The Ring and the Book

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

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.”


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.


(The entire section is 436 words.)