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BROWNING SOME NOTES ON HIS NARRATIVE METHOD

These notes are intended to give you some ideas to think about as you revise Brownings poems for the Aspects of Narrative paper. They do not constitute answers to examination questions, nor do they cover every possible point to be made about Brownings narrative method. I hope they open up the poems to you and help you develop your own ideas.

CONTENTS
The Patriot ........................................................................................................................................................................... 2 My Last Duchess................................................................................................................................................................ 3 The Pied Piper of Hamelin ............................................................................................................................................ 5 Porphyrias Lover ............................................................................................................................................................. 7 Fra Lippo Lippi .................................................................................................................................................................. 9 The Bishop Orders his Tomb at Saint Praxeds church.................................................................................. 12

THE PATRIOT
The Story: an unnamed patriot is being led to the gallows and reflects on how his fortunes have changed since his triumphal entry into the city a year before. Voice: first-person intra-diegetic narrator; an unnamed patriot; focus of the voice is on personal experience Form: regular, five-line stanzas, largely in iambic metre. Rhyme-scheme runs ABABA Setting: a city (house-roofs and church-spires) but unnamed (we can assume it is European, and it conforms to the archetype of a medieval city in its old walls); no time information given at all. Within the poem, setting shifts from the roofs and spires of the first three stanzas to the Shambles Gate and scaffold of the final three. Structure: the narrative is organised retrospectively, looking back a year ago. The poem is divided into two parts, the first describing the triumphal arrival of the patriot, the second his rejection and execution.

Notes: The Patriot is distinctive in this collection of poems for a number of reasons. It is the most obviously poetic, following a strict formal pattern of five-line stanzas and employing poetic devices such as the alliteration of the church-spires flamed, such flags they had (note, too, the internal rhyme of flags and had, all of which contribute to the music, impressive quality of the scene.) Correspondingly, the voice is much less distinctive than in the other poems in the selection, with none of Fra Lippo Lippis turbulent energy or the Dukes malevolent cunning, but this fits in with the narratives archetypal quality: the images, events and characters remind the reader of many other narratives that follow this pattern, such as Coriolanus, Jesus entry in to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and even the Pied Piper.

Top Tip: when thinking about this poem, look at how Browning deliberately obscures conventional details of plot (such as why the crowd turn against the Patriot) in order to foreground his experience of suffering their displeasure.

MY LAST DUCHESS
The Story: the Duke of Ferrara is negotiating a marriage with an unnamed Count, and tells the story of his previous marriage to the Counts envoy, who has been sent to agree terms. Voice: the Duke of Ferrara, a confident, arrogant speaker whose first-person, intra-diegetic narrative comprises the whole of the poem. Note the boldness of the opening, but equally the ambiguity of the second line, a pattern which continues throughout the poem. Note the way in which Browning develops a narrative voice which is not in control of the story it tells: the fragmented syntax and outbursts of lines 31 and 32 suggest frustration with an inability to find a form of words to express what it was that so aggravated him about his last Duchess. Tellingly, for all the elegant phrasing of the early part of the poem, his disgust that she ranked / My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old-name / With anybodys gift, is expressed in crude, childish terms. He recovers his poise later, in the chillingly evasive passage about a just pretence for dowry, but not to sufficient extent to disguise the cruelly gloating quality of Then all smiles stopped together, which embodies both the brazen boastfulness and arch ambiguity of this narrative voice. When reading this poem, be acutely sensitive to irony while the Duke criticises the Duchess for smiling at gifts he scorns, such as the white mule or the dropping of the daylight in the West his own ostentatious materialism (expressed in his boastful references to famous artists) only makes him seem crass and superficial. Similarly, his pride at Neptune taming a sea-horse reveals not his exquisite taste, but his inability to see that a sea-horse is a tiny, weak creature. Browning often uses narrators who lack self-awareness, and enjoys the way that irony undermines their pretentions and arrogance.

Form: a dramatic monologue, written in rhyming couplets in iambic pentameter. The choice of this form allows Browning to imitate the rhythms of natural speech, but also, through the rhyme scheme, to create a sense of control (compare with Fra Lippo Lippi and Porphyria). Look at the extensive use of enjambment, which is important in creating the voice, where no opportunity is given to the listener to interrupt. Crucially, in a dramatic monologue the narrative is concerned more with the storyteller and how they seek to present events, rather than simply the events themselves.

