Dramatic Monologue: A look into characterization in Porphyria’s Lover


Porphyria and her lover

Robert Browning most well-known style is the dramatic monologue. So well-known that he has been called the father of the dramatic monologue. According to Philip Hobshaum of the Hudson review there are three main aspects to the dramatic monologue. One, it must be clear that the narrator of the poem is not the author. Two, through the actions and thoughts of the character their character should be displayed. Thirdly, the poem should evoke the feeling of drama. It is no question that Browning’s poem “Porphyria’s Lover” exemplifies all three of these requirements. It is obvious that the narrator in the poem is not Browning. It is also obvious that the poem is dramatic. Lastly, the poem explores the character of the narrator through his actions and inaction. Because it is clear that the narrator is not the author, and the poem is dramatic, this essay shall focus on the way the character of the narrator is explored in the poem. The character of the narrator will be explored in three main parts: the opening, the turn, and the end.
In the opening of the poem, the narrator shows his jealousy over the fact that Porphyria is not his only. The beginning starts with a women who comes in from the rain. She starts a fire, takes off her gloves and sits down by the narrator. Already the character of the narrator starts to emerge. When Porphyria first enters the narrator says “I listened with heart fit to break” (Damrosch, 1308). This shows the sadness the man feels at her coming to see him late in the night in the rain knowing that their meet up will only last very shortly. Then Porphyria lays his head down on her chest and talks to him, however he does not reply. This inaction shows the depths of his sorrows almost like he is wallowing in it. We are given the reason he is so sad in lines twenty two through twenty seven. “Too weak, for all her heart’s endeavor, To set its struggling passion free From pride, and vainer ties dissever, And give herself to me forever. But passion sometimes would prevail, Nor could to-night’s gay feast restrain” (Damrosch, 1308). This implies that Porphyria is of a higher class than the man. She does not want to be with him officially because of her pride. She only goes and sees him when her passion is too great to contain. (Stagg) The fact that she will not be with him angers and saddens him. This could be seen as the reason for his attitude earlier in the poem. It is after his lament on her reasons to see him that the turn begins.
In the next section of the poem the turn occurs. The narrator sees that Porphyria really does love him. He goes as far as to say that she worships him. “Happy and proud; at last I knew Porphyria worshipped me”. (Damrosch, 1308) With this knowledge he debates on how to fix his problem. His problem being that she will not pursue a serious relationship with him. It is in the next moment when he thinks about how she is his right now “That moment she was mine, mine fair, Perfectly pure and good.” (Damrosch, 1308). He known that this moment cannot last forever unless he does something. To keep her forever he decides to kill her by wrapping her hair around her neck and strangling her. He can now keep this moment the same forever. Next the narrator expresses a moment of rationalization. He states twice that she did not experience any pain. No pain felt she; I am quite sure she felt no pain.” (Damrosch, 1308) This entire section of the poem shows the power of the man’s passion in one second. The narrator felt so jealous that Porphyria would not be his and wanted her to stay his for more than a night that he takes away the agency she had in the beginning of the poem completely away from her.
The last section of the poem has the narrator and Porphyria completely switch in terms of agency. The narrator opens Porphyria’s dead eyes and unwraps the hair from around her neck. He then kisses her and sets her head on his chest mirroring the image from the beginning of the poem. Now the narrator, completely changing from the beginning of the poem is happy. “That all it scorned at once is fled, And I, its love, am gained instead.” (Damrosch, 1309) He then exclaims “Her darling one wish would be heard”. This gives the impression that he granted her wish of being with him forever even if that meant killing her. Because she worshiped him, he had the right to take her life not only to make her happy, but to make him happy as well. The narrator then sits with the body of Porphyria the rest of the night. The last line of the poem tells of how he feels after killing her. “And yet God has not said a word!” (Damrosch, 1309) He feels justified in killing her. Mirroring the language used when he said Porphyria worshiped him, he states that because God has not done anything that means that he has done nothing wrong.
In conclusion, the dramatic monologue, brought to a “higher level” by Robert Browning is an excellent way to get into the minds of the characters the author created. (Hobsbaum) The narrator of Porphyria’s lover is a jealous man who, in a fit of passion, killed his love. He feels little to no regret for his actions. He tries to rationalize his actions by implying that Porphyria wanted him to do what he wants with her, and that since God has not struck him dead he has done nothing wrong. Porphyria’s Lover is an excellent example of a dramatic monologue. It has a distinct disconnect from the narrator and the author. It has a very dramatic set up with a quick turn that leaves the reader with many questions and not many answers. Lastly and most importantly, it delves deep into the mind of the jealous lover.
Works Sited:
Damrosch, David, ed. The Longman Anthology of British Literature. Second Edition ed. Vol. 2B. New York: Addison-Wesley Educational, 2003. 1308-1309. Print.
Hobsbaum, Philip. “The Rise of the Dramatic Monologue”. The Hudson Review 28.2 (1975): 227–245. <http://0-www.jstor.org.library.uark.edu/stable/3850179>.
Stagg, Louis Charles. “The Dramatic Monologue”. Interpretations 2.1 (1969): 49–55. <http://0-www.jstor.org.library.uark.edu/stable/23239785>.
“Porphyria’s Lover.” Deviant Art. 2006. Web. 6 Dec. 2015. <http://darkcutie88.deviantart.com/art/Porphyria-s-Lover-38184847>.