How does Robert Browning use the dramatic monologue to portray madness in his poems

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How does Robert Browning use the dramatic monologue to portray madness in his poems “My Last Duchess” and “Porphyria’s Lover”?

A dramatic monologue is when a character in a piece of writing speaks their thoughts and feelings out loud. It is used because it gives an insight into the persons mind. Browning chose this form for the two poems because it makes the poem feel more realistic and you know everything the character is feeling it also subconsciously makes the reader feel certain emotions towards particular characters.

The poems reflect the Victorian mind by talking about madness. During the Victorian era madness was considered taboo- respectable people did not speak of it whether in public or in private, but thought about them all the same. Victorians had to repress sexual emotions as it was considered to be highly disrespectful to yourself.

Victorians loved to read and as it was wrong for them to talk about madness, sex and violence, they would read about it instead, this was a way of liberating the repressed emotions. Victorians were allowed to read about the subjects because it is not them who is in the wrong it is the characters in the story. The same applies to writing about taboo subjects – if you made out that it is somebody else doing it then it is acceptable.  Browning’s readers would have been most interested in the violence and madness in these poems, as there is no reference to sex in them. I think this is why Browning chose to write about this subject; because the poems gave the readers to feel the feeling they had repressed. In both of the poems there are shows of madness and violence.

The poem “My Last Duchess” was based on a factual couple who lived in the town of Ferrara in Italy in the 15th century. It is the Duke and Duchess of Ferrara, at the time, who are described in the poem. The Duchess is very friendly with everyone, whether they are equal or below her status, the Duke eventually gets too jealous and suspicious of the Duchess, and has her murdered. The Duke then tells an emissary of the Count, who’s daughter he would like as his next wife.

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In the poem features of speech are used to betray the Duke’s state of mind.

“ A heart -- how shall I say?-- too soon made glad,”

“Somehow-- I know not how-- as if she ranked…”

The hyphens show the Duke’s pauses in his speech, this indicates that the Duke is nervous. Other poetic techniques such as rhyming couplets are used.

“That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall,

Looking as if she were alive. I call

That piece a wonder, now: Fra Pandolf’s hands

Worked busily a day, and there she stands.”

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