Structure: the story of the Dukes previous marriage is framed by references to his conversation with the Counts envoy, such as the direct address at the beginning and the final ten lines of the poem. The effect of this is chilling, as the reader is invited to contemplate not only the horrible fate apparently suffered by the previous Duchess, but the possibility that the same fate may befall the next wife. Following the opening comments about the painting and how it was painted by Fr Pandolf (an invented artist, but one whose name echoes those of real geniuses such as Fr Angelico) the thought of a spot of joy causes him to digress (how unintentionally I leave to you to decide) onto the subject of his late wifes ingratitude. The story is told only allusively, never through direct narration of specific events, until the Dukes revelation (again, how carefully stage-managed do you think it is?) that he had his wife murdered. The poem concludes with an appeal for money (here Browning offers the reader

another hint of a possible story which the Duke is suppressing) in the form of a dowry from his next wifes father.

Setting: Browning sets this poem in Ferrara, a city in Northern Italy, and, although he does not make explicit reference to the period (as he does in Fra Lippo Lippi or The Bishop Orders his tomb), the artists names recall famous painters and sculptors of the Renaissance. Ferrara is a telling choice of setting, as it was the seat of the Este family, whose scions attracted more than their fair share of notoriety during a period when bumping off your enemies in dastardly fashion as de rigeur for any self-respecting Italian nobleman. Alfonso I dEste married the infamous Lucrezia Borgia (who, before marrying Alfonso had made a name for herself for numerous affairs, possibly even with her brother, as well as several murders), and his grandson, Alfonso II, had a wife who died in highly suspicious circumstances. Browning does not specifically identify his Duke with any of these historical characters, but the atmosphere of intrigue, infidelity and murder, provides a rich backdrop for the poem itself. It should also be noted that the Italian Renaissance is regarded as a period in which Western culture enjoyed a rebirth, when the Arts and Sciences flowered, and it seems we are being invited to reflect on the relationship between power, Art and morality.

The immediate setting of the poem is a grand palace (look up the Estense Castle for an idea of what it might look like), full of the most expensive works of art. Although a party of some sorts appears to be taking place at the time, the story is told in private, adding to the sense of claustrophobia and menace).

Top tip: look closely at how Browning uses irony in this poem the interest is clearly in how, despite the best efforts on the part of the speaker to impose one version of events, the story (and by implication the wife) resist him.

THE PIED PIPER OF HAMELIN


The Story: Hamelin, a city in Germany, is plagued by rats, a problem to which the townspeople and their leaders can find no solution, until a mysterious piper, dressed in motley clothes, appears and offers, for a fee, to rid the town of the rats. This he does, driving them into the River Weser, but the mayor refuses to pay his fee, so the Piper gets his revenge by piping all the towns children out and into a magical kingdom under a mountain.

The voice: the story is told in the third-person by a reflective, extra-diegetic narrator, who relates the story at some distance chronologically from the events that took place. The narrator is limited, not knowing where the Piper went after leaving Hamelin, for example, but this fits with the nursery-rhyme quality of the poem, following the convention of such narratives that the narrator does not pretend to omniscience. In contrast to Brownings monologues the interest here is not in how the narrator struggles to control the narrative they create and impose their meaning on it. Within the poem we hear several different voices, including those of the mayor, the piper himself, a rat stout as Julius Caesar and a child who, because he was lame, could not follow his playmates into the mountain. The poem concludes with a direct address to Willy and a moral that we should be wipers / Of scores out with all men

The form: the story is told in a rhyming, loose iambic tetrameter which Browning adapts freely for different effects, such as the shift use of trochees at line 110-117 to evoke the tumbling, headlong swarm of rats. Look closely at the linguistic effects Browning achieves in this poem there is plenty of word painting here, so be attentive to the use of onomatopoeia, alliteration, assonance and other such techniques read slowly and carefully when you are revising this poem. The poem itself is divided into sections, each of which relates one episode from the story, of varying length. Be aware in the end that this is, to all intents and purposes, a childrens story, so Brownings choice of form and language are directed to making the narrative fit that end: the rhythmic liveliness, rich variety of sounds and sometimes comically extreme rhymes (glutinous / mutinous, anyone?). If you choose to write about this poem, do look closely at language, as it is clearly Brownings chief interest in how he tells this story it becomes something to be enjoyed in and of itself alongside the events he narrates.

