The Ring and the Book

by Robert Browning

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The Ring and the Book

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Consistent with the epic tradition, Browning divides his poem into twelve books. After an introductory Book I he allows various participants and observers to offer their views on the murder and the subsequent trial. Guido, his lawyer, and “Half-Rome” defend the murder as the husband’s legitimate revenge for his wife’s betrayal. “The Other Half-Rome,” Giuseppe Caponsacchi (the priest who tried to save Pompilia), Pompilia, her lawyer, and the Pope portray the young wife as a martyred saint, and the spokesman for “Tertium Quid” regards neither Guido nor Pompilia as totally innocent or guilty.

Browning’s sympathies are clearly with Pompilia, whom he identified with his recently deceased wife. Throughout the poem he explores the metaphysical reasons for Pompilia’s suffering, which he regards as the symbol of conflict between good and evil. In the execution of the murderers he finds grounds for cautious optimism about the ultimate triumph of goodness, and in the transformation of the murder into poetry he suggests the redemptive power of art to “suffice the eye and save the soul beside.”

Bibliography:

Altick, Richard D., and James F. Loucks II. Browning’s Roman Murder Story: A Reading of “The Ring and the Book.” Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1968. An intensive study of the work’s artistry as well as of its treatment of religious themes such as the infallibility of the Pope.

Browning, Robert. The Complete Works of Robert Browning, with Variant Readings and Annotations. Edited by Roma King, Jr. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1985. Professor King’s variorum edition contains extensive and invaluable notes.

Hines, Susan C. “A Trial Reading of Robert Browning’s The Ring and the Book.” Studies in Browning and His Circle 18 (1990): 28-33. Postulates that Browning’s method of telling a legal story through several narrators places the reader in the position of juror. Through the experience of the poem, the reader realizes the difficulty of seeing the truth.

King, Roma, Jr. The Focusing Artifice: The Poetry of Robert Browning. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1968. Traces the development of Browning’s art, focusing on the aesthetic devices Browning uses to examine morality and values.

Raymond, William O. The Infinite Moment and Other Essays in Robert Browning. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1950. Reviews criticism from the first half of the twentieth century.

Sullivan, Mary Rose. Browning’s Voices in “The Ring and the Book”: A Study of Method and Meaning. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1969. Examines how Browning uses narrative to create meaning.

Wasserman, George. “The Meaning of Browning’s Ring Figure.” Modern Language Notes 76 (1961): 420-426. Discusses Browning’s use of the ring as a symbol for the poem.

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The Ring and the Book, Robert Browning