Robert Browning’s poetry still remains today as significant works of literature that are worthy of critical study. What make Browning’s poetry worthy of critical study are the engaging and didactic themes that are explored through Victorian concerns and context and are presented through the minds of characters. Browning’s poetry highlights the emotions that come from the contextual concerns of Victorian society. In particular it highlights the expectations that come with a patriarchal society and the need for men to dominate. This desire to be in control can be seen through the frustrations and madness of the Duke and the Lover.
The Duke becomes enraged when he believes that he has lost control over his wife through her supposed act of infidelity, with the speculation of his late wife committing adultery, ‘She thanked men-good! But thanked somehow I know not how,’ the pause emphasises the Duke’s paranoia of the control that he believes that he has lost over his wife through her supposed infidelity. This is what induces his madness into murdering her to completely regain his superiority and is shown through the controlling of the curtain of the Last Duchess’ painting, ‘For none puts by, this curtain I have drawn for you but I. ”
This same need for power is also seen in lack of ownership and control of the lover in ‘Porphyria’s Lover. ’ The title of the poem itself is reflective of the struggle for dominance that the lover experiences in the relationship where he is instead controlled by Porphyria. This is shown through his impersonal, detached speech and measured tone when he recounts Porphyria’s ritualistic steps shows the tortured mind of not being able to dominate in the relationship, “She put my arm about her waist, and made her smooth white shoulder bare,” and reflects his tortured mind of not being able to be in control.
The power is reversed after he ‘wound three times her little throat around and strangled her’ the lover finds solace in her death by being able to manipulate her body, “I propped her head up as before only, this time my shoulder bore her head”. The peace that he finds with being the dominant individual in the relationship is evident in the use of enjambment that represents his calm and flowing thoughts. It is through the death of the women in the poems does the man feel that he is able to dominate through her manipulation.
Browning’s portrayal of these power hungry and dominant characters addresses the expectations of a patriarchal society, which makes it worthy of critical study. The lover finds peace in the fact that the power of the relationship is reversed after he “strangled her” and that he is able to manipulate her body, “I propped her head up as before only, this time my shoulder bore her head,” the use of enjambment reinforces his calm thoughts that comes from being able to control the relationship with Porphyria’s death.
The profound influence of class structures of the Victorian world is highlighted by the intense human emotions that are found within Browning’s characters. The intense human emotions that are found in the characters of Browning’s poetry highlights the profound influence of societal class structures of the Victorian world. The Duke’s arrogance is shown through his pride for his ‘900-year-old name’ and the Duchess’ dismissal for his name for her love of the natural world, such as ‘daylight in the West’ and ‘bough of cherries’ is what leads him into frustration.
The sharp tonality in which he addresses her values shows his anger and excessive pride of being a Duke, and he identifies himself the ‘Statue of Neptune’ which he believes is symbolic of his status. His pride of being in the upper class stops him from expressing his dissatisfaction to the Duchess who he believes is beneath him, and his high modality of choosing “Never to stoop” reinforces his title. The impact of the differences in social class structures is what evokes intense frustrations in Porphyria’s Lover who is tortured from the knowledge that Porphyria is unable to fully give herself to him.
His distress is shown in his act of strangling her to prevent her from leaving him, as she is ‘Too weak… to set its struggling passion free… from pride, and vainer ties dissever, and give herself to me forever. ’ The logic found in the lover’s disturbed mind and in the ABABB rhyming scheme is there to justify his actions of murdering her. These intense emotions that Browning creates in his characters engage the audience as it shows the impact that class distinction has on individuals. and passion is emphasised as he ‘listens with a heart fit to break’, however
The impact of strict societal class structures is what evokes intense frustrations in Porphyria’s Lover who feels tortured due to the fact that he is unable to always have his lover by his side due to the differences in their social class and his distress is emphasised when he ‘listens with a heart fit to break. ’ However, it is the knowledge of the fact that Porphyria is unable to give herself fully to him because of the expectations of her class, ‘Too weak… to set its struggling passion free… from pride, and vainer ties dissever, and give herself to me forever,’ that leads him to strangling her to prevent her from leaving him again.
The logic found in the lover’s disturbed mind and in the ABABB rhyming scheme is there to justify his actions of murdering her. These intense emotions that Browning creates in his characters engage the audience as it shows the impact that class distinction has on individuals. The societal ideology of the role of women is what shapes intense responses in the characters that are created by Browning. The jealousy of the Duke can be seen when he is deprived of the Duchess’ attention whose heart was ‘too soon made glad, too easily impressed,’ by other things that held no significance to him.
The anaphora of the word ‘too’ emphasises the frustrations of the Duke that comes from the Victorian ideology that women was supposed to be subservient to their husbands wishes and give them undivided attention. The societal expectation of the subservient woman is lost in Porphyria’s lover where Porphyria is the instigator of love in the relationship, “She shut out the cold and the storm”, the pathetic fallacy shows his melancholic state and how madly in love the speaker is with her.
The strong emotion of love and possessiveness can be seen through Porphyria’s murder, after the lover learns that she ‘worshiped’ him. This symbolism of power is what leads him to believe that he can play god and it is through this her murder that Porphyria’s purpose as a Victorian woman serving a man is fulfilled. It is clear that the Victorian society believed that women were expected to be subservient to men and Browning conveys this idea through the emotions that he Duke and Lover experience due to the effect that the women in the poems have on their lives. To conclude, it is through Browning’s powerful portrayal of the power hungry duke and the lover’s struggle for power in his relationship with Porphyria that the audience can see the emotions that come from madness and the need to dominate which is influenced by Victorian concerns and context. These themes engage the audience of today’s society and therefore are what makes Browning’s poetry worthy of critical study.