Porphyrias Lover and My Last Duchess by Robert Browning

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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 La... ... middle of paper ... ...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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