The Contrast Of Women And Death English Literature Essay
‘The laboratory’ is a poem written by Robert Browning, published first in ‘Hoods Magazine and Comic Miscellany’ in 1844. The poem is about a woman who wants to kill her rival with poison, for having an affair with her lover. We can say the poem is written in a sexual context as there are sexual undertones in the poem. ‘Salome’ is a poem written by Carol Ann Duffy. It was written in 1999 and is about a woman who kills men. In the poem, ‘Salome’ seduces men, has sex with them and then kills them. She doesn’t have a plan; she kills any man as we can see in the poem. The women in the two poems are very similar as they are both murderers. In addition we know they are both high-class women. In ‘The laboratory’ the women is part of the king’s court. And in ‘Salome’ she has a maid. However there are a number of differences between the two poems. ‘Salome’ seduces men the kills but in ‘The laboratory’ the women poison’s her victims. Both poems present women and death in a sexual way. I will aim to clarify the key points about both poems.
The themes in both poems are very similar, it is death. The main idea about women in ‘The Laboratory’ is that they have positive attitude to death. The woman sees death as a way to punish all and to get what she wants. For example a line from the poem says ‘Not that I bid you spare her the pain’. This line tells us she wants her rival to suffer as much as possible to the extent that death is the only way. Where as in ‘Salome’ she has a quite relaxed approach to death, we get this impression as she doesn’t remember the names of her victims. ‘Simon? Andrew? John? J knew I’d feel better’. The frequency of the punctuation slows down the pace of the poem; this indicates she is struggling to remember what has happened due to excessive consumption of alcohol. We can also assume she didn’t plan the man’s death but did it without a reason. But if there was a reason it could be she a misandrist (hatred of men).We know she hates men from the lines ‘Never again!/I need to clean up my act.’ This suggests she wants to improve her lifestyle but not stop the killing of men it is almost like she has no remorse. She may hate men so much she just has to kill them. But she doesn’t choose any men she picks certain types. For example she says ‘Good-looking, of course, dark hair, rather matted.’ This line tells us she may not have a plan but thinks about who she kills, as she obviously a women of taste by the way she picks men. The manner in which the line is said in proposes the woman is of class and importance. ‘…Of course’ is said with such arrogances proving she is of high class like the women from ‘The Laboratory.’
Death is a theme in both poems but so is revenge. In ‘The Laboratory’ the woman is trying to seek revenge as she believes her lover is having an affair. We get this information for the line which says ‘He is with her; and they know that I know’. This is telling us her lover is with her rival but they think the woman doesn’t know, but she does. This indicates the woman has a cunning mind as she did not confront her lover or rival instead she wants to kill her rival for the pain she has put the women through. In this line the number of pronouns used is a great deal. This shows she has referred to her lover and rival on more than one occasion, meaning she could have an obsession with them. In ‘Salome’ we don’t really get a sense of revenge. But if there was a sense of revenge it might be because she has been hurt by a ‘good-looking’ man before so she’s turned into a misandrist to get revenge.
Both women get sadistic pleasure from death or the idea of death. In ‘The laboratory’ the woman gets pleasure from the way the old man makes the poison. ‘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.’ This expresses the fact she wants to watch the poison being made rather than be entertained at the king’s court. She also says she is not in a hurry but she contradicts herself as in the sixth stanza she mentions ‘Pauline should have just- thirty minutes to live.’ So she has now started to fantasy over killing other women. This could be so her lover doesn’t have another affair as there would be fewer women around the King’s court to have one with. We could almost say the woman is paranoid as she is always thinking of ways to keep her lover to herself. In ‘Salome’ she gets sadistic pleasure by killing the men she sleeps with. She has sex with them as are always found in her bed, and she obviously gets pleasure from this. The way in which Salome acts is somewhat like a man. She is introduced like this ‘I’d done it before (and doubtless so it again, sooner or later)’. We automatically assume these are actions of a man as the way she behaves is stereotypically what a man would do. The poet is trying to subvert stereotype of women proving they are more powerful and stronger than men.
‘The Laboratory is written as a dramatic monologue. We know this as it is a long utterance from the one woman and no-one else speaks. The language is also formal unlike the ‘Salome’ which uses colloquial language. The formal language in ‘The Laboratory’ makes us take the woman seriously about her plan and the way she is going to kill her rival. In the poem ‘The Laboratory’ there is some alliteration. One example is ‘Paste, Pound at thy powder,’ this ‘p’ sound at the beginning of each word gives the poem a harsh and violent tone, reminding us that a murder is about to take place.
The way the poison is described in ‘The Laboratory’ is with rich imagery. ‘You call it a gum? ... gold oozing’s come! ... exquisite blue,’ the way she is describing the poison is as if it is a magical potion. But this contrasts as the poison is to kill someone not to give them magical powers. But the word gold oozing’s has a double meaning. Yes it may have a something to do with the poison. But it also has a sexual meaning. The oozing’s actually means semen. The woman is thinking about sex again linking it to death. We would not expect this of a stereotypical woman.
Another type of poetic device used in the ‘The laboratory’ are onomatopoeias. One example is ‘Grind away, moisten and mash up thy paste’. The sounds these words make give the poem a punitive tone. Also these verbs are quite violent and sexual. These verbs have second meanings of a sexual nature.
The finally poetic device I am going to describe about in ‘The Laboratory’ is innuendo. This is when the woman talks about the ‘pestle and mortar’. But other meaning is that the pestle is a penis and the mortar is a vagina. The poet is always linking death with sex to subvert the stereotypes of women.
The poem ‘Salome’ is written in colloquial language, meaning it is informal and uses slang. One example of the slang used in the poem is ‘Booze and the fags’. The reason why there is slang in the poem is because this poem is more modern than ‘The laboratory’ as they are both written in different times. But it also creates a calm and casual tone compared to seriousness of the situation. Also in ‘Salome’ one poetic device is assonance, this is when a phrase contains two of the same rhyming vowel sounds. One example of this is ‘Colder than pewter’. The assonance in the poem makes it flow more easily and emphasis on the topic of death. Another poetic technique used in ‘Salome’ is alliteration just like in ‘The Laboratory’. An example of this is ‘blighter, the beater or biter.’ This alliteration gives the poem a harsh tone reminding us of the death that took place. Also here attitude to men