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Compare the two poems? Porphyria? s Lover? and?
My Last Duchess? by Robert Browning. What do they reveal about attitudes to women and relationships in the nineteenth century? Robert Browning was one of the greatest poets of the nineteenth century. In 1842, he published? Dramatic Lyrics?
which included the two poems? Porphyria? s Lover? and? My Last Duchess? . In?
Porphyria? s Lover? Browning gives the reader a dramatic insight into the twisted mind of an abnormally possessive lover, who wishes the moment of love to last forever. In this essay, ? Porphyria? s Lover?
will be compared to Robert Browning? s other dramatic monologue, ? My Last Duchess? , where an Italian aristocrat reveals his cruelty to his late wife whilst showing off a portrait of her to one of his guests. Robert Browning? s poems? Porphyria?
s Lover? and? My Last Duchess? were both written in the form of a dramatic monologue. Both poems show a similarity because they are both narrated from the male lover? s point of view.
As a result, the reader becomes more closely involved in the poems and can feel very strong emotions for the individuals portrayed than if the poem was written from the eyes of an? outsider? . This form of writing enables Browning to use irony, in which the real meaning is concealed or contradicted by the literal meanings of the words. For example, in? My Last Duchess?
the Duke orders the death of his wife, though hides the true meaning in his words: ? Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands; Then all smiles stopped together. ? ? My Last Duchess?
is also written in the form of a single stanza poem, which is the unit of a poem that consists of two or more lines of verse organised according to the content and form and usually repeated as a recurring pattern in the poem. By contrast, ? Porphyria? s Lover? does not follow this pattern, but has a different rhyming scheme. On the surface, the narrators in each poem show completely different characteristics.
In? Porphyria? s Lover? , the narrator shows powerful emotions towards Porphyria, which demonstrate his strong romantic feelings. The reader acknowledges that the narrator is passionately in love, as the following extract demonstrates. ? Too weak, for all her heart? s endeavour, To set its struggling passion free From pride, and vainer ties dissever And give herself to me forever. ?
By contrast, the Duke in? My Last Duchess? is shown as a formal, cold-hearted man who despised his late wife? s lust for life. He wanted her respect, though all he could see was her pleasure from all around her, as the following quote shows. ? She had A heart how shall I say?
too soon made glad, Too easily impressed; she liked what? er She looked on, and her looks went everywhere? In both poems, there are similarities in the narrator? s attitudes towards their women. Both narrators show an unnatural possessiveness towards them, presenting an unattractive, all-encompassing jealousy that wanted to eclipse all other interests that their women may have. It means that in each poem, the narrators end up killing their wives.
In? Porphyria? s Lover? , the narrator justifies his actions by saying he wanted to preserve the perfect moment in time. ? That moment she was mine, mine, fair Perfectly pure and good: ?
At that point of pure passion, the narrator? s lover belonged to him totally the repeated words? mine, mine? emphasise this. To stop the struggles and conflicts that would prevent them from seeing each other, he decided to kill her. His act of strangulation was a crime of passion it was not pre-meditated.
By contrast, the death of the Duchess was a cold, calculated move by the Duke to remove the source of his jealousy. She gave her favours to others too willingly, and did not value his nobility and all that it stood for. ? She thanked men, good! But thanked Somehow I know not how as if she ranked My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name With anybody? s gift. ? The Duke justifies his actions by thinking his wife did not deserve her position as Duchess, or live up to the responsibilities that her noble stance required.
In? My Last Duchess? the Duke does not seem to show any compassion or understanding for his late wife. Indeed, he seems to be more of a? woman collector? in the way that he collects art, as he sets his sights on the daughter of the Count. ?
Though his fair daughter? s self, as I avowed At starting, is my object? This word? object? , whilst it means? aim? , also shows that the Duke wants to add this woman to his collection almost like a piece of art. In the same breath, he draws his guest?
s attention to his latest acquisition a new bronze in the shape of Neptune, the mythical Roman god of the sea. I think by doing this the Duke is making a sly reference to his own aims in capturing his next wife. I believe he thinks of himself as Neptune, being all powerful and ruling, and he compares this young woman to a sea-horse, in the way that it she could be so easily tamed. This is another example of Browning? s use of irony. At the start of?
My Last Duchess? the Duke is showing off a portrait to a guest and states that she looks as if she was still alive, which is significant as it immediately informs us that she is dead. (It also implies that he may be looking for the next duchess. ) The Duke describes how people are surprised by her seductive, passionate glance, and he gets very jealous when people admire the painting. He decides to hide the portrait behind some curtains and he acts like he still owns her in the way that he would own an object. ? The depth of passion in that earnest glance, But to myself they turned (since none puts by The curtain I have drawn for you, but I)?
The phrase? And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst, How such a glance came there? is very significant to the poem as it shows us that if anybody should dare ask about her seductive expression, the Duke would say that they were not the first person to ask that question. ? Sir, ?
twas not Her husband? s presence only, called the spot Of joy into the Duchess? cheek? This sentence is hinting to the fact that there may have been another lover in the Duchess? s life. The Duke goes on throughout the poem describing his wife in various attitudes.
