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Robert Browning, Dramatic Lyrics

1842

Browning, Dramatic Lyrics

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  • Intro

    Dramatic Lyrics, published in 1842 when Robert Browning was just 30 years old, was a remarkable early achievement. ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ and ‘My Last Duchess’ are two of its most striking poems, and bear a number of similarities. Both are examples of the dramatic monologue, a form pioneered by Browning, in which characters reveal their own personalities and shortcomings as they tell their stories. In addition, both are about suspicious deaths. The narrator of ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ strangles the woman he loves with her own hair in an apparent attempt to preserve a moment in which their relationship is at its most perfect. ‘My Last Duchess’ is narrated by the vain and materialistic Duke of Ferrara, who grows jealous at his young wife’s apparent lack of regard for the riches he bestows on her. The consequences of his anger are chilling:

    'This grew; I gave commands;

    Then all smiles stopped together.'

     

    Both poems draw their energy from the interplay between what the speakers say, and what their words reveal about them. ‘The Pied Piper of Hamelin’, in contrast, was a late addition to Dramatic Lyrics, and is a much more straightforward example of narrative verse. It is a lively retelling of the famous 13th-century legend, drawing on the ballad tradition to tell the story of the strange figure in ‘a gypsy coat of red and yellow’ who disappears with the children of Hamelin after its mayor refuses to pay him for ridding the city of its rats.

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