Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

This poem enacts the behavior of a distorted personality and mocks, pointedly, the attribution of the capacity to love to such a personality. Browning would not have used the term “schizophrenic” because it did not come into psychiatric parlance until the twentieth century. He could, however, present the disordered thinking of one suffering from personality dissociation, experiencing alienation from self and from what is normally perceived as reality, exhibiting inappropriate emotion and behavior, and unable to feel responsible for his emotions or his actions. This “lover,” so dubbed ironically, obviously cannot love or even affirm himself as an autonomous being who could generate love. In Browning’s moral perspective, this speaker would be another jealously possessive and tyrannical male similar to the duke who speaks in the more widely known poem “My Last Duchess.” The theme is a frequent one in Browning’s poetry.

A possible additional thread of meaning may be derived from the knowledge that the poem was first published with another poem, “Johannes Agricola in Meditation,” and that the two poems were later grouped under the heading “Madhouse Cells.” Browning clearly believed that both poems represented forms of madness. Johannes Schneider (Agricola) was associated with German religious reformer Martin Luther, but they did not agree on all points of theology. He was the founder of the Reformation sects of antinomianism, a belief...

(The entire section is 403 words.)


(Poetry for Students)

Browning’s study of madness in “Porphyria’s Lover” is subtly presented. At the beginning of the poem there is...

(The entire section is 1300 words.)