Examine Browning's use of the dramatic monologue in 'Porphyria's Lover' and 'My Last Duchess'. How does he engage and sustain the interest of the audience?

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Examine Browning’s use of the dramatic monologue in ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ and ‘My Last Duchess’.  How does he engage and sustain the interest of the audience?

In ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ and ‘My Last Duchess’, Browning uses several features of dramatic monologue in order to engage and sustain the interest of the audience.  This style of monologue is spoken by a character, which is not the poet, and is usually projected at a critical moment, as in the case of ‘My Last Duchess’ and ‘Porphyria’s Lover’.  The speakers unintentionally reveal their insanity, in both poems, through their separate accounts.  By studying a comparison of the two poems, it becomes clear that Browning has used similar disturbing themes to illustrate what an individual is capable of doing for his own reasons.

Browning’s work is known to be an example of dramatic monologue, with this being the way in which he is able to portray the insanity of his characters.  By using the technique of dramatic monologue in ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ and ‘My Last Duchess’, the reader is immediately given an image of both of the narrators’ subjects.  The opening line is vital to any poem, as it has the potential to instantly interest the reader.  “That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall” begins ‘My Last Duchess’ halfway through the conversation, leaving the audience eager to determine to whom the speaker is talking to.  This statement also hints that the story of his “last duchess” will follow, thus sustaining the interest of the audience.  By using dramatic monologue in ‘My Last Duchess’, the reader feels personally involved in the scene, as if the Duke is directly talking to him.  In fact the Duke is speaking to an emissary, who has been sent by a Count to see whether the Duke is an appropriate suitor for his daughter.  The lack of response from this envoy however gives the reader the chance to replace him, thus becoming the only person to whom the Duke is speaking.

‘Porphyria’s Lover’ opens with an atmospheric picture of the weather, perhaps suggesting pathetic fallacy, reflecting the mood of the narrator.  The first impression the audience is given of the lover is of his “heart fit to break”, suggesting his unpleasant mood, supported by “the rain” and “sullen wind” outside.  This opening seems less subtle than that of ‘My Last Duchess’, as Browning uses atmospheric imagery to open the poem instead of direct conversation.  However the description of weather, opening ‘Porphyria’s Lover’, engages the interest of the audience, as they are instantly able to open their minds to this scene.  Interest is also sustained by the introduction of a narrator and his portrayal of “Porphyria gliding in”; a contrast to his “heart fit to break”, showing the comparison of the lover’s moodiness and Porphyria’s gentleness.  His mood seems perhaps to alter with her entrance, as Porphyria is portrayed to “shut the cold out and the storm”.  This could metaphorically suggest that this woman was able to end his unpleasant mood; again leading the reader to marvel at the power that one person (Porphyria) can demonstrate in such a short space of time.  After Porphyria’s entrance, both the speaker and the reader are able to anticipate her every move, as she,

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“Withdrew the dripping cloak and shawl, / And laid her soiled gloves by, untied / Her hair and let the damp hair fall”.  

Each comer in the phrasing indicates a pause so the audience is able to absorb each piece of information.  The new line after untied also indicates a pause so we can imagine the lover watching Porphyria with bated breath.  The description of her actions concludes with,

“And, at last, she sat down by my side”,

suggesting that after what seemed to the lover like an eternity of anticipation being built up, she finally “sat down ...

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