'The Laboratory' by Robert Browning

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ANCIEN REGIMEINow that I, tying thy glass mask tightly,
May gaze through these faint smokes curling whitely,
As thou pliest thy trade in this devil's-smithy-Which is the poison to poison her, prithee?IIHe is with her; and they know that I know
Where they are, what they do: they believe my tears flow
While they laugh, laugh at me, at me fled to the drear
Empty church, to pray God in, for them!-I am here.IIIGrind away, moisten and mash up thy paste,
Pound at thy powder,-I am not in haste!
Better sit thus, and observe thy strange things,
Than go where men wait me and dance at the King's.IVThat in the mortar-you call it a gum?
Ah, the brave tree whence such gold oozings come!
And yonder soft phial, the exquisite blue,
Sure to taste sweetly,-is that poison too?VHad I but all of them, thee and thy treasures,
What a wild crowd of invisible pleasures!
To carry pure death in an earring, a casket,
A signet, a fan-mount, a filigree-basket!VISoon, at the King's, a mere lozenge to give,
And Pauline should have just thirty minutes to live!
But to light a pastille, and Elise, with her head,
And her breast, and her arms, and her hands, should drop dead!VIIQuick-is it finished? The colour's too grim!
Why not soft like the phial's, enticing and dim?
Let it brighten her drink, let her turn it and stir,
And try it and taste, ere she fix and prefer!VIIIWhat a drop! She's not little, no minion like me-That's why she ensnared him: this never will free
The soul from those strong, great eyes,-say, "No!"
To that pulse's magnificent come-and-go.IXFor only last night, as they whispered, I brought
My own eyes to bear on her so, that I thought
Could I keep them one-half minute fixed, she would fall,
Shrivelled; she fell not; yet this does it all!XNot that I bid you spare her the pain!
Let death be felt and the proof remain;
Brand, burn up, bite into its grace-He is sure to remember her dying face!XIIs it done? Take my mask off! Nay, be not morose,
It kills her, and this prevents seeing it close:
The delicate droplet, my whole fortune's fee-If it hurts her, beside, can it ever hurt me?XIINow, take all my jewels, gorge gold to your fill,
You may kiss me, old man, on my mouth if you will!
But brush this dust off me, lest horror it brings
Ere I know it-next moment I dance at the King's!

Editor 1 Interpretation

The Dangerous Fascination of Robert Browning's "The Laboratory"

When it comes to poetry that captures the dark aspects of human nature, few writers can match the intensity and complexity of Robert Browning. In his famous poem "The Laboratory," he offers a powerful exploration of jealousy, revenge, and the corrupting power of desire. This is a piece that has fascinated and disturbed readers for over a century, and it remains just as relevant today as it did when it was first published in 1844.

The Setting: A Dark and Alluring Laboratory

One of the most striking aspects of "The Laboratory" is its vividly described setting. The poem takes place in a laboratory where a woman is concocting a poisonous brew to kill her rival in love. Browning describes the laboratory in such detail that readers can almost smell the noxious fumes and see the bubbling cauldrons. The laboratory is a place of darkness and danger, but also of seductive allure. As the woman works, she revels in the power she wields over life and death, and the poem itself seems to share in her fascination.

The setting is so well-crafted that it becomes a character in its own right, embodying the complex themes of the poem. Browning uses the laboratory as a metaphor for the human heart and mind, which can be both beautiful and terrifying. The poem suggests that just as the woman is drawn to the power of her poisons, we are all drawn to the allure of our own dark desires.

The Woman: An Anti-Heroine for the Ages

The woman who is the protagonist of "The Laboratory" is one of the most complex and memorable characters in all of Browning's poetry. She is a woman consumed by jealousy and a burning desire for revenge, and yet she is also a figure of tragic beauty and power. As she works in the laboratory, she becomes more and more intoxicated by the potential for destruction she holds in her hands. Her language is filled with sensuous imagery and poetic passion, and she revels in the way her poisons will allow her to control the fate of her rival.

The woman's character is fascinating because she embodies the dark side of human nature that we all struggle with at times. She is not a villain in the traditional sense, but rather an anti-heroine who is both repulsive and compelling. Her actions are horrifying, and yet we cannot help but be drawn to her passion and intensity. This is a testament to Browning's skill as a writer, who was able to create a character that is simultaneously grotesque and beautiful.

The Themes: Jealousy, Revenge, and the Corruption of Desire

At its core, "The Laboratory" is a poem about the dangerous allure of jealousy and the corrupting power of desire. The woman is consumed by her envy of her rival, and her desire for revenge drives her to create a deadly poison. However, as she works, she becomes more and more absorbed in the power she wields, and her desire for revenge becomes a desire for control. She revels in the way her poisons will allow her to shape the world around her, and she becomes increasingly intoxicated by the thrill of her own power.

This theme of the corrupting power of desire is one that resonates with readers to this day. We all struggle with our own desires, and we know how easy it is to become consumed by them. "The Laboratory" reminds us that our darkest desires can lead us down a path of destruction, and that we must be careful not to let them control us.

The Language: A Masterful Display of Browning's Skill

One of the most impressive aspects of "The Laboratory" is the language Browning uses to convey his themes. He employs a range of poetic techniques, including alliteration, assonance, and sibilance, to create a rich and evocative musicality. The poem is full of sensual imagery and vivid descriptions, which bring the laboratory to life in the reader's mind.

Browning's use of language is particularly striking in the way he portrays the woman's character. Her words are filled with poetry and passion, and her descriptions of her poisons are almost erotic in their intensity. This creates a tension between the horror of her actions and the beauty of her language, which is both captivating and disturbing.

The Legacy: A Poem That Still Resonates Today

"The Laboratory" is a poem that has stood the test of time, and its themes and images are as relevant today as they were when Browning first wrote them. The poem has been adapted into plays, operas, and films, and its influence can be seen in countless works of literature and art.

What is it about this disturbing poem that has captured the imagination of readers for over a century? Perhaps it is the way Browning captures the dark and dangerous aspects of human nature that we all struggle with. Perhaps it is the beauty and power of the language he uses to convey his themes. Or perhaps it is simply the fascination we have with the allure of evil, and the way it can consume us if we are not careful.

Whatever the reason, "The Laboratory" remains a masterpiece of Victorian poetry, and a testament to the enduring power of human emotion and desire. It is a poem that challenges and disturbs us, but also one that captivates and enthralls us.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

The Laboratory by Robert Browning is a classic poem that explores the dark and twisted nature of human desire. Written in 1844, the poem is a dramatic monologue that takes the reader on a journey through the mind of a woman who is consumed by jealousy and revenge.

The poem is set in a laboratory where the woman is preparing a poison to kill her rival. The woman is filled with a sense of excitement and anticipation as she mixes the ingredients of the poison. She revels in the thought of her rival's suffering and imagines the pleasure she will feel when she finally gets her revenge.

The poem is divided into four stanzas, each of which explores a different aspect of the woman's psyche. In the first stanza, the woman describes the laboratory and the various instruments she is using to prepare the poison. She speaks of the "pestle and mortar" and the "retort" with a sense of pride and ownership. The laboratory is her domain, and she is in control.

In the second stanza, the woman begins to describe her rival. She speaks of her beauty and her charm, but also of her flaws and weaknesses. She describes her rival as "laughing, lovesick, careless" and "gay." The woman is consumed by jealousy and cannot bear the thought of her rival being happy while she is suffering.

In the third stanza, the woman describes the poison she is preparing. She speaks of the various ingredients and their effects, describing them in vivid detail. She revels in the thought of her rival's suffering and imagines the pleasure she will feel when she finally gets her revenge.

In the final stanza, the woman imagines the scene of her rival's death. She describes the poison taking effect and her rival's final moments of agony. She imagines the pleasure she will feel when she finally gets her revenge and revels in the thought of her rival's suffering.

The poem is a powerful exploration of the dark side of human desire. It speaks to the universal human experience of jealousy and the desire for revenge. The woman in the poem is consumed by these emotions, and her actions are driven by them.

The poem also explores the theme of power and control. The woman is in control of the laboratory and the poison she is preparing. She is in control of her own emotions and desires, and she revels in the power she feels as she prepares to take revenge on her rival.

The language of the poem is rich and vivid, with Browning using a range of poetic devices to create a sense of drama and tension. The use of repetition, for example, creates a sense of urgency and anticipation, while the use of alliteration and assonance creates a sense of rhythm and musicality.

The poem is also notable for its use of imagery. Browning uses a range of vivid and often gruesome images to create a sense of horror and disgust. The image of the poison, for example, is described in vivid detail, with Browning using a range of sensory details to create a sense of its potency and danger.

Overall, The Laboratory is a powerful and evocative poem that explores the dark and twisted nature of human desire. It speaks to the universal human experience of jealousy and the desire for revenge, and it does so with a sense of drama and tension that is both compelling and disturbing. Browning's use of language and imagery is masterful, creating a sense of horror and disgust that is both visceral and haunting.

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