literature is one of the mostdifficult challenges to a writer, and development to a level at which the readeridentifies with them can take a long time. However, through the masterful use ofpoetic devices and language Browning is able to create two living and breathingcharacters in sixty or less lines. When one examines these works one has to thatthey are quite the achievements for they not only display the persona’s of twodistinct men but also when compared show large differences while dealing withessentially the same subject.
A brief examination of the structural aspects of”Porphyria’s Lover” is needed before further analysis is done. One canbreak 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 analternately rhymed quatrain with a fifth line attached to create a coupletending. The majority of the lines contain four iambic feet, though a few arenonasyllabic. Five of the twelve stanzas spill into the next stanza, thusdetracting from their free-standing integrity.Order now
These stanzas are notsyntactically self-containing and therefore the end-couplet value is undercut. If we examine the end of the eighth stanza we see that there is enjambment intothe ninth stanza. In one long yellow string I wound, Three times her littlethroat around, And strangled her. (Browning, Porphyria’s Lover”, Lines39-41) This does detract from the couplet though it emphasizes the tone, makingthe understated nature even more sociopathic. This is one example of how thissimple tool in itself masterfully accentuates the overall tone of understatementand the impression of lackadaisical unaffected speech.
The majority of the wordsin this poem are monosyllabic which adds to the mood. However, what is moreimportant is that the words that are polysyllabic are quiet and unassuming. Theydo not break the tense tranquility of the piece. Burrows points out that, Muchof the force of the narrative lies in its almost na?ve simplicity and in thecorresponding quiet, matter-of-fact tone of voice, a tone which in effect is notshouting ?Horrible murder! Read all about it!’ but murmuring, ?I am goingto tell you a nice little bedtime story.
‘ (Burrrows, page 53) Despite the factthat the metrical pattern is often strayed from, some lines contain 3 or 5stresses, the poem is rhythmically appealing. According to Burrows, “ suggests the accents and modulations of speech and also remains quietlyunemphatic. ” (page 56) A similar analysis of “My Last Duchess” is alsoneeded before the two can be compared adequately. The frigid decorum of the Dukeis established by the imperceptible, but unfailing, rhyming couplets. Theinability for the reader to notice these during recital of the poem is due tothe 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-endingsor line endings. ” (page 116) The meter of the poem is iambic pentameter thoughthe rhythm feels more irregular due to the deliberate disregard for the formalcouplet pattern. This also creates the sense or beat of regular speech and helpsto create the tone of the Duke’s voice. The Duke does not seem as formal inthis poem (as his created persona suggests him to be normally). This laxness isdone in a coldly calculating way creating a visible fa?ade. Burrows realizesthat, The quiet, casual conversation tone prevails throughout the except for onebrief moment when the Duke reaches the understated climax of his lastduchess’s history and his phrases harder into a lapidary laconism.
(Burrows,page 120) This grew; I gave commands; Then all smiles stopped together. (Browning, “My Last Duchess”, lines 45-6) There is a literary implement thatthis poem has not contained within “Porphyria’s Lover” to any knowledge. This is the use of historical allusion. Louis S.
Friedland, through hisresearch, has shown that the Duke is most likely based on Alfonso II, the fifthDuke of Ferrara. (DeVane, pages 108-9) He lived in Italy during the Renaissance,and the similarities are impressive. Alfonso II married a daughter, Lucrezia, ofthe Medici family. She was not well educated and was from what would have beenconsidered by nobility an upstart family.
She came with a sizeable dowry andthey married in 1658. Three years later she was dead, and there was a strongsuspicion of poisoning. The Duke then went to seek the hand of Barbara, thedaughter of Ferdinand I of Spain, and the niece of the Count of Tyrol. The countwas in charge of arranging the marriage and used Nikolaus Madruz, a native ofInnsbruck, as his courier.
