Is it possible to sympathise in any way with the villains in the two dramatic monologues by Browning that you have read?

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Amelia Horgan Poetry English Coursework

Is it possible to sympathise in any way with the villains in the two dramatic monologues by Browning that you have read?

        In both “Porphyria’s Lover” and “My Last Duchess” Browning criticises the position of women in Victorian society by showing the relationship between men and women through two dramatic monologues.  In both of the poems the men appear to be the villains, in “Porphyria’s Lover” Porphyria is killed by the man who she has run through the rain to seen. In “My Last Duchess” although it is unclear if the Duke had the Duchess killed or just sent to a convent, there is quite clearly something going on with the Duke saying “I gave commands/Then all smiles stopped together”. The Duke and Porphyria’s certainly do not appear to be anything but villains but perhaps there is a little more to both characters.

Although the characters may not be as simple as being just villains, it is very hard to feel much sympathy for them. They are both jealous and controlling, especially the Duke who even has to have control of the picture of the Duchess – “None puts by/ the curtain I have drawn for, but I”.  Porphyria’s Lover is even more jealous and kills Porphyria so that she could belong only to him “That moment she was mine, mine”, with the repetition of mine emphasising the jealousy and selfishness of the character.  The Duke and Porphyria’s lover reduce women to objects with the Duke treating the Duchess very much as one of his expensive treasures and with Porphyria’s love saying how Porphyria felt after he had murdered her – “The smiling rosy little head/so glad it has its utmost will”.  Neither has any understanding of the women in the poems, the Duke’s selfishness is especially obvious in his comment “But who passed without the same smile” which shows how jealous he was when ‘his’ Duchess even dared to smile at someone else. They both are very much in control over the women in the poems, with even god like associations; the Duke has a statue of Neptune “Taming a sea horse” which shows how the Duke feels natural things should be ‘tamed’, perhaps how he felt about his wife who appears to be very ‘natural’ with imagery such as “bough of cherries” “orchard” and “white mule” associated with her. Porphyria’s lover convinces himself that his murder of Porphyria was fine since “God has not said a word” which seems a frighteningly light hearted take on the murder of the women who mattered so much to him. Porphyria’s love is certainly the more frightening of the characters, this is partly because of the metre used, iambic tetrameter, which gives the monologue an almost sing-song effect, and seems strangely calm considering it, tells the story of a murder. Porphyria’s lover is more passive and wretched than the Duke adding to the sinister effect of the poem, this is shown in “she put my arm about her waist” and the pathetic fallacy at the beginning of the poem, for example “the sullen wind” and this wretched, depressed nature makes Porphyria’s lover seem more selfish and villainous. The Duke is not as obviously villainous as Porphyria’s lover, he appears to be more subtle, or least tries to be more subtle about the disposal of his wife, this is shown is his evasiveness which is made clear in his convoluted syntax, for example                                                                                                                                                                                                                  “I said

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Although the Duke seems less frightening than Porphyria’s lover he still comes across as controlling, possessive (“My  last Duchess”) and selfish, and almost impossible to ...

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