Comparative essay on ‘My last Duchess’ and ‘Porphyria’s lover’
Robert Browning was born in May 1812 and died at the age of seventy. Browning was an English poet who has become known as the person to invent and popularise the dramatic monologue. This made him the foremost Victorian poet; two of his most successful dramatic monologues are those of ‘My last Duchess’ and ‘Porphyria’s Lover’. The reoccurring theme within the two monologues is murder as they show the idea of men killing a lover Dramatic monologues are significant in that there is only one point of view expressed throughout. In Victorian times dramatic monologues were very popular; Browning was seen as the innovator of this style of writing along with other eminent Victorian poets such as Rossetti and Tennyson. The dramatic monologue takes its style from Shakespeare’s soliloquies were a character speaks their thoughts and feelings aloud. This idea and style has been extended to the preset day, with Alan Bennett’s ‘Talking Heads.’ The speaker in ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ is the lover himself, residing in a cottage in the countryside at the beginning of the poem. The mood of the narrator is established right at the start as he talks about “the sullen wind’ ‘tore,’ ‘vex’ and ‘spite.’ He is clearly angry and unhappy. However as soon as Porphyria ‘glided’ in, the mood changes and she ‘ shut the cold out and the storm.’ The narrator feels warmed by her presence. At once the reader sees that Porphyria has taken control, she starts the fire, she removes her outer clothing – which would definitely have been understood as provocative and sexual for both her lover and the reader. The tantalizing ‘smooth white shoulder bare’ is exposed for everyone’s imagination to conjure. It becomes clear that the lover’s relationship cannot be accepted in 19th century society. Porphyria has expressed a wish to stay with her forbidden lover forever, and he in a fit of passion, takes her at her word and strangles her in order to save this wonderful moment. My last duchess is about the duke of Ferraro (a sixteenth century Duke in Italy) talking to a representative from his fiancée’s family about his forthcoming marriage. While showing off his artwork he comes across a painting of his ‘Last Duchess.’ The reader knows at once that she is no longer alive, but the Duke’s words show him to be a possessive and jealous man. He complains about her imperfections however today’s reader would perceive these to be good qualities, such as treating all people alike, in ‘she thanked men’ in the same way as she thanked the duke. He goes on to say that she had modesty, happiness, compassion and that she was polite to those who helped her. He talks about these character traits with contempt, showing himself to be jealous that she did not treat him better than anyone else and that she did not show enough respect for his ‘ nine-hundred-year-old name.’ After talking about his ‘Last Duchess’ he goes back on to talk about his other pieces of art because he sees his works of art to be more worthwhile and important than women. This also shows how his women are just his possession just like his artwork. There are many main themes that occur in the two poems the primary one being murder. In ‘My last Duchess’ you are never quite sure whether the Duke did kill his ‘Last Duchess’ but you are given a hint when he states that, ‘This grew; I gave commands; then all smiles stopped together.’ This makes you question whether he commanded people to murder his last Duchess. This also shows a cowardly aspect in his characteristic in the Duke because he does not do his dirty work, as well as not showing an emotion towards the death of his “Lover.’ Whereas in ‘Porphyria’s lover’ the speaker actually kills Porphyria by strangling her with her own hair ‘ In one long yellow string I wound three times her little throat around and strangled her.’ After he murders her he then tries to justify his reasons for...
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