The structure: as noted above, the poem begins and ends with remarks by the narrator in his own time, some five hundred years after the events of described in the poem. The narrator describes the story as a ditty, but ends with the rather puzzling account of a tribe in Transylvania of alien people who believe they are descended from people who rose Out of some subterraneous prison. Within the poem it follows the events of the story in chronological order.

The Setting: Hamelin town is located in a very specific time and place, and is described as a pleasanter spot than one you ever spied, but one ought to be suspicious of letting ourselves be bound to this historical setting, as the foolish, gluttonous mayor of Hamelin may also be read as a symbol of bad governance at any time his sins are archetypal, unlike those of the Duke, whose crimes derive specifically from his personality.

Whats interesting, with this poem, though, is the world of exotic settings that Browning introduces into the narrative with the figure of the Piper, who speaks of visiting in Asia the Nizam, freeing the Cham in Tartary and being called to assist the Caliph in Bagdat. Through these settings, the Piper can be linked to the mythological figure of the Wandering Jew, a man who, because he had cursed Christ, was damned to wander the Earth until Judgement Day, but who had magical powers and could be called upon to assist those in need the sceptical reader might see in the Pipers vengeful response to the mayors refusal to pay him a hint of an antiSemitic stereotype.

Top Tip: when writing about this poem look really closely at language you can do much worse than to explore how Browning uses language to paint the pictures of the events and to mimic their action in sound and poetic form.

PORPHYRIAS LOVER
The Story: a young man waits in his cottage for his beloved, who has stolen away from her rich family to see him. When she arrives, he murders her so he can possess her forever.

The Voice: the story is told by the young lover himself, as a first-person, intra-diegetic narrator. In this poem, Browning creates the voice of a madman and much of the poems dramatic intensity arises from the contrast between how he portrays the events of the story and how we, as rational, moral readers, react to them. The speaker in this poem has none of the Dukes elegant refinement, but uses turbulent, violent language that evokes his deranged mental state. Tellingly, look at the change in how the speaker presents his own involvement in the story around line 32: up till this point he has been a passive observer (note the use of And / And And / in lines 17-20, where events are merely relayed to us, fitted only into the most basic narrative; look, too at how he speaks of himself in the third person in line 15); however, at the point when I knew / Porphyria worshipped me the voice becomes active, energetic and sexually charged. The fact that a murder can in such a dramatic way bring the speaker to life is central to the poems horrifying effect. Perhaps chillingly, there is a suggestion at times in the poem that the narrator is attempting the free indirect style of narrative, in which characters thoughts are articulated by the narrator without being directly demarcated as such. Look, for example at, she, took weak for all her hearts endeavour, or, later when he claims her smiling rosy little head is So glad it has its utmost will. Where we would expect this style in a novel, in this poem the effect is really very disturbing, not least because the womans voice (just as in My Last Duchess) is completely silenced by the narrator himself.

The Form: here, again, Browning uses iambs, but in tetrameter (four feet per line pentameter has five feet), so the impression of a naturalistic speaking voice (and hence, a real character) is created. However, the tetrameter is markedly less realistic than pentameter, again a means by which Browning can create a sense of the uncanny in this poem. Look, also at his choice of rhyme-scheme; the ABABB form is unusual it is asymmetrical and unbalanced, apparently twisting back on itself and becoming tangled up in its own sound: an indication, do you think, of the obsessive mental state of the protagonist?

The Structure: just as with My Last Duchess, The Patriot and The Bishop orders his tomb, Browning begins the narrative at the very climax of the story, reflecting his interest not in the causality of events within the story (where did the lovers meet, what attracted them to each other, how did their love unfold?) but in how a storyteller at the moment of crisis seeks to present the situation he is in. Significantly, this poem, like The Patriot, actually concludes in the present tense, creating a sense of immediacy and chilling uncertainty about what the future holds. The poem begins with a retrospective account of early to-night and the subsequent arrival of Porphyria, which leads to a rather unsettling passage in which the speaker merely lists

