‘My Last Duchess’ and ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ are poems written by Robert Browning in the form of a dramatic monologue. They both contain themes of love, jealousy, contempt and obsession.
In the beginning of ‘My Last Duchess’ the Duke is speaking about his wife’s portrait to an envoy. In ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ the Lover is speaking directly to the reader, conveying his thoughts, personifying the weather perhaps emphasizing his unhappiness (‘the sullen wind…soon awake’) seeing as he had a ‘heart fit to break’. Both the Duke and the Lover are watching the women whilst they speak. The Duke hints at her having affairs; ‘Frï¿½ Pandolf’s hands worked busily’, ‘busily’ implies that he did more than just paint her picture.
The Lover in ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ shows a similarity, as he too was suspicious of her love, believing she would not give herself fully to him as she was ‘from pride and vainer ties’, from a higher rank. Both Porphyria and the duchess are of high ranking. The difference here is that the Duke believed his wife did not give herself fully to him, but was as equally impressed with everyone and everything, and the Duke was too proud to give her the same attention. In ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ the Lover believed Porphyria was too proud to give him her undivided attention. The Duke felt that the duchess treated every trivial object with the same affection she had for him, ‘too easily impressed, she liked whate’er she looked on’.
Although both the Duke and the Lover felt unloved in the beginning neither made any attempt to convey this to their lovers. The Lover pretended to be asleep when Porphyria entered the home (‘When no voice replied’), where she began lighting the room with ease, a contrast between the cold weather outside and the warmth inside (‘She shut the cold out and the storm…and made the cheerless grate blaze up’). The Duke did not wish to ‘lower’ himself to her level by expressing his thoughts about her attitude (‘who’d stoop to blame This sort of trifling?’… ‘I chuse never to stoop’). Both men waited for the women to show their love and loyalty first (‘When no voice replied…put my arm about her waist…made her smooth white shoulder bare’).
Porphyria was seductive, she ‘put [his] arm around her waist’, made her shoulder ‘bare’ and was of a higher ranking compared to her Lover whist the duchess was down to Earth, appreciative of everything and according to the Duke, was of a lower ranking, as she was a woman and he believed she ‘lowered’ herself. Both women felt comfortable with their lovers’, they felt secure as their lovers’ showed no indication of their discontempt for their behavior. The Lover felt as if Porphyria was a coward, the repetition of her yellow hair emphasizes this (yellow is portrayed as cowardice), not wanting to give herself fully to him, ‘she Too weak…’. The Duke believed the Duchess was too simple for him, unlike the Lover, the Duchess was not important to him. He has a need to control things and people, like his wife. This is revealed through the following lines
‘Oh, sir, she smiled, no doubt,
Whene’er I passed her; but who passed without
Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands;
Then all smiles stopped together’
The Duke could not accept her affability, he could not control it, so he ‘gave commands’ and ended it.
The Lover, too, has an urge to control and possess his lover. He wants to keep Porphyria forever, preserving her, controlling her (‘That moment she was mine, mine, fair’). The main difference here is that the Duke wants to execute his wife as he cannot control her, and the Lover murders Porphyria so he can keep her forever as he cannot control her either.
The Duke believes love is shown through actions and respect. He conveys this message through his bitter tone throughout most of the monologue whist he criticizes her behavior. The Lover believes love cannot last as ‘passion sometimes would prevail’. This is shown through his thoughts, spoken throughout the poem.
The Lover kills Porphyria to keep her forever and murders her himself. It is ironic as she is no longer alive, and he loves her so much, he can murder her using his own two hands (‘I wound…three times her little throat around’) whereas the Duke who is irritated by his wife, gets someone to murder her instead of him. Both the Duke and the Lover kill for themselves and seem to love them more when they are dead. The Duke is admiring the portrait, he calls ‘that piece a wonder now’. The Lover is happily sitting next to the deceased Porphyria propping her ‘smiling little rosy head’ upon his shoulder.
Both see the women as ‘alive’, and manage to get away with the murder.
I believe the men are justifying their actions. The Duke is explaining to the convoy why he had to murder the Duchess, hinting at her unfaithfulness, and her disrespect. ‘Am quite sure she felt no pain’, ‘Laugh’d the blue eyes without a stain’, ‘her cheek once more Blush’d … beneath my burning kiss’, in these lines, the Lover seems to try to justify his actions by reassuring himself that Porphyria did not feel any pain, and that she is happier now, as her ‘darling one wish’ was granted.
The Duke was bitter and suspicious, apprehensive of the painter and his wife, and of the way she ‘thanked men’. His voice showed his need to control his wife, to stop her undesirable behavior. At the end of the monologue, the Duke is polite and persuasive, claiming that he likes the count, his ‘known munificence’ and his daughter, who he is interested in not only for the ‘dowry’. He is arrogant, like the Lover, towards the few final lines, and refers to the counts daughter as his ‘object’, while admiring a sculpture created for him; showing the pompous aspect of his character.
In the beginning of the poem, the Lovers’ tone is cold, hostile and annoyed portrayed through words like ‘sullen’, ‘spite’ and ‘vex’. When Porphyria appears, his attitude becomes obsessive and appreciative, as he watches her every movement as she ‘glides’ around the house, observing her ‘yellow hair’. There is still a bitter quality to his words as he contemplates her love for him (‘Too weak, for all her heart’s endeavor To set its struggling passion free’). When the Lover realized Porphyria did genuinely love him his tone is ecstatic and rapturous.
‘Porphyria worshipp’d me; surprise
Made my heart swell…
While I debated what to do.
That moment she was mine, mine fair,’
The line exposes his arrogance after he has murdered his Lover, ‘And yet God has not said a word’.