Friday, March 15, 2013

In his poems Browning often explores the dark side of human nature. Analyse at least two poems, paying attention to both form and content, in which Browning explores mans capacity for evil.

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In Browning’s poems ‘My Last Duchess’ and ‘Porphyrias Lover’ it is evident that the same theme runs through both of these poems; men and their power over women. In Victorian society, the time when these poems were written the woman’s role was to stay at home and become a faithful and obedient wife and a caring mother. The most important figure in a relationship was the man. Therefore women’s role and self worth was based of that of her husbands social status in the Victorian community. This kind of unequal relationship where the man plays the dominant role becomes clear in Browning’s poems. He explores issues involving obsession, power, control and to some extent jealousy. Browning starts to explore men’s actions towards women in these two poems and what the dark side of their natures can achieve.

The introduction of a fierce, stormy night sets the scene for the poem ‘Porphyrias Lover’. The weather is being personified

“The sullen wind was soon awake,

It tore the elm-tops down for spite”

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By personifying the weather Browning is linking the destructive force of nature to the destructive force of mankind. This links to the turmoil of the main characters heart, which is another example of the Pathetic Fallacy, used in the beginning of this poem. I think Pathetic Fallacy is used as an introduction to the tragedy that is yet to come. A few details provide the setting a cottage with a fireplace, a stormy night, but the speaker, since he is thinking, does not give the background information, so that the reader must piece together various details to grasp the situation as a whole.

When Porphyria enters she lights the fire and makes the cottage warm. Showing Victorian attitude to women, the servitude of women to men, showing that there sole role is to keep their men and families warm and content. Porphyria blends into nature as she ‘glided’ in and ‘shut the cold out’, we know that she is a powerful woman, and is too proud to leave her world of “gay feasts” to stay with him forever. When the narrator describes Porphyria she is very much like a goddess by the way she just “glided” in to the room. Further into the poem we know that she has both emotionally and physical power over the speaker.

“She put her waist about my arm”

This control over the narrator is soon reversed as the story progresses and the narrator starts becoming cold towards her controlling influences.

As they sat together by the fire, the speaker was overwhelmed with pride and pleasure that she loved him. He realises that he wanted to show her this so to do it he killed her. He wanted the moment never to end. He knew that she would not give up her independent life to serve him. His actions at this point onwards turns from passive too active.

Porphyria is another name for madness or insanity. This is an important factor in the play as the name porphyria symbolises the speaker’s madness. When the speaker murders Porphyria I feel that there is something quite dark and insane about it. He assures himself that she wanted to die at that moment, and that he did not really hurt her.

“Her darling one wish would be heard.”

What I thought brought out the dark side of the speaker was the calm language and tone that was used throughout and during the murder. I think that this calm atmosphere that was potrayed in the poem is a reflection on how the narrator is feeling and how he thinks that he is not committing a murder but simply just showing how much he loves her. This is the sharp contrast of Love and Spite. By reading the poem through I found that the motif for the murder was very strange. He wanted to preserve their love ‘forever’ as he finally realised that Porphyria worshiped him

“At last Porphyria worshiped me”

Browning has created this narrator’s mind and has bought out all of his evil and darkest thoughts. He wanted complete control over her, just like she had complete control over him. At this point the themes of power, control and obsession start to take place. The speaker is too proud of their love even after killing her; he still describes her like she is alive

“Blushed bright beneath my burning kiss”

To him she is like a doll or an object to posses, which to him is still beautiful. There is a sharp contrast here between fantasy and reality.

We are aware that this was not a planned murder, but why and how he killed her reflects the dominance of the man and the power he has over the woman. Now she is dead she can be completely loyal and obedient to him. How the speaker kills Porphyria is the most symbolic part in the poem.

“And all her hair three times around her little neck I wound”

The fact that he uses one of the things that makes her beautiful to kill her is a strong contrast between life (beauty) and death. But also he is killing her, which again reminds us of the influence of the power of the speaker. When the poem ends we realise that the lover is still sitting with the head of the dead Porphyria propped on his shoulder, waiting to see what God will do to him. However God remains silent, which the narrator seems to say that this power over women is either tolerated or condoned by a superior being.

Like “Porphyrias Lover”, “My Last Duchess” explores the issues of jealousy and obsession. The title suggests he has loved since but more importantly has loved before. The word ‘My’ in the title sounds like he is describing her as a possession, so the theme of obsession starts to be revealed right at the beginning of the poem.

The poem begins with this Duke discussing his “last Duchess painted on the wall”. Throughout the poem the Duke proves to be the type of man that has to be in control. His need for control is displayed when he tells his guest that no one may draw “ the curtain but I” The Duke paints his own image of her through this dialogue. Everything the reader hears is filtered through the mind and voice of the Duke. The fact that the painting has a curtain in front of it suggests that he likes to shut her away whenever he pleases. To me this seems that the curtain symbolises the kind of obsessive power and controls that he has over her now, even when she is not physically with him. The Duke’s abrasive word choice intensifies the dominating effect in the poem. Throughout the poem the Duke proves to be the type of man that has to be in control. His need for control is displayed when he tells his guest that no one may draw “the curtain . . . but I”

“The curtain I have drawn for you but I”

When he recalls the time when the duchess was alive, he speaks of her as a very loving and polite, kind person, but always concludes by showing that he demanded complete obedience from his past wife and expects the same for his future wife.

The Duke sees himself as a God like figure that will not submit to anyone who he feels is subordinate to him. The Duke draws his guest’s attention to a statue of Neptune taming a seahorse in order to show that he will demand complete obedience from his future wife. The image of the powerful god, taking control of the seahorse shows the Duke’s desired relationship between him and any woman. By these statements he will prove that he will put fear into his wife through any tactics and his overbearing need for control and power through imagery. I think the duke feels that he needs to control his wives as he doesn’t want anyone to betray him again, and he will try and prevent this from happening in any way he can. This all links back to possession and power that men feel they have to have over their women.

The way the Duke views his next wife is very interesting. He describes her not as a women but mearly as his “object”, this shows that the Duke still craves for power, and the little respect he has for women making them sound like possessions.

In “Porphyrias Lover” there is evident rhyming that occurs in every other line. This style that is used sets a rhythm for the poem, I think the author used this style so the dramatic monologue that the narrator is saying will seem more symbolic and dramatic.

In “My Last Duchess”, unlike Porphyrias lover there is no rhyming at all. I think that Browning did this to exaggerate the realism of his ‘Last Duchess’, and his harsh tone used when he gave ’commands’ is a sharp contrast to the description of her previously in the poem.

But in contrast to Porphyrias lover the man in the poem was very much in control of his actions to a dangerous and unsettling degree.

I think Browning has used Monologues in these two poems to show the reader the minds of these two men that he has invented. Not only this but it gives a more detailed, calm and contemplated outlook on the situation at hand.

In conclusion I feel that Browning does explore the darker side of mans evil and evident class differences and social issues arise from these works. Although horrified as most readers might be by both of their acts, I think that our society would be far more tolerant of the dejected and hurt lover in Porhyria’s lover, than the snobbish cruel and misogynistic Duke in My Last Duchess.







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