what she does, without any comment or apparent emotional response, and concluding with the image of her Murmuring how she loved me as his head rests on her shoulder - a surprising image indeed, given our conventions of power relations within heterosexual relationships. This, as noted above, leads to a sudden awakening in the narrative voice and the flashback in which their relationship up to this point is alluded to (but only terms which the reader must mistrust: weve learned not to believe everything this narrator tells us by now). The poems final section begins at line 36 with the disturbing statement I found a thing to do, in which he strangles his lover and then rearranges them so that the earlier tableau (in which he lay on her shoulder) is now in its proper position, where this time my shoulder bore / Her head. The final line is very ambiguous do we read it as a triumphal statement of victory, or possibly a brazen attempt at convincing himself that his actions are justified?

The Setting: It took some time for Browning to arrive at the final title for this poem, and each iteration has important implications for the setting. Originally it was called Madhouse Cells, implying that the narrative takes place in a lunatic asylum. However, the final choice of title is much more opaque and we are left with the indication only that this story takes place in a cottage by a lake. We are given no hint of in which country this story takes place, or even any idea of the period in which the story is set, but this is, I believe, intentional: Brownings poem is a study in madness and delusion, and so we are invited to consider only the mind of a madman, not the society which produced him. Vividly drawn, though, is the setting around and within the cottage itself. The opening lines, full of drama and violent energy (does the word early imply that the storm comes often?) are often cited as an example of pathetic fallacy, but to my mind they are more sophisticated than just being a visual representation of his tormented mood. Note the choice of descriptive language: the wind is sullen, and tore the elm-tops down for spite, even doing its worst to vex the lake. For all the violence here there is an equal degree of childish petulance, one of which, I suggest, the narrator is perhaps unaware (compare this to the irony employed by Browning in My Last Duchess).

Top Tip: irony is a significant and important aspect of this poem, such as in the ironies produced in the drama: his triumph at gaining his love is mitigated by the fact she is dead, for example. When thinking about this poem, look at how Browning subverts the characteristics of a conventionally romantic narrative, one in which the beloved flees the restrictive vainer ties and gives herself to her love for ever: an interesting reading might look at the ways conventional representations of erotic love often require the woman to be subjugated to the man (especially in marriage) - has Browning taken a symbolic death and made it literal? If so, what are the implications for other romantic heroes?

FRA LIPPO LIPPI


The Story: a monk is caught outside a brothel and, being asked to account for himself, does so in the fullest terms, telling the story of his life and his career as an artist. The Voice: Fra Lippo Lippi is one of Brownings most characterful and charismatic narrators, boldly beginning his narrative with a defiant statement of who he is. His voice is restless, ever shifting from thought to thought, lively and passionate. Look at Brownings use of language in creating this voice: the three separate clauses in line 3 alone; the breathless alliteration of hunt it up, / Do harry out in 6-7; and the onomatopoeic imitation of the mouse in line 11. This voice is certainly a long way from the Dukes studied eloquence, but it is equally distant from the Lovers disconcerting emptiness. Lippis honesty is disarming, charming in its directness, such as when he notes the aptness of that mans face for Judas, or in his admission that Im a beast, I know. His imagery is vital, full of life (who cannot but smile at the image of the girls like the skipping of rabbits by moonlight) and full of unaffected delight in what the world has to offer, even a breathless fellow / Fresh from his murder. Lippi could never be described as an omniscient narrator, and it is clear that in this poem we are going to be given his very personal version of events, but by making his voice so honest and direct, Browning creates a relationship between him and the reader that is quite different to what we experience in reading My Last Duchess or Porphyrias Lover. Where the Duke speaks in such a way as to prevent anyone else from speaking, and in Porphyrias Lover no other voice intrudes into the narrators fevered consciousness, Fra Lippo Lippi is alive with different voices, even if they are all reported to us by that of the painter himself. He interrupts his own narrative with snatches of a rather bawdy song, and imitates the voices of the Prior and the learned as they offer their sanctimonious judgement of his first painting. These fragments of direct speech create a sense of lively drama within the poem, bringing to life the conflicts, triumphs and disasters of Lippis varied life. The Form: another dramatic monologue, but in this case, written in blank verse, that is, unrhymed iambic pentameters. Browning here seems to wish to turn his poetry entirely to the service of bringing Lippis voice to life: look again at 260 269, in which Brownings control of iambic pentameter is so complete that we hardly notice the form of the verse when listening to Lippis tirade against the hypocrisy of the conventional Christian view of the human body. The Structure: Brownings method in this poem is characteristic of his dramatic monologues, as the story of Lippis life is framed by events in the immediate present. In this case, the poem begins and ends with the encounter between Lippi and the night watch, but at line 44, he begins a brief account of being shut up three weeks within my mew / A-painting for the great man (look, too, at the wit of saints and saints / And saints again) and how he pursued the three slim shapes who passed beneath his window. The whole story here is full of excitement and adventure, and Browning surprises us with the frankness of Lippis admission, flesh and blood, / Thats all Im made of. From line 80 Lippis narrative returns to his infancy and the story of how One fine frosty day he was taken to the convent, where he did renounce the world, its pride and greed (a telling moment in the narrative, especially given the later behaviour of the monks). Lines 102 110 recount his early education (pure waste, as Lippi puts it, before recalling his favourite Latin word, amo). At line 113 he returns to his childhood, but here to recount the vivid experiences

