Porphyria’s Lover : Browning’s Portrait of a Madman Essay

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Porphyria’s Lover : Browning’s Portrait of a Madman

Robert Browning’s "Porphyria’s Lover" contains the methodical ramblings of a lunatic; it is a madman’s monologue that reveals the dark side of human nature. Power and passion coalesce to form the strangulation of the beautiful and innocent Porphyria, and at the same time strangle the reader’s ability to comprehend what is occurring and why it is occurring. The murder’s monologue depicts a heinous crime. The simple fact that the monologue is issued from the murderer himself creates a sense of distrust. There is no doubt that the man is disturbed, but the level of his lunacy remains uncertain. In one short poem, Browning provides an intense glimpse into the mind of a homicidal maniac,
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Harold states that the masculine form of her name is Porphyry, a representative in the school of Neoplatonism (20). He concludes that, "Porphyria’s lover fanatically acts in accordance with a Neoplatonic view of the world which carries him . . . into madness." This Neoplatonic thought allows him to believe he has the ability to free himself from physical limitations "through the dichotomy of his conscious self in the first half of the poem and through his physical behavior in the latter part" (21). Harold suggests the poem’s title is directly correlated to the actions and thoughts of Porphyria’ s lover.

Browning’s original title for the poem, "Madhouse Cells" (Harold 20), does not conjure up the multiplicity of meanings that "Porphyria’s Lover" is capable of. This fact, in itself, is further evidence that the poem is testing the minds of the readers as well as illustrating the insanity of the narrator. Browning’s change in the title is superb because it compounds the complexity of interpreting the poem. "Madhouse Cells" is too direct, it instantly calls attention to the (in)sanity of the narrator.
The mood of the poem is established in the opening lines. The "rain set early in tonight," and a "sullen wind was soon awake" (1-2). A storm is setting in. This implies a calm before Porphyria has even entered, but also foreshadows a storm of emotions and actions to follow. Harold states, "a storm setting . . . contrasts the mental state of
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