Porphyria's Lover

Note by hausofkezza, updated more than 1 year ago
Created by hausofkezza over 7 years ago


Notes for writing critical essays on "Porphyria's Lover" by Robert Browning.

Resource summary

Page 1

Above the main title we have a super title of "madhouse cell". This indicates to the reader the true setting of the play is not the cottage the speaker claims he is in but in fact an asylum. This tells us that the speaker is of questionable sanity and therefore is an unreliable narrator. The reader must then question the validity of everything the speaker says.

In the opening of the poem, the speaker describes the weather. His word choice in this description is indicative of his mood and personality. "sullen wind", "vex the lake" and "tore the elm tops" are all phrases used to describe the weather. "sullen" suggests sadness, telling us that it's not just the weather that is gloomy but also the speaker. "vex" suggests anger, indicating the speaker is frustrated at something ro someone, possibly even at Porphyria. "tore" suggest harsh, rushed and jagged movements which tells us the speaker may move or act in a volatile or dangerous manner, as seen latter in the poem.

While many interpret the speaker as a male, some believe the speaker is actually female. One reason for this is the speakers obsession with hair. Not only is it repeated throughout the poem as a form of foreshadowing but it is also used as the murder weapon. As hair is a stereotypically feminine attribute, the speakers obsession may indicate that they themselves are female. The speaker also uses femeine language, often describing Porhyria as floral. For example "smiling rosy little head" and "shut bud that holds a bee". This almost girly language is yet another indicator of a female speaker. It is plausible that the speaker is female. This would mean that the relationship with Porphyria is a secret lesbian love affair. The fact that it is two women in the relationship would give a reason for the secrecy that seems to surround their relationship as during the conservative victorian era this would have been frowned upon. It also gives a possible motive for the nurder. Maybe the speaker was in danger of being outed by Porphyria as Porphyria was "Too weak, for all her heart's endeavour" and could not keep their relationship secret so the speaker may have killed her to try and save her pride and reputation. 

Super Title

Pathetic Fallacy

Male or female?

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