by which he learned the look of things how to judge peoples character from outward appearances. His painting career begins at around 130, when he decorates the antiphonarys verge (the margins of a large book of music), and despite the anger of the monks, the Prior sees in him our man of parts, who can do our church up fine to match other monastic orders in Florence. At 143 Lippi, with characteristic scorn for propriety and ceremony, begins to daub away, and he says of his painting, Never was such prompt disemburdening. This is a significant moment in the structure of the poem, not only for Lippis biography, but because it introduces the debate about the role of the artist which is to be so significant later: for Lippi painting is a means of self-expression, whereby the creative impulse must be satisfied through external productivity. (You will find the contrasting view expressed in the Priors complaint that Lippi must paint the souls of men (183)). The painting itself takes on its own story, one which appears to bear no relation to its real subject-matter: for Lippi, the interest lies in the character in the scene, from good old gossips to the breathless fellow / Fresh from his murder and his victims son, who cannot kill him. This little scene is typical of Brownings use of embedded narratives in this story: it is no more than hinted at, sketched in only the lightest detail; elsewhere they are even more tantalising (what is the significance of the Priors niece who comes / To care about his asthma is she his daughter? A prostitute?) certainly they add to the vivid atmosphere of the poem. Back to the structure. By line 165 he shows his covered bit of cloister-wall, to great acclaim from the monks, who praise the works realism and verisimilitude (having the appearance of being real), but when the Their betters took their turn to see and say (never has the pretentious appreciation of fine art been so adroitly punctured) Lippi is criticised for being too real. His business is not homage to the perishable clay but to paint the souls of men (which leads to a heated discussion of what the soul looks like). Always look out for examples of irony, such as when the Prior complains about that white smallish female with the breasts, whom he initially identifies as his niece, and only later calls Herodias (a telling detail Herodias was daughter to king Herod). There follows twenty lines or so of debate about what it means to paint the soul, and Lippis desire to take breath and try to add lifes flash / And then add soul and heighten them three-fold, and to admit that simple beauty is about the best thing God invents. From 225 230 we return to the present, where Lippi draws our (and that of the night watch) attention to the Medici palace, whose great rings symbolise the protection he has received from the friend within. However, at 231 he continues his discussion of how his art has been received, with the chilling image of the old grave eyes / peeping over my shoulder, and the complaint that his work is arts decline, a sentiment perhaps more proper to a Victorian schoolroom than 15th century Florence, but telling nonetheless, especially given the pressure Lippi feels himself under to bear comparison with the true painters of history. His reaction to this marks a surprising change in the tone of the poem he sucks his lips in tight and paint / To please them. (Note here, too the echo of the disemburdening earlier in the poem). There follows between 250 and 270 a fierce criticism of the attitude held by the church to the human body and the contradictions inherent within it Do they like grass or no? All I wants the thing / Settled. The next ten lines offer a vision of the future, embodied in Guidi, who lets the monks talk but paints apace. From 280, Lippi ceases to tell the story of his life but offers an impassioned defence of his view of art, how the beauty and the wonder and the power of the world should be painted, because we love [things] / First when we see them painted even if we have passed a hundred times. This view of art, whereby the painter creates a more perfect vision of man and nature, and in which the artist reveals truth (296) and lends

