E335 Robert Browning Questions


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Assigned: Robert Browning. "Porphyria's Lover" (1252-53); "My Last Duchess" (1255-56); "The Bishop Orders His Tomb" (1259-62); "Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came" (1266-71), "Caliban upon Setebos" (1296-1303).

"Porphyria's Lover" (1252-53)

1. What was the relationship between the speaker and Porphyria? Why did he strangle her, and just at the point indicated by his explanation? Getting at the heart of this question calls for reflection on the speaker's understanding of passion.

2. The Victorians were as fascinated as we are with the kind of aberrant thought processes (we would call it criminal psychopathy) Browning describes in this and many other such poems. Why do you suppose we find psychopaths like Porphyria's lover so interesting? And when Browning chooses to take on such subjects, what kind of poetry (or social function for poetry) does he implicitly reject?

"My Last Duchess" (1255-56)

3. Explain the poem's action -- where are the speaker and his guest? Why is the guest present? What has the Duke done? What is he planning to do?

4. The Duke spends most of his energy talking about the late Duchess and her image. What effect does the painting have (or not have) on him as he views it? In what sense is the Duke's "art criticism" a kind of revenge against the Duchess?

"The Bishop Orders His Tomb at Saint Praxed's" (1259-62)

5. Describe the progression of the Bishop's dying requests -- how well does he understand his situation?

6. Ruskin, as indicated in the Norton note, mentions several "late Renaissance" qualities brought out by Browning's poem: find some instances of them.

7. Characterize the Bishop's religious faith -- how seriously do you take his quotations from the Bible at several points in the poem?

8. What sorts of things seem to have animated the Bishop's life, and how does he imagine the afterlife?

"Caliban upon Setebos" (1296-1303)

9. How did Setebos create the world in which Caliban lives, and how does he deal with his creatures? Has Setebos, according to Caliban, worked out his relationship to his creatures?

10. What qualities does Caliban possess in common with the God (Setebos) who is the subject of his speculations? In what ways does Caliban differ from Setebos?

11. What is "the Quiet"? What power does it have, according to Caliban, over Setebos?

12. At what resolution or understanding, if any, does Caliban finally arrive concerning his relation to Setebos?

"Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came" (1266-71)

13. Consider the Norton editors' note on the interpretive history of "Childe Roland." How do you personally respond to the poem's chivalric and possibly allegorical overtones, and in particular to Roland's concluding determination, "Dauntless the slug-horn to my lips I set, and blew"? What is the quest or "path" that Roland has been following, and what attitude does he adopt to the sights, sounds, and events he describes?

Edition: Abrams, M. H. et al, eds. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. 8th ed. Vol. E. New York: Norton, 2006. ISBN Package 2 (Vols. DEF) 0-393-92834-9.