The Laboratory Robert Browning Structure Analysis Essay

A performance of Robert Browning's dramatic monologue, 'The Laboratory', set in a contemporary nightclub. The scorned lover arrives at the bar to persuade the barman to spike the drink of her rival, who we see in the background with her boyfriend. The speaker fantasises about poisoning all her rivals. The drink makes the victim sick, leaving the way clear for the speaker to reclaim her boyfriend. The barman is disappointed to receive only money as his reward for helping her.
This clip is from:
The Power of Poetry
First broadcast:
17 March 2010

This could be for practical criticism or as an example of a dramatic monologue for comparison with e.g. ‘My Last Duchess’ or other versions of ‘The Laboratory’. Students could draw comparisons between the past and present, with drama as an example of how poetry may be performed. What other ways can they think of when exploring relationships, jealousy and rivalry within poetry?

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Compare two Robert Browning poems - The Laboratory and My last Duchess.

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Compare two Robert Browning poems - The Laboratory and My last Duchess.

The two Robert Browning poems I have chosen are 'The Laboratory' and
'My last Duchess'. My initial reaction on reading The laboratory was
one of horror and fascination as it tells a tale of a woman scorned. I
found it horrifying that a human being could plan in such a cold and
calculating way, but I also found this fascinating.

'Not that I bid you spare her the pain;

Let death be felt and the proof remain:'

My feelings on reading My Last Duchess was pity for the Duke who was
narrating the poem as it was clear that his jealousy and insecurity
had ruined their relationship.`

'she smiled, no doubt,
Whene'er I passed her; but who passed without
Much the same smile?'

Both poems have contemporary relevance, as people today are still
intrigued by murder, mystery and tales of unrequited love. It is very
obvious that the poems were wrote in the 19th century though, as some
of the language is no longer in use in today's society eg durst/dared
and forsooth/indeed. There are other indications that the poetry was
written in the 19th century by the references made to the use of a fan
and also the way the poison was prepared using pestle and mortar.

'Grind away moisten and mash up thy paste,

Pound at thy powder-I am not in haste.'

The topic of the poem in My Last Duchess is infact a painting, had it
been written in the 21st century it would have been far more likely to
have been a photograph.

The theme of The Laboratory is one of the eternal love triangle.
Whereas the theme in my last duchess would seem to be about an
obsessive yet insecure lover. The similarity would be the extreme
jealousy that is displayed by both narratives. The difference is that
the narrator in My Last Duchess is so jealous and insecure that he

'gave commands;

Then all smiles stopped together.'

implying that he sent away or disposed of his loved one in some way.
In The Laboratory, the focus of jealousy is directed at the other

'He is with her, and they know that I know'

The character of the narrator in The Laboratory displays an intensity
of emotion through her obvious jealousy of the other woman, this
intensity of jealousy could only be achieved if she also had
experienced the same level of love. Similarly, the character of the
narrator in My Last Duchess also displays obvious jealousy although it
is without such an intensity of emotion. It is my opinion that the

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character in the laboratory is the most memorable character.

The opening lines of My Last Duchess,

'That's my last Duchess painted on the wall,
Looking as if she were alive. I call
That piece a wonder'

Immediately introduces the reader to the subject of the poem by the
narrative, likewise, in the first verse of the laboratory, the
intention of the narrative to kill the other woman is also introduced.

'Which is the poison to poison her, prithee?'

Both poems are dramatic monologues, the tone of The Laboratory is one
of anger and the mood is black, it creates a tense atmosphere which
leads the reader to rush from one verse to the next to see how the
story within the poem develops. In contrast, My Last Duchess is
written in a less direct way and seems less hurried the narrative's
jealousy is not immediately apparent but becomes more obvious as the
poem progresses.

The verse style of the laboratory is a simple four line verses,
however the format of My Last Duchess is completely different being
written in just one, long verse.

In conclusion, after having studied both poems, it is the style and
content of the laboratory which has made the most impact on me. The
directness of the narrative regarding her intent and the subject
matter I found as I said earlier both horrific yet fascinating. The
image of a 19th century alchemist was easily conjured up and I almost
felt like I was there. My Last Duchess, although interesting did not
have the same impact on me this is mainly due to the style of the poem
which is a more meandering tale and has a less direct approach.


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