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The Laboratory, Pophyria’s Lover and My Last Duchess

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The three speakers in the three Robert Browning poems: The Laboratory, Pophyria’s Lover and My Last Duchess, all have a similar event in common. Each has themselves committed a murder, is planning to commit a murder or possibly hired someone else to commit the murder, all in the name of love, possession and jealousy.

In the three poems, the speakers reveal a lot about their characters. In all three, we can detect various similarities in the characters of each speaker. The most obvious observation is that all three speakers appear to be very paranoid of their lover, ex-lover or lover to be. In The Laboratory, the Lady, as well as being very paranoid:

“What a drop! She’s no mignon like me!”

Suggesting that she is scared by the fact that the amount of poison being made will not totally kill Pauline as she is apparently quite generously weighted and so needs a larger amount of poison to be killed than the speaker does being far smaller. The Lady is also quite flirty when speaking with the old man when the poison is completed, suggesting to him that he may kiss her. We also notice throughout the poem that the Lady is very anxious also suggesting how paranoid she is about preparing the poison on time for her meeting before the King.

“Quick-is it finished?”

However, despite exerting her power on the old man, she is hungry for more knowledge on the poison and seems compelled by its workings and how it is being made and hence constantly asks the old man questions:

“That in the mortar-you call it a gum?

… Is that poison too?”

In Pophyria’s Lover we also see how paranoid the speaker is. He constantly worries about weather Porphyria is planning on leaving him for her family, not being able to draw herself away from them, and he ponders on this throughout the poem:

“I listened with heart fit to break”

This quotation also informs us of the speaker’s apparent very low self-esteem. He is on the verge of a nervous break down at this point in the poem, tantalised as to weather Porphyria will appear or not. Later on the poem when he has committed the murder, the speaker seems quiet confident on his decision to murder Porphyria:

“I am quite sure she felt no pain”

Whereas earlier on in the poem he seemed very reluctant to make any decisions himself and was very indecisive.

In My Last Duchess it is much harder to pick up on any characteristic traits which the Duke has as he does not divulge into what he is thinking and feeling very often. We can however pick out the fact that he is very paranoid when he is telling us of his ex-wife:

“I know not how-as if she ranked

My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name

With anybody’s gift.”

The theme of each poem has a slight difference, despite all being related to murder, and they also have similarities. The most obvious similarities between each of the poems are that they all deal with jealousy and possessiveness. The Lady in The Laboratory believes that Pauline’s lover belongs to her and not Pauline and is so jealous of the fact that Pauline has him and she doesn’t, that the Lady is prepared to kill Pauline to get her way and have the man that she wants:

He is with her, and they know that I know

Where they are, what they do.”

Porphyria’s Lover also deals with these two issues but in a slightly different way. Porhyria is already the speaker’s lover but is drawn between her family and him and has to make a decision. The speaker knows that Porphyria is almost entirely his but to make her stay with her forever he must kill her and that he does. The aspect of jealousy creeps in where Porphyria is divided between her family and the speaker. The speaker is jealous of the grasp that they have over Pophyria and wants them to let go so that she can be all his:

“And giver herself to me forever.

But passion sometimes would not prevail,

Nor could tonight’s gay feast restrain.”

Here, Pophyria is not strong enough to give herself from her family and had to escape a feast from where she came to be specially with him.

Similarly, again, My Last Duchess also tackles the same two concerns of the speaker, possessiveness and jealousy. In this case, the Duke is used to having his way however when his Duchess fails to treat him like someone special to her he feels offended and so, despite there being no precise evidence, has her murdered:

“Oh sir, she smiled, no doubt,

Whene’er I passed her; but who passed without

Much the same smile?”

The duke is complaining about how she treated him just like everyone else who passed her way and he even seems to imply that she has been cheating on him with these other men that passed her.

As discussed before, the most obvious theme, which is similar yet dissimilar in all three poems, is the theme of murder. The Laboratory is set just before a murder takes place however it is not hidden who commits it and the speaker is very clear on her task and does not seemed ashamed by it. Porphyria’s Lover follows a similar pattern. However it takes place before, during and after the murder and, again, the culprit is not hidden and the speaker does not seem tormented by what he has done. He even claims that:

“…God has not said a word!”

Implying that because God has not said or done anything to condemn what he has done, his actions are justified and therefore correct. In My Last Duchess, on the other hand, the poem is set after the murder of the speaker’s lover. The criminal who committed the crime is, however, hidden from us and we are left to assume that possibly a hit-man was hired to do the deed or possibly even the Duke himself yet he would be slow to acknowledge this being a respectable man.

There are very subtle, and some obvious, features about the three dramatic dialogues. The Laboratory is most distinctly different to the other poems. It is presented in stanzas and uses iambic pentameter with rhyme every line:

“Not that I bid you spare her the pain;

Let death be felt and the proof remain.”

The remaining poems: Porphyria’s Lover and My Last Duchess, differ in the fact that instead of using stanzas, natural speech structures are created by using enjambment – flowing from the end of one line straight into the next without using punctuation at the end of every line. Caesura – a pause in the middle of lines – is also used to create a more natural feel to the poems:

“A heart – How shall I say? – too soon made glad.”

Noticeable in the three poems, are the different male and female relationships which caused the murders to be carried out. In The Laboratory, the Lady’s motive for murdering Pauline is that she wants the man that Pauline is with to be hers. She has not had any apparent arguments with the man and so her revenge is purely because she wants something that currently she cannot have.

In Porphyria’s Lover and My Last Duchess the motives for murder correspond. Both the Duke and Porphyria’s Lover (whom we do not know the actual names of, nor the Lady in The Laboratory) do wish to have to cope with the fact that neither Porphyria or the Duchess are completely under their control and want entirely to be with them, they are either drawn between their lover or are flirtatious with other men.

In conclusion, we can pick out the similarities and dissimilarities between the three speakers in the Robert Browning dialogues and we can detect the motives behind the murders taken place or about to take place and from this discover a great deal about the speakers personality’s whether they intend to disclose these characteristics or not.

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