‘The Laboratory’ by Robert Browning is a dramatic monologue that tells the story of a woman’s plot to murder her romantic rival.
The form in which Browning has written this poem subtly reveal aspects of the female speaker whilst allowing the reader to make their own personal judgement on her behaviour and character, which would commonly be that she is a jealous, obsessed, blood-thirsty and sadistic woman. The speaker in the poem demonstrates signs of insanity and instability throughout as she becomes obsessed with poison, and the power and possibilities that come with it.
The main objective for the speaker is to have the scientist in the laboratory create her a poison that will effectively help her to kill her ex lover’s new woman. Most of the poem is centred around the speaker’s feelings, desires, plans and fantasies which brings about several themes in the poem such as revenge, jealousy, death and science. The theme of jealousy demonstrates the extreme measures a woman goes to when faced with jealousy and what drives this speaker in particular, on her bloody quest to kill her romantic rival. Revenge exists as an obvious theme as the poem is all about the speaker plotting revenge and we also learn that revenge is often sought as an effect of romantic betrayal. The theme of death is brought about through the effects of poison whilst unveiling the violent reality of it. Science is also another major theme as the title would suggest, it is set in a laboratory and the description of it is told through the speaker’s eyes.
Browning has divided the poem in to 12 quatrains which is a fairly spaced out structure that suggests that it is a calm and gentle poem which in fact is the complete opposite, also within the poem there is an anapaestic metre, creating a jaunty, nervous rhythm, again contrasting with the suggestive calm structure. There is also an element of control from the absence of enjambment, hinting that the speaker’s thoughts are controlled and focused on her objective. However, this interpretation is only particular in stanza 1 because in in stanza’s 5 and 6 we see the speaker become completely absorbed in her thoughts, loosing focus on the matter at hand or the main objective and begins fantasising about all the women she could kill with poison.
There is a semantic field of religion surrounding stanza’s 1 and 2 identified by the use of biblical language. The speaker describes the laboratory as a “devil’s-smithy” which has connotations of evil and evil science and there is a juxtaposition of religious imagery with stanza 2 where the speaker speaks of a church and praying to God. The speaker is thought by her ex lover and his woman to of fled to the church to pray but in actual fact she has fled to an evil laboratory to perform what could be described as the work of the devil and daydreaming about sinful actions.
The speaker’s obsession and fascination with poison is evident in almost every stanza of the poem. Browning has conveyed this through the speaker’s descriptive language, constant questioning and exclamatives. Stanza 4 is particularly important as the world of science within the laboratory is explored by the speaker as she identifies all the different poisons on display. We can also see her admiration for the poisons through her complementation of the poison’s source, “the brave tree whence such gold oozings come!”. The way the speaker describes the colour of the poison is also of importance as it allows the reader to identify how beautiful they appear to her. One of the poison’s is described to be an “exquisite blue”, indicating the strange beauty she finds so attractive. Lines such as “Sure to taste sweetly” demonstrates how the speaker can envisage the effects of poison in her mind which supports the interpretation of her insanity.
The speaker’s fascination with poison continues in stanza 5 whereby they are called “treasures”. She longs to have all these poisons and is excited by all the possible ways the poison can be masked, “an earring, a casket, a signet…”. Imagining ways in which poison can be hidden behind the beauty of such objects presents a disturbed and estranged mindset within the speaker and the reader can begin to really get a sense of the type of character the speaker is. Perceptions of insecurity within the speaker can be highlighted through her immense jealousy of women. Men are background characters within the poem and women stand forefront and victim to the speaker’s vindictive attitude. Stanza 6 is where the speaker goes off in to a daydream, listing the different ways in which poison can be used. She thinks about the women she would like to kill whilst listing different body parts of each victim which may be the particular aspects of the women she is jealous of and make her feel insecure. The speaker compares herself to her romantic rival in stanza 8 describing her to be “no minion” like herself, which also addresses feelings of insecurity and jealousy.
There is a worried tone and disappointment set within the poem after the poison has been made. This is where the reader can identify the desperation of the speaker and how determined she is to get the poison right, emphasising the strong hunger for revenge. “The colour’s too grim!” , “Why not…enticing and dim?”. It is clear that the speaker wants the poison to be attractive and enticing in order for her rival to consume it and experience the fatalness of poison. “Not that i bid you spare her the pain” hints at the ruthless and unmerciful character of the speaker driven by her want for revenge.
The poem features examples of plosives, sibilance and alliteration. “pound at thy powder” exemplifies the use of plosives and how it provides an element of stiffness and anger and when read aloud, the reader can pick up on the fury and hatred felt by the speaker. Sibilance is used in lines such as “sure to taste sweetly”, the repetition of ‘s’ creates a evil tone which is reflective of the speaker’s actions.
There are elements within the poem which give the reader an idea of the position or status of the speaker. We can tell she has some status as she dances with King’s at court and her wealth is displayed in two areas of the poem, stanza 5 where she lists the wealthy objects which can carry poison and in stanza 12 where she gives the old man all her jewels, (also in stanza 11, “my whole fortune’s fee”). The speaker has given up a lot of her wealth all in the name of revenge and even offers her body, “you may kiss me…on my mouth”, shows her offering more than just gold. This also highlights the desperation and drive to get what she wants. The last stanza presents the idea of corruption, displaying the immoral and dishonest conduct found within people of power.
Cite this Robert Browning “The Laboratory”
Robert Browning “The Laboratory”. (2016, Aug 14). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/robert-browning-the-laboratory/