Browning Monologues

Browning Monologues Consider the range of characterisation in Browning’s dramatic monologues and the poetic methods he employs to portray his speakers. Some are written in rhyming verse, use metaphors, et cetera, but for what reason? What is the writer trying to achieve and how successful is he? Robert Browning (1812-1889) was an English poet noted for his mastery of dramatic monologue. He was born in London, the son of a wealthy clerk at the bank of England, he received scant formal education but had access to his father’s large library of about 6,000 volumes. Though initially unsuccessful as a poet and financially dependent on his family until well into adulthood Browning was to become a celebrated Victorian poet. In some of his finest works people from the past speak their thoughts and reveal their lives to the reader through the .. ..

? The poems I will be taking into account will be: ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ from Dramatic Lyrics, 1842 ‘The Laboratory’, 1844 ‘My last Duchess’, from Dramatic Lyrics, 1842 ‘Andrea del Sarto’ from Men and Women, 1855 ‘Fra Lippo Lippi’ from Men and Women, 1855 All these poems are presented from the viewpoint of an individual explaining their actions. The speakers all consider their actions justified, though only Fra Lippo Lippi has reason to explain himself to anyone. These poems use different poetic methods to form the character of the speaker. The rhyme schemes vary from obvious, as in the rhyming couplets of ‘The Laboratory’, to subtle, as in ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ to an absence of a rhyme scheme as in the blank verse of ‘Andrea del Sarto’. Also there are many uses of alliteration, assonance, enjambment and onomatopoeic words to draw our attention to areas of the poem.

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Similes and metaphors are employed throughout to create images that reflect the speaker or their conduct. The speaker in ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ is possessive, a psychopath without conscience over his actions, though this is not entirely evident to the reader at first due to the steady structure and poetic language used at the beginning of the poem. Browning has used the rhyme scheme to help form the reader’s impression of the speaker, it is a rigid 5-line scheme but well concealed by using enjambment to lead one line into the next, and by the absence of separate stanzas to divide the poem. This presents a slow constant rhythm, which tells the reader the speaker is calm. The poem flows like a continuous train of thought, the speaker is obviously contemplates and is deliberate in his actions. This is why we are shocked when the speaker, in the same tone, tells us, ‘ .. all her hair In one long yellow string I wound Three times her little throat around And strangled her.’ The lack of emotion which the steady rhythm conveys is very important in the characterisation of the speaker as it shows the speakers state of mind.

Had the rhythm broken and quickened at dramatic moments the speaker would seem more impulsive and insane, but instead his calm mediated manner makes him almost a pathetic figure. He arouses pity, it seems as if he cannot recognise that he has done wrong, he is a man at peace with his actions. Though Browning surprises the reader with the murder of Porphyria, the imagery used at the beginning of the poem does give us a hint towards the mental imbalance of the speaker, ‘The sullen wind was soon awake, It tore the elm tops down for spite And did its worst to vex the lake’ The speaker’s view of the storm, that it was spiteful, helps to form the character. The fact that he feels this shows he is sulking for some reason and is transferring his feelings to the storm. Assonance is used to draw attention to other imagery such as, ‘As a shut bud that holds a bee, I warily oped her lids’ The short vowel sounds in ‘shut bud’ give the simile a harsh sound and betray the murderer’s superstition that in her eyes he will see the last vision of her murderer ready to affront him like an angry bee. Alliteration is also used in this way to draw attention to moments that say a lot of the speakers character such as’ ‘ .. her cheek once more Blushed bright beneath my burning kiss’ The alliteration draws attention to the forceful kiss he gives her, strong enough to raise blood to the surface of a dead person’s skin, which he interprets as her blushing with happiness.

It shows that the character does not seem to grasp what he has done, he simply thinks he has found a way of preserving their happiness forever. ‘The Laboratory’ is also a poem about a murderer, but a different type to Porphyria’s lover. The murderess in ‘The Laboratory’ has a very different reason for murder, to eliminate a rival at the King’s court. This killer premeditates the murder and means to hurt her rival, but like Porphyria’s lover does not seem to consider her actions fully and takes a childlike approach to the murder. These differences in character are reflected in the poetic methods that Browning employs to portray his speaker. The rhyme scheme is the first most obvious difference.

Like ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ the rhyme scheme is rigid but it is unconcealed by enjambment and less complex. ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ has an ABABB rhyme scheme whilst ‘The Laboratory’ uses rhyming couplets and separate stanzas. Also the rhythm of the poem changes, as the speaker becomes excited. Long slow vowel sounds are used at the beginning, ‘Now that I, tying thy glass mask tightly, May gaze through these faint smokes curling whitely’ When she begins to become excited at the prospect of the poison that is being created for her the pace quickens and the vowel sounds shorten, ‘But to light a pastille, and Elise, with her head And her breast and her arms and her hands, should Drop dead!’ This helps to characterise the speaker as impulsive and erratic along with the contradictions of her desires. Onomatopoeic words are also used to add to this impression of excitement such as, ‘Brand, burn up, bite into its grace’ The speed of the rhythm at times along with the rhyming couplets at times makes the speaker sound quite childlike at times. Onomatopoeic words are used though in ‘Andrea del Sarto’ to create a completely different effect, ‘There’s the bell clinking from the chapel top’ This time the onomatopoeic word is an anti-climax, Andrea’s life is anti-climatic and the onomatopoeia has been used as a reflection of this. Unlike the other two speakers though who we pity more than dislike Andrea is an antipathetic character, which is an …


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