He describes the way she poses for the portrait and the reader can sense his jealousy over the way she is looking at the painter, Fr? Pandolf. The Duke gives the impression that he thinks the painter is his wife? s lover. The Duke belittles the Duchess? s joy in life and shows a scathing attitude towards the pleasure she gets from the simple things in life a sunset, or a bough of cherries.
Conversely, the reader gets the impression that the Duchess has a kind, happy nature, who finds joy in all things, though it is true that she found joy in compliments from other men, yet this doesn? t mean that she betrayed her husband, even though he obviously thought that she had been unfaithful. The structure of the lines in this section of the poem tells the reader that the Duke finds it difficult to understand his wife, because he is finding it impossible to find the right words. For instance: ? She had A heart how shall I say? too soon made glad?
The reader can tell that the Duke finds it difficult to understand his wife, as he shows in his words that he had a totally different set of value to hers. He ranked his nine-hundred year-old name, his nobility and standing above all else. She preferred life and living more than anything. He says that she is too easily impressed and that she liked whatever she set her eyes on. The Duke reveals to the reader that he never discussed his jealousy or feelings with his wife. He never told her about the things that he disliked about her, as he thought that this was stooping below his level: ?
and I choose Never to stoop? This reveals that the Duke was a very self-centred, arrogant, egotistical man, who preferred to remain distantly dissatisfied, rather than to try to remedy the situation and put his unease at rest. He was a distant man with a cold formality, disliking conversations. Even though she is now dead, the Duke likes to think that he still has control of his late wife by hiding her behind a curtain. He does this so that her glance doesn? t attract another men.
The character in? Porphyria? s Lover? is revealed in a similar way to the way in which the Duke? s character is revealed in?
My Last Duchess? as the narrator gives an insight of his feelings to the reader. The mood at the beginning of? Porphyria? s Lover?
is bleak. Browning emphasises this by using the technique of? pathetic fallacy? , where human emotion is linked to the weather which is seen as malicious and spiteful: ? The rain set early in to-night, The sullen wind was soon awake It tore the elm-tops down for spite And did its worst to vex the lake?
When Porphyria enters the room, the mood changes at once. Whereas at the start of the poem, you feel like the? colours? are cold blues and greys. As soon as Porphyria enters, the warmth livens the room the? colours?
are bright oranges and yellows to lift the senses. Before she enters the room, the lover? s mood is anxious and full of fear and anticipation. Once she has arrived, his mood is ecstatic: ? I listened with heart fit to break.
When glided in Porphyria; straight She shut the cold out and the storm, And kneeled and made the cheerless grate Blaze up, and all the cottage warm; ? Once she is present, the lover wants the moment to last forever. He doesn? t want Porphyria to leave him, and in this way he is similar to the Duke, as he wants her all for himself.
The reader gets the impression that Porphyria is a woman of little virtue. She has a very seductive manner, which both at the time, and in the present day, appears to be very? erotic? . She is not afraid to show off her body, and she makes it available to her lover: ? She put my arm around her waist, And made her smooth white shoulder bare And all her yellow hair displaced? The lover?
s mood changes during the middle of the poem. He wants to preserve the perfect, passionate moment for ever, and realises that the only way to do this is to kill her and set her free from all other ties, or perhaps another lover: ? Too weak, for all her heart? s endeavour, To set its struggling passion free From pride, and vainer ties dissever, And give herself to me forever?
Robert Browning? s use of the word? worshipped? during this section of the poem is very significant, as it explains to the reader that the lover wants the respect and worship from Porphyria, in a similar manner to the way the Duke in? My Last Duchess?
wants her all-encompassing respect above everything else. At this moment of high passion, Porphyria? s lover says he? debated what to do? .
This shows that he is the one making all the decisive moves and parallels the treatment of the Duchess by the Duke. The men are all-important, they demonstrate their power over the opposite sex. The women in their lives get no say as to what happens with their own lives. At the end of?
Porphyria? s lover? , the reader is led to believe that the lover feels no remorse for his actions. In fact, he has achieved his goal in preserving the moment. This is emphasised by the last two lines in the poem, where he even says that God has not shown any anger at his actions: ?
And all night long we have not stirred And yet God has not said a word? You can compare this to? My Last Duchess? where again, the Duke shows no remorse for ordering the death of his wife. The modern reader is given an insight into the way relationships between men and women were viewed in the last century, and earlier, during the time of the Renaissance. Without doubt, men had the dominant role, and women had little personal freedom.
Women were duty-bound to show unquestioning respect for the men in their lives, regardless of how they were treated. In Porphyria? s lover, Browning shows us the vision of a woman who is not following this role model. In fact, she is completely the opposite, and as such, she is fulfilling the role of a male fantasy by taking a dominant role, with obvious sexual intentions.
In the nineteenth century this would have had the dual effect of being both sensational and revolutionary. In the eyes of a modern reader, neither poem is particularly shocking, as people are more accustomed to material of a revealing nature. This shows that when reading and understanding texts, the reader has to bear in mind the times and context in which they were written.
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