How does Browning present the relationship between men and women in his two poems?

Essay by granger_witteringHigh School, 11th gradeB+, January 2009

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Browning presents the relationship between men and women in the two poems in a number of ways. Such as mans power over women, women as possessions/belongings/treated like children, women in their traditional role, the death of the women, men as inhuman/ uncaring and how the male character feels about the death of his wife/lover. All of these points are shown and used by Robert Browning in the two poems, Porphiria’s Lover and My Last Duchess.

In the poem Porphiria’s Lover presents the relationship between men and women as showing the men being in control. From lines thirty one to thirty three Browning wrote “Be sure I looked up at her eyes happy and proud; at least I knew Porphyria worshipped me;…” The word worshipped means to treat somebody or something as divine and show respect by engaging in acts of prayer and devotion, also meaning great excessive love, admiration, and respect felt for somebody or something.

So in that line Browning shows us that the male is in control by writing the fact that Porphyria worships the man, as Porphyria gives herself to the man during her acts of seduction. (“Murmuring how she loved me”). The murmuring is a quite sexy thing to do, so this justifies the fact that she is seducing him.

In the poem My Last Duchess, Browning presents the relationship between the men and women as showing the men being in control. From lines thirty nine to forty and on line forty three. Browning writes “…If she let her be lessoned so” , and a few lines after “Never to stoop”. This means, that if the Duchess allowed the Duke to teach her – everything will be ok. The other means that he shall never compromise. In the first quote, this is traditionally saying that men are cleverer than women. As during those times, men had a lot more power and rights than the women so education was more available to the men than the women. The second quote meaning that he would never compromise shows the power that he has over his wife. The way that Robert Browning crafts his verse always leaves the reader trying to find its purpose. Almost everything he writes about the relationship between men and women leaves the reader thinking why? Why the man is always the dominant role, why the man is always the one doing something about it? These questions are what make the poem so appealing to the audience. This is why Browning presents the relationship between men and women like he does in both poems.

In the poem Porphiria’s Lover, Browning presents the women as possessions, belongings and even being treated like children. In line thirty six, Browning writes “That moment she was mine, mine fair,” The “she was mine” tells us that he is saying that Porphyria belongs to him and the repetition of mine fair shows the reader that he is really protective over her and that he doesn’t want anyone else to have her. “Fair” tells the reader that he won Porphyria fairly and that there would be no justified reason why she should not be his. The use of the repetition of words is very useful to make the phrase more appealing as it stands out to the reader, alerting him that they need to pay attention to the words. This reveals o us the narrators obsessive personality.

In the poem My Last Duchess, Browning also presents the woman as possessions, belongings and being treated like women. On lines twenty three Browning wrote “Too soon made glad.” Meaning that she is too easily pleased, also the reader understands that his judgement is really obvious and that it is the only one that counts. Like a child. As a child commonly finds things interesting especially when things new to them. Also on lines thirty two and thirty three Browning wrote “Somehow – I know not how as if she ranked my gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name” This means that she is showing no respect even though he is a Duke. Also just like a child, as a child does not show respect to the elders as they have not yet matured. To the reader it is like the “woman” is a silly little girl who needs to be kept under control by the male in this poem. “If she let herself be lessoned” also gives the reader the impression that she never listens to him as it says “If she let”. This shows the amount of control that the male role is trying to put on the female.

In the poem Porphyria’s Lover, Browning presents the women in their traditional role. On line 8 Browning writes “And kneeled and made the cheerless grate blaze up, and all the cottage warm;” This is when Porhyria first enters the cottage and the first thing she does it light the fire. In more recent times the male character would have already ensured that the house was warm and welcoming for his wife. (Also, now days we would not be lighting the fire, but lighting the central heating). When Porphyria lights the fire before doing anything tells the reader of the traditions of the time as women doing all the housework was the norm during the period that the poem was written.

In the poem My Last Duchess, Browning presents the women in their traditional role. On line 43 Browning writes “Never to stoop”. Meaning that he will never compromise. In modern times the male learns always to compromise in a relationship when he has a different view on a subject. This shows the female in the poem is also being treated in their traditional role. Browning may show this in his poems to make the writing more interesting and appealing to the reader.

In the poem Porphyria’s Lover, Browning shows the death of the women secretively, like it is slowly unravelling during the poem. On line 35 of the poem it says “While I debated what to do” Here it shows that he is unsure of killing his lover and maybe has other feelings for her that cause controversy. From line one to four Browning writes “The rain set early in tonight, the sullen wind was soon awake, it tore the elm-tops down for spite, and did its worst to vex the lake.” At the start of the poem this sets the mood straight away that everything is not right. The reader then knows that something is about to occur.

In the poem My Last Duchess, Browning shows the death of the women secretly as well. On the first two lines Browning wrote “That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall, looking as if she were alive.” Here this could be that the painting is so realistic that it looks as if the Duchess were alive or that it is a painting of the deceased Duchess. This sets the reader thinking at the start of the poem and makes the reader want to read on. Also on line forty five Browning writes “I gave commands;” Here the reader can guess what he has just done. (Meaning that he has given commands to kill his Duchess.) But until you read on, the reader cannot fully identify what is going on. This makes the poem more appealing to the reader as there are lots of cliff hangers in the poem.

In conclusion, I think that in both poems, Browning based his writing on what appealed to the audience the most. As there are so many techniques used in the two poems that make me want to read on. Also he bases the stories of the poems on things that does affect us and things that we do have interest in. The use of the historical background makes readers think of opinions and the use of the unwinding death of the female roles makes the reader want to read and read on. This is probably the reason why Browning’s poems are famous as they are very appealing to the reader.

Bibliography:poem Porphiria’s Lover written by Browning