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Commentary on Porphyria's Lover by Robert Browning

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To begin with, I am going to give a brief contextual background of the poem. Robert Browning, who lived during the 1800s, was an English poet and playwright whose mastery of the dramatic verse, especially the dramatic monologue, made him one of the most famous poets of the Victorian era. One of his more sensational dramatic monologues is Porphyria?s Lover, which was part of the group of poems called the Madhouse Cells. He gave them this name because he felt he needed to give a signal to confused readers but he later dropped it because it lead to reductive reading and he preferred that each reader come up with their own interpretation. During the Victorian era there was a cultural transition away from the rationalism of the Georgian period towards romanticism and mysticism with regard to religion, social values and the arts. The era is popularly associated with the values of social and sexual restraint. Despite his parents? staunch evangelical faith, Browning was an atheist for a brief period during his teenage years. Now that we know little more about Browning and the time at which the poem was written I can proceed to discussing some of the themes involved with this poem. These themes include death, madness and sex. Death is a prominent theme in many of Browning?s dramatic monologues. ...read more.


This idea of madness is portrayed in several ways. The rhyme scheme in the poem is mainly ABABB, which is regular but rather asymmetrical. This deters the flow of the poem since the ends of the lines don?t always rhyme. This fluctuating rhyme scheme alludes to a sense of mental imbalance or instability within the speaker. The use of anastrophe in this poem also adds to the reader?s feeling that the speaker is not the sanest person in the world. This use of an odd word order, along with enjambment and the excessive use of punctuation give the poem an intermittent flow and this may reflect the speakers thought process, suggesting that it is also irregular. Furthermore, the speaker?s madness can also be seen in his monomania. On line 35 he says ?That moment she was mine, mine?. Instead of meaning that she was figuratively his, he may have meant that she actually belonged to him. This would mean that he would have been free to do with her as he wished, and therefore killing her would just be exercising his possessive power. The fact that the speaker actually thinks he can have such dominion over another human being shows us that he is a monomaniac. He goes on to say ?And I, its love, am gained instead!? on line 55. ...read more.


This is what “but passion would sometimes prevail” refers to. How they only saw each other when Porphyria’s sexual needs made it necessary. Since this was a period of constraint, one would believe that all the literature would be censored as well, however, Browning uses imagery that then would’ve been seen as very carnal even though as 21st century readers we find it very normal. The image of Porphyria taking off her cloak, shawl, gloves and letting her hair down would have been scene as very riské. This meant that Browning appealed to the suppressed carnal side of the people and since they could not openly indulge in sex related pleasures Browning’s sexual poetry was the next best thing. As a 21st century reader, one of the words that come to thought when reading this poem is necrophilia. As a Victorian reader having such a thought would have been greatly looked down upon. During the Victorian era, there was a fine line between what was considered moral and immoral but nowadays actions that were considered immoral by Victorian readers are becoming more and more frequent and tolerated. For example, in Swaziland we have newspaper headlines such as “Man has sex with goat” and this means that to us as 21st century readers, the thought of necrophilia is not very farfetched. It can thus be said that society has become increasingly carnal since the days of Queen Victoria since it has become more accepting of deeds that would have been considered taboo by Victorians. ...read more.

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