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‘The Laboratory’ & ‘Porphyria’s Lover’

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  • Category: Love

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These two poems were written by the Victorian poet, Robert Browning. In ‘The Laboratory’ and ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ there are lots of differences but many similarities also. ‘The Laboratory’ is a poem about a women’s jealousy, who is determined to poison her rival in love. It is written as a dramatic monologue in the 1st person and she later turns into paranoid psychopath who becomes obsessed with the desire to be evil and kill.

‘Porphyria’s Lover’ is also written in a dramatic 1st person monologue and this poem is about a woman’s lover who kills her in an instantaneous

In these two poems Robert Browning creates a sense of malevolence by the type of poetic voice, mood and tone, imagery and the language, sound and structure that he uses.

The sound in the poem ‘The Laboratory’ and ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ are both similar as each of them use alliteration and rhyme. The rhyming pattern in ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ is ABABB and the way in which it rhymes creates a sense of mysterious and subdued atmosphere and this helps to create a sense of malevolence and you can feel that something evil is going to happen. The 5 lines leading up to her been killed,

“Be sure I look’d up at her eyes

Happy and proud; at last I knew

Porphyria worshipp’d me; surprise

Made my heart swell, and still it grew

While I debated what to do”

This can be used as evidence to show that he was debating what to do and this shows to us that we know that even if it is not death something is going to happen.

They are both dramatic monologues one by a woman and one by a man and this technique helps to create a better atmosphere as you can see the poem in the poet’s eyes.

In ‘The Laboratory’ the poetic voice develops from the start as a jealous, spiteful woman who intends to get revenge on her rival in love. In stanza V her serial killer side comes out and the lines from this stanza tell us what she would feel like if she could have all the poisons, not just enough to kill Pauline and Elise but all the poison so she could kill anyone she wants to. Then by the time we reach stanza VI, she has turned into sadistic twisted women who rather then getting revenge on her rival she is more intent on being a serial killer and she starts to wish she had all the poisons in the world and could carry them around with her.

“Soon, at the King’s, a mere lozenge to give,

And Pauline should have just thirty minutes to live!

But to light a pastile, and Elise, with her head

And her breast and her arms and her hands, should drop dead!”

These lines show of her desire to kill and her passionate jealousy that she has for her rival and she keeps imaging them dead. Alliteration is also used to show that the woman is very jealous, “Brand, burn up, bite into its grace” this shows she is jealous and she wants to bite into someone’s life and ruin it. This creates a sense of malevolence as the woman has a desire to do evil by killing her rival in love.

Whereas in ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ the opening lines of the poem tell us of a storm and this automatically gives us an impression that something severe is going to happen. But as soon as Porphyria enters the house she brings warmth into it and everything seems good again as it says

“When glided in Porphyria; straight

She shut the cold out and the storm,

And kneel’d and made the cheerless grate

Blaze up, and all the cottage warm;

Which done, she rose, and from her form”

This leads the reader into a false sense of security as it makes you think nothing will happen now she has arrived. I think this is a good technique that Browning uses because he tries to deceive the reader by thinking nothing will happen.

He also sees her as an object and he wants to possess her. This can be seen in the line “And give herself to me forever” and he also mentions her yellow hair, shoulders, cheek and her blue eyes and these all show how he has started not to see her as a human being but as an object. Him seeing her as an object is one key factor to him killing her, as he is thinking that he can do what he likes because she isn’t real.

Another way in which Browning uses this poem to create a malevolent atmosphere is by making Porphyria unavailable. In lines 21-24 it gives us the impression that she is already taken as it says,

“Murmuring how she loved me-she

Too weak, for all her heart’s endeavour,

To set its struggling passion free

From pride, and vainer ties dissever.”

but the narrator starts to desire her and he starts to want to possess her and the fact that she is forbidden spurs him on even more and the thought of sharing her with any one else for any reason, however innocent, is impossible. He is driven to an act of murder because the only way to keep her completely to himself is to kill her. It this sudden realization in this one night–the fact that she isn’t solely his–that pushes him to the moment of madness.

He also focuses on ‘the moment’ in the poem because by killing Porphyria the narrator he feels he can savour the moment for as long as he likes and at the end of the poem he says, “And thus we sit together now,

And all night long we have not stirr’d

And yet God has not said a word!

Once he has killed her he knows that she cannot leave his side so he sits up all night with her and can relive the moment as long as she is his.

In my opinion I believe that ‘The Laboratory’ uses more malevolent language as it builds up the malevolence as she progressively expresses her desire to do evil whereas in ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ it is more of a spur of the moment action. The woman in ‘The Laboratory’ seems to get a pleasure by plotting the murder and there is a lot more malice behind the killing. ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ is more about passion rather than malevolence as the killer wishes to savour the moment forever.

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