The mention of Claus from Innsbruck in the poem ismost likely the Duke’s method of softening him up, of saying, “I know yourpeople and respect their work. ” The similarities between the two poems areskin deep. Both the poems trace the history of a jaded man’s obsession with awoman that did not meet his expectations culminating in her murder. From thispoint the poems start diverging.
In “Porphyria’s Lover” the Lover is notspeaking to anyone specifically, and it is quite feasible that he is speaking tohimself after he has committed the act, perhaps, for the purpose ofself-justification. The Duke is speaking to the representative of the Countwhose ward he is trying to marry. There are, of course, the obvious differencesin the class situation of each of these men. The Lover is of lower socialposition than Porphyria, and because of this she is unwilling to marry him. TheDuke 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 useof the word gift implies that she has just recently become aristocracy. Theseclass differences are easily seen in the diction and the attitude that ischaracteristic of each of these men. The intent of the Lover, though brought toaction in an insane way, is much more noble than that of the Duke. –she, Tooweak, for all her heart’s endeavour, To set its struggling passion free, Frompride, 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 thathe can think of for them to be together. This is what Porphyria yearns forthough she is to weak to break social taboo and marry him.
The Duke does notkill the Duchess out of love, but because he is insecure. His ego cannot take awoman that is so visibly strong and democratic in nature. The murder is theDuke’s way of removing and affront to his perception of aristocracy, and alsoof eliminating his feelings of jealousy and insufficiency. The women in both ofthese poems are definitely secondary though Browning lets the Duchess become afreer entity than Porphyria. The Duchess manages to escape the Duke’spossessive “My” while Porphyria is never really able to escape theLover’s, “she was mine, mine.
” The Lover’s murder results from the factthat he is unable to be with his female ideal due to her weakness while the Dukewas oblivious to the fact that he already had this female ideal as his wife. Theidealness of the Duchess is evident through the description of her personality. She is always smiling, gracious, and kind to all without distinguishing based onclass. The symbols that Browning uses, such as “the white mule” and “thebough of cherries” brought to Porphyria by a worshipper, are traditionallyassociated with the Virgin Mary.
Porphyria is not ideal though she does possessmany admirable qualities. The Lover refers to her as “perfectly pure andgood. ” Symbolically we see her positive nature through her blazing up the”cheerless grate” and making “all the cottage warm” which both, cottageand grate, represent the Lover. Her name, Porphyria, as Burrows mentions, comesfrom porphyry, a beautiful red stone with a lovely glow. (page 59) From this wesee that her only flaw is her inability to give herself fully to the Lover dueto class and pride. Thus Browning leaves the reader with a greater ambivalencetoward her.
Through the differences he instills in the characters of the Duchessand 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 thedejected and hurt Lover than of the snobbish and misogynistic Duke. “Porphyria’s Lover” and “My Last Duchess” are two of Browning’simpressive monologues that, through the use of poetic devices, develop uniquemale protagonists. Evident class differences and social issues arise from theseworks.
“Porphyria’s Lover” contains the detail and development that wouldnormally 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 briefworks both show a unique mastery by Browning of creating the fictional psyche. The bizarre interrelationship between man and woman is fully captured withinthese works. There is pain, jealousy, rejection and happiness. The majority ofthe spectrum of emotions associated with love and marriage is contained by thesepieces.
From them we can learn the nature of love should allow people to conquerclass distinction and that marriage should avoid sexist male tendencies. Inadequacy is a feeling that pervades both poems, and is evident through thevoices of their protagonists. One can see its horrifying effect immediately. Menneed to learn to deal with their possessive and aggressive natures in a way thatcreates a love that is beneficial to both partners not to just one.
Browning, inthese works, is painting the side the Romantics before him neglected to. BibliographyRobert Browning: Selected Poetry, (London: Penguin Books, 1989), pp. 17-8 and25-6 Burrows, Leonard, Browning the Poet, (Perth: University of WesternAustralia Press, 1969), pp. 51-61 and 115-121 DeVane, William Clyde, A BrowningHandbook, (New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, Inc.
1955), pp. 108-9