What Would Continue to Make Robert Browning’s Poetry Worthy of Critical Study?
Robert browning-speech What would continue to make Robert Browning’s poetry worthy of critical study? ‘Half-flush that dies along her throat’. ‘In one long yellow string I wound three times her little throat and strangled her’. Wow, are they insane? Or are they simply just scared and insecure? For more than a century Robert Browning has been known for his dramatic monologues. Through the use of Dramatic monologue, Browning freely questions the concerns of the Victorian society through the use of enjambment creating a flow of unity and natural speech.
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Funnily enough, many of the issues he raises are just as relevant today in our times. First of all there is his brilliant study of insanity- two of his protagonists are insane killers of two beautiful women who they can’t control. Coincidence maybe? Also, other concerns such as – the domination of men, our moralities and the idea of self-delusion: the difference between how we see ourselves and how others see us. But what influenced him to question the values of the Victorian society? Well, the Victorian Era is a period after the Renaissance where people start to question different areas of the aspect of life.
One major aspect was dominance of men. As seen through My Last Duchess, the Duke of Ferrara is portrayed as a condescending figure who has a very possessive and controlling nature through the quote “The curtain I have drawn for you” we see the Duke’s action as being inordinately possessive: no-one but he draws the curtain over the portrait; his wife is now hanging like an object in the gallery. However throughout his monologue, the audience can see insecurity that the Duke has despite his arrogant behaviour due to his need of justification for the actions he had done through the use of asides “She thanked men- good!
But thanked somehow- I know not”. Hence, it is due to his insecurity of not able to control her since “She looked on and her looks went everywhere” plus his pride of ‘choosing never to stoop’, the only way for him to be able to gain control over her is through her death. Similarly in Porphyria’s lover, Browning explorers the sinister human emotions of the unnamed nevertheless insane narrator who like the Duke of Ferrara feels that he cannot control his woman, Porphyria. When introduced the speaker is portrayed as a lower-class living in a cottage while
Porphyria herself is from the upper-class who just not have power over him financially but also physically in a relationship where she puts his ‘arm about her waist’ ‘and made her smooth white shoulder bare to… made me cheek lie there”. The speaker who is frustrated at her status was later happy and proud that she worshipped him through the repetition “that moment, she was mine, mine” emphasising on the ownership he has over her however though he cannot control her entirely due to social status. So in order for him to have complete dominance over Porphyria, it is only through her demise.
But do you personally think it’s morally the right thing to do? Wouldn’t it depend on the person who committed the act perceive whether it is right or wrong? Here despite choosing a different time period setting in the Renaissance Browning is challenging us the beliefs and morals throughout his poems reflected upon his society. In this case, the Duke of Ferrara sees his actions as a noble, masculine act of extinguishing his last duchess’s existence because of her flirtatious nature. We as responders are however horrified at seeing this act.
Rather than seeing a noble act, we see him as a monster being blinded by emotions such as dominance and insecurity. In Porphyria’s lover, the speaker too believes that he had done the right thing of killing Porphyria since “God had not said a word” implying that he is morally right because he is not punished for committing this sin. Now, put the two protagonists in comparison, both believe they are reasonable and have done the right thing. As they are both demented and have murdered two innocent women under this delusion, the effect is quite alarming thus emphasizes in contrast the values we have today making it significant to critical study.
In the end of the day, we come to appreciate that by utilising the elements of human nature and the issues of society, Browning allows the poems to become universal as a reference, not only it applies to the Victorian Era only but also to our modern society such as the fact that people are still questioning about the dominance of men that is still happening in some countries, the fact that we still reason ourselves what is morally right or wrong and also the fact that we always believe our actions are always right egardless of others perceptions. Thus, it is due to these elements that continues to make Robert Browning’s poetry worthy of critical study.