The Story: a young man waits in his cottage for his beloved, who has stolen away from her rich family to see him. When she arrives, he murders her so he can possess her forever. The Voice: the story is told by the young lover himself, as a first-person, intra-diegetic narrator. In this poem, Browning creates the voice of a madman and much of the poem’s dramatic intensity arises from the contrast between how he portrays the events of the story and how we, as rational, moral readers, react to them. The speaker in this poem has none of the Duke’s elegant refinement, but uses turbulent, violent language that evokes his deranged mental state. Tellingly, look at the change in how the speaker presents his own involvement in the story around line 32: up till this point he has been a passive observer (note the use of And … / And … And … / in lines 17-20, where events are merely relayed to us, fitted only into the most basic narrative; look, too at how he speaks of himself in the third person in line 15); however, at the point when ‘I knew / Porphyria worshipped me’ the voice becomes active, energetic and sexually charged. The fact that a murder can in such a dramatic way bring the speaker to life is central to the poem’s horrifying effect. Perhaps chillingly, there is a suggestion at times in the poem that the narrator is attempting the free indirect style of narrative, in which characters’ thoughts are articulated by the narrator without being directly demarcated as such. Look, for example at, ‘she, took weak for all her heart’s endeavour’, or, later when he claims her ‘smiling rosy little head’ is ‘So glad it has its utmost will.’ Where we would expect this style in a novel, in this poem the effect is really very disturbing, not least because the woman’s voice (just as in My Last Duchess) is completely silenced by the narrator himself. The Form: here, again, Browning uses iambs, but in tetrameter (four feet per line – pentameter has five feet), so the...
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