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The Laboratory

  • Date Submitted: 01/26/2011 10:06 AM
  • Flesch-Kincaid Score: 58.6 
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Explore how Robert Browning explores the idea of character in his poem ‘The Laboratory.’   In your answer you should include one other poem in the pre-1914 cluster and one by Simon Armitage and one by Carol Anne Duffy.

Robert Browning is known for his dramatic monologues that produce characters of an unpleasant or unconventional nature.   In The Laboratory, we are presented with a woman who has been thwarted by her lover and is planning to poison her rival.   It is written from her point of view and we are given a vivid description of the poisons and the chemicals that surround her in the apothecary she is visiting, ‘such gold oozings come!’, is a sensual description displaying the passionate and sensual nature of the woman’s disposition and of the hateful behaviour she is about to engage in.

The woman’s disturbed nature can be compared to Browning’s other poem, My Last Duchess.   In this dramatic monologue, we again are party to a disturbed mind who recounts with an unabashed arrogance the murder and power games he played with his wife.   Whilst showing his visitor his works of art, of which he includes his wife, he recounts how his paranoid jealousy drove him to, ‘gave commands’, to ensure, ‘all smiles stopped together’.

These two Victorian poems can be in turn compared to the modern poems by Duffy and Armitage.   In Duffy’s Education for Leisure, we see another dramatic monologue (this time divided up into stanzas) where we see a disturbed and thwarted mind plan a murder, again blaming others for his own shortcomings.   This is similar to The Laboratory because we see the planning but not the execution and we are left with the chilling line at the end when Duffy says, ‘I touch your arm’.   This second person statement is directed straight at the reader as we are made to feel as the intended victim.

Finally, Armitage’s Hitcher recounts the brutal murder committed to an innocent man.   Much like My Last Duchess, we have an insight into a killing as he, ‘Let him...


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