What is the characterization like in "Porphyria's Lover" by Robert Browning?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

This poem is one of Browning's great dramatic monologue. The dramatic monologue is a specific type of poem in which the speaker reveals to an implied audience some relevant piece of information. In doing so, the diction and style the speaker uses eventually reflects more about his or her own mental or moral character than is initially intended. As others have mentioned, this is a form of direct characterization, such that the reader must piece together the true from the false.

This speaker has committed a horrific crime by strangling his beloved so that he can keep her with him forever without change in the relationship. The poetic lines move quickly and smoothly along, masking the morbid events described.

Some readers note that the first half of the poem involves the beloved's molding the speaker to her preferences, while the second half involves him molding her. These mutual shapings create a disturbing center marked by death. The fact that the speaker does not break his tone or pacing at this moment seems to enhance the macabre tone, which is further punctuated by the end in which the speaker seems to be waiting for a divine retribution that does not come.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In the Browning poem "Porphyria's Lover," the characterization of the narrator is direct, as the reader hears his voice. Browning establishes the characterization of the narrator slowly. At first, the reader only sees Porphyria, as she comes in from the stormy night and stokes the fire; then, she puts the narrator's arm around her waist, bares her shoulder, and lets her yellow hair fall about her. The narrator takes no action throughout this part of the poem, so the characterization builds slowly. It is only once Porphyria declares her love for the narrator, and he knows that this love will not last, that he strangles her with her beautiful hair. Browning establishes the narrator's character from this one horrible act, as the lover then opens her eyes, unwinds her hair from her neck, and props her head on her shoulders. The entire characterization of the narrator is based on this act of violence, followed by a few tender gestures. We never know anything else about him, save his desire to preserve Porphyria's love forever. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial