“My Last Duchess”
What is subtly eerie about the title? What situation does the poem represent? Do we know the envoy’s reaction to what he hears?
What is unusual about the poem’s choice of speaker? How reliable is he intended to be as a narrator?
What are some unexpected moments in the poem?
Why did the Duke feel anger at his wife? Why didn’t he complain to her about her deviations from his desires? To what extent do you think the narrator expected readers to adopt the Duke’s view?
In addition to his past as a wife-murderer, what personal traits of the Duke are revealed in the poem? Do these traits reinforce the plot?
Can you infer/conjecture anything about Robert Browning’s views about love and marriage from studying this poem?
What are features of the poem’s style? Use of irony? Why do you think this poem has been popular for decades?
"The Bishop Orders His Tomb at St. Praxed’s Church"
How are the title and title-situation appropriate for the poem’s theme?
What are some unexpected features of the bishop’s character, past, and predilections? In what way does his behavior depart from the clerical ideal? What event is referred to in line 34, “that conflagration of my church”?
What are some comic or ironic features of the poem? What is/was his relationship to his “nephews,” Anselm, Anselm’s mother, and Gandolf?
What objects does the bishop admire? What symbolism is inherent in his taste in stones? What is revealed by his references to “a Jew’s head cut off at the nape”? The “vein o’er the Madonna’s breast”?
What seems to be the bishop’s view of death? His reaction to the prospect of his own death? Does he seem to believe in a Christian heaven? Why does he speak of “the life I lived before this life”?
What are some features of the poem’s style? Do you think it is skillfully written?
With what emotions does the poem end? What do you think the reader’s emotions are expected to be--for example, do we feel sorry for the bishop because he doesn’t get his fine lapis-adorned marble tomb?
To what degree may Browning’s poem be read as an indictment of fourteenth century Roman culture? Of certain aspects of its art?
What is the poem's rhythm and meter, and how do these reinforce (or undercut) its themes?
What are some literary associations of the name "Porphyria"?
In addition to being Porphyria’s former lover, how would you characterize the speaker of this poem? To what extent is he reliable, and how do we know?
How does the presentation of nature reflect some of the emotions of the narrative? What do we think of a speaker who presents the wind as "spiteful"?
What is unusual about the way the narrator tells his story? How does he represent Porphyria’s actions and emotions? His own?
What do you make of the fact that, for example, he doesn't say, "I didn't answer," but "no voice answered"? Or that he claims she "made" his head rest on her shoulder? Why does he represent himself as lacking agency?
What seem to have been the respective social positions of himself and Porphyria?
What symbolism is inherent in Porphyria's torn glove and unbound hair?
Which of the speaker’s statements may be projections or misinterpretations?
What were motives for the speaker's crime? Does Browning treat the themes of possessiveness and reinfication elsewhere in his poems?
At what point does the reader realize what has happened? Does it change the reader's view of the poem that the poem's crucial event isn't revealed until line 41?
Is the speaker believable when he claims that Porphyria "felt no pain"? Why does he feel the need to reiterate his statement?
What do you make of his claim that she is happy to be dead and possessed by him forever?
Are there elements of necrophilia in the speaker's kissing of Porphyria's corpse? Of his desire to remain in its presence?
Are there bizarre or groteques elements in his description of her as head as rosy and blushing? Are his perceptions distorted?
What are features of the poem’s style and language? How do these influence our reaction to the story?
In assessing the narrator and his tale, how are we to balance sympathy and judgment, horror and amusement?
Does it change your view of the poem to know that it was published in a periodical under the subtitle, "Madhouse Cells"?
It has been suggested that the speaker didn't kill his lover after all, but merely fantacizes that he did. Do you think this is a plausible interpretation? Why or why not?
The speaker's final claim is that God hasn't said anything to him about this action: "God has not said a word." Is this a statement of gloating, of defiance, or of surprise? What has he expected "God's word" to be?
What seems the poem's final tone? Is the reader supposed to be amused at human deceptiveness, saddened at the propensity for self-delusion and murder, or surprised at his/her own changing perceptions while reading the poem?
What do you think were some of Browning’s intentions in writing this poem? Is it relevant to any social debates of the day?
“Bishop Bloughram’s Apology”
In what sense is the word “apology” intended? Which religious apologist had written the most famous Apologia of his day, and what might have been Browning’s attitude toward this work?
Is it significant that the “Apology” is uttered by a contemporary bishop?
Who is Bishop Bloughram's interlocutor? What is the effect of the choice of Gigadibs as audience? Are we to respect his opinions? Does he represent a modern type?
What is the subject of argument between the two speakers? Would this have had special relevance during the Victorian period?
What are some techniques of argument employed by the Bishop? Do they make his case more credible or undercut it?
How would you describe the poem’s language and rhythms? Are these appropriate for its subject?
What are Browning’s attitudes toward the Bishop’s arguments, and how can you tell?
According to the author, what ought a person to do with his/her life? Has the Bishop made this wise choice?
What is the significance of the poem’s ending?
Is the Bishop likeable? Deserving of sympathy? How are we finally to judge his character? His beliefs?
This poem has been interpreted with varying degrees of sympathy for the arguments it presents. Are there features of its presentation which make several interpretations possible?