[his] mind out (307) conform to the image of the artist as a spiritual hierophant proposed by Shelley, quite unlike the utilitarian view proposed by the Prior, who wants art to instigate to prayer. From 320 330, however, Lippi introduces the voice of a monk at Prato, where he splashed the fresco in fine style, whose anecdote seems to confirm Lippis beliefs: the fresco of St Laurence has inspired such powerful feelings in the pious people who come to see it, that they have scratched the faces off the solders depicted turning the saint off his toasted side. From 335 to the end Browning returns Lippis narrative to the present. Lippi excuses his outburst, blaming this spicy night which turns / The unaccustomed head like Chianti wine! and begging not to be misreported: in another chilling allusion to a story not told here, he says The church knows. Details such as this invite us to read Lippis narrative in a much broader context of church politics and repression. Hence the poems conclusion: a painting to make amends, depicting a lyrical, beautiful image of heaven, including Lippi himself, abashed for his old serge gown and rope / in this pure company, but protected and defended by a sweet angelic slip of a thing, who says to God He made you and devised you / Though hes none of you. Quite how literally we are to take this is ambiguous, to what extent we should read the devised as referring to the painting only, or to God in general, unclear. The final fifteen lines of the poem combine the two competing sides of Lippis life: he is saved in his painting by St Lucy, just as he was saved when once he was surprised by a hothead husband while playing hot cockles with the Priors niece. The poem concludes with a glance to the future, when the poem will be complete six months hence. Setting: Again, Browning turns to Renaissance Italy for this poem, to a specific city and even, in this case, a relatively specific period of time (the middle decades of the 15th century, judging by how Lippi speaks of his career as being fairly well advanced by this stage). Whereas in My Last Duchess the setting evokes a general mood, the spirit of the Renaissance where artistic genius went hand-in-hand with dynastic might and cruelty, in this poem Browning prefers to focus on the (relatively) well-documented struggle of an artist of passionate and lively temperament working within the constrictions of monastic life. Lippi is an apt choice of character to explore this scenario: Vasaris Lives of the Artists records accounts of him being captured by pirates, and even abducting a beautiful young woman whose portrait he wished to use for the figure of the Madonna. While Browning avoids reference to these, he does refer to documented paintings, such as Lippis famous cycle of frescoes in Prato, as a means of developing Lippis character, and inviting the reader to engage with the way an abstract debate about the nature of art (should it be a means of personal expression or should it serve a practical purpose?) affects a fully developed character, as well as criticising the hypocrisy and shamelessness of the Catholic Church at the time. The immediate setting of the narrative is a surprising one: Lippis life-story is told to men of the night-watch outside a brothel at an alleys end, past midnight, hardly the place for a man whose monastic vows made him swear to never kiss the girls! The close, evocative atmosphere of a spicy night which turns the head like Chianti wine, as well as the ambiguous ending (a grey beginning is this a sign of hope or of despair?) add tension to the passion and occasionally fierce anger of Lippis narrative. Top Tip: when writing about this poem, dont get too distracted by all the rather heavy debate about Art; look at the exciting use of language to convey Lippis passionate nature.

THE BISHOP ORDERS HIS TOMB AT SAINT PRAXEDS CHURCH


The Story: A Bishop, lying on his death bed, gives the final instructions for his tomb to his sons, which must be grander and more impressive than that of Gandolf, his predecessor and rival.

