Robert Browning: Poems

The Insanity of Blindness: The Narrators in Browning's "Porphyria's Lover" and "Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister"

With "Porphyria's Lover" and "Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister," Browning provides two dramatic monologues of madmen in which the narrator's sheer ignorance of his own insanity is a basic premise integral to the work. Throughout both these poems, the narrator is consistently unaware of the hypocrisy, absurdity, misunderstanding of others, and cruelty that his tirade belies, while the reader is constantly barraged with these realities. As the narrator in each work reveals more and more of his thoughts, his character reaches unrealistic and absurd levels of insanity for the reader to behold. By their mere inability to declare, recognize, or even behold the painful lunacy of their own actions and thoughts, Browning's flawed madmen narrators condemn themselves.

In "Porphyria's Lover", the deliberate violence of the narrator upstages Porphyria's willingness to commit an illicit act by visiting him that night. Up to the climax of Porphyria's murder, the narration indicates a romantically sullen yet otherwise well-adjusted narrator. On line 5, he "listened [to the wind] with heart fit to break." Following Porphyria's arrival, he remains despondent, yet eventually...

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