Poetry of Robert Browning

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Robert Browning used his poetry as a way of self-determination as many of the ideas expressed in his poems go against the current of the Victorian era. His poetry should be included in the texts list for the HSC because they not only offer examples of classic poetry but also provide insights into the 19th century English society in terms of behaviour, gender roles and religion. Three poems that are fine examples of this are "Porphyria's Lover", "My Last Duchess" and "The Laboratory." "Porphyria's lover" presents a man who is so restricted by his society's traditions and mores that he is driven to murder and sees it as a just action. "My Last Duchess" introduces a Duke who becomes consumed by his need to feel superior and in complete control, which also leads him to murder. "The Laboratory" concerns a woman driven by jealousy, defying all morals to achieve her own wants.

Porphyria's Lover, My Last Duchess and The Laboratory are all excellent examples of Browning's use of the dramatic monologue. This is a style of poem in which the narrator unwittingly reveals a dark secret or action of theirs whilst attempting to rationalise their actions to the audience and or their listener in the poem. The dramatic monologue allows the reader to enter the character's psyche and develop a deep understanding of their mindset. The poems are more about the state of mind of the speaker rather than the act they have, or plan to, commit.

Nineteenth century England was a time of gender inequality. Women were seen as inferior to males and, as evidenced in "Porphyria's Lover" and "My Last Duchess", objects of desire. Browning seems to comment negatively on this view of women, as the crimes against them and those who committed them in these 2 poems are portrayed as wrong and the reader empathises with the women. In "The Laboratory" the main character defies the social mores placed upon her and becomes a strong and ruthless character.

In "Porphyria's Lover", the narrator's obsession and "love" for a woman leads to her death. This poem conveys how women were seen as possessions to be kept at all costs, even to the point of destroying them rather than loosing them. Though, Browning challenges the submissive role of women by reversing their roles. Porphyria becomes the dominant one in the partnership, "She sat down by my side and called me." The traditional male and female roles of dominance and humbleness seem to be reversed, providing a new and unwelcomed idea. Once Porphyria is killed they are returned to their traditional roles. The narrator's dominance is accompanied by his possessiveness, "That moment she was mine, mine."

Browning's "My Last Duchess" addresses the issue of Victorian women being seen as objects. The Duke saw the Duchess as his possession and he is driven by his need to feel as though he has complete control of her. Similar to the speaker in Porphyria's lover, it is his longing for control that leads to his actions. Even after her death, he still attempts to be in command of her, seen in his aside "Since none puts by the curtain I have drawn for you, but I." The Duke's view of woman being items to own is evident from the opening line where he refers to her as "my last Duchess." Through the Duke, Browning is commenting on the treatment of women in the Victorian era, revealed through his slightly sarcastic but unobtrusive tone, "t'was not her husband's presence only, called that spot of joy." The Duchess is constructed as a loving, friendly young woman, this portrayal acts against the Duke's attempts to rationalise himself as the reader feels empathy only for the Duchess.

In "The Laboratory" the speaker is a strong, assertive female who breaks the social mores of femininity. In moments, she speaks as though she is a polite, sweet woman, which is juxtaposed with her diabolical plans and her passionate anger. She is a far cry from the submissive woman of the time. The speaker's strong verbs convey her strength and...
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