Voice and Form: A dramatic monologue told by the Bishop, an intra-diegetic, first-person narrator, in blank verse. As with so many of Brownings narratives, the interest here lies not in what happens, but in how a character tells a story, how they seek to shape the narrative to present themselves to the best advantage. In this case, however, the Bishop is rapidly losing control of his faculties, and, by the end of the poem, is no longer in control of his story. The use of blank verse (unrhymed, iambic pentameter) creates a very natural sense of voice, and Brownings deliberate avoidance of self-consciously poetic gestures creates an engaging contrast between the high status of the speaker and his low rhetorical style. Just as with Fra Lippo Lippi, poetic techniques are used to create a powerful sense of character look at the anger suggested by the alliterative s sounds in line 18, contrasted with the more peaceful, lyrical mood created by the enjambment between 22-23. Much of the interest in the poem is created by the contradictions and paradoxes within the speakers character: for a churchman his enjoyment of sensual imagery (look at lines 29, 44 and 60-61, or the fresh-poured red wine of a mighty pulse in line 30 hardly the perfect sacrifice of the Eucharist), and his apparent disregard for matters of the spirit, surprise the reader. Indeed, much of the imagery of the poem is overtly pagan: Pan, Nymphs, Bacchus, Cicero (called Tully in the poem) all evoke sensuality, luxury and Roman decadence. However, his language also draws heavily on Biblical and religious rhetoric, as in the opening statement, and the image of the weavers shuttle in line 51. For all his love of good Latin, though, this speaker can be petulant and neurotic, occasionally using direct questions to challenge the audience of sons (itself a surprisingly honest admission: the term nephews would have been sufficient to indicate he was the boys father) and the frequent concern for Anselm (why is he keeping back?) suggest a story which the Bishop will not tell us, a gap in the narrative. He is a character whose self-awareness is ambiguous, treading a line between Lippis disarming honesty when he admits, evil and brief hath been my pilgrimage, the Lovers self-deception when he describes Saint Praxeds church as the church for peace, and the Dukes outright duplicity in his claim he deserved the prize. As so often, Brownings use of irony is key to understanding how this story is told: what the speaker says rarely if ever actually means what he thinks it does. Setting: Funnily enough, were back in Renaissance Italy, this time in Rome, in a real place (the church of Santa Prassede) but a less specific time-frame, that of the 16th century. Just as with My Last Duchess and Fra Lippo Lippi this setting serves to foreground questions of morality, taste, honesty and power to which Browning returns so many times in his poetry. The church here does not represent salvation, peace or redemption but a site of conflict, envy and greed, where pagan erotic sensuality is placed next to, and even spills over into Christian theology is Saint Praxeds glory merely religious, when placed next to Pan, symbol of lust and sexual potency, ready to twitch the Nymphs last garment off. The physical environment of the poem is full of signs of wealth and power: the Frascati villa and the white-grape vineyard all bespeak the Bishops desire for material wealth, but also have a

wider significance, echoing images used by Christ in Gospels. The image of the vineyard recalls the parable of the wicked husbandmen from Matthew 21: 33-46, in which Christ uses the image of a vineyard to represent Gods kingdom on earth; the owner of the vineyard sends overseers to make sure the farmers are looking after the vineyard properly, but the farmers keep killing the overseers. The parable illustrates how mankinds greed causes them to reject God and those sent by him (the prophets and Jesus). The irony here is that the Bishop is behaving just like the evil husbandmen in the parable. All the signs of wealth in the poem recall Christs many warnings about the corrupting power of wealth and how it separates man from God (think of the simile of the camel and the eye of a needle). Yet the Bishop appears untroubled by this. Structure: just as with Porphyrias Lover, this is a narrative which takes place during, but right at the very end of the story, but whereas Porphyria offers only one brief flashback in which her background is alluded to, The Bishop Orders his Tomb is chronologically confused, slipping between recollections of the mother, Gandolf, and other occasions in the Bishops life. For Browning this is an essential means of conveying the sense of a confused, disorientated mind, seeking to produce a commanding narrative of his own life, but incapable of doing so. Yet just as Porphyrias Lover ends on a cliff-hanger, awaiting the word God may or may not speak, The Bishop ends at a beginning, as the story here is not just about how the Bishop lived his life, but how he will live on after his death. This is of evident concern to him, so that his tomb will outdo that of Gandolf, and will present him properly to posterity he does not want to be bricked oer with beggars mouldy travertine. This chronology serves two important purposes: the story the Bishop wishes to tell through his tomb is one over which he can have no control, hence the increasing anxiety in his voice, such as at line 104. The second purpose is to question the Christian Bishops relationship with his own afterlife: the Bible tells him to store up goods in Heaven, where thieves do not break through nor steal, yet the Bishop has been assiduous in storing up his earthly goods, such as the lump of lapis lazuli, Big as a Jews head, which is Bedded in store of rotten fig-leaves soft.

Top Tip: This may seem a daunting poem, but it is a fascinating one for the study of storytelling, because it is such an interesting combination of character, setting and themes. As you read it, ask yourself if you find the Bishop disturbing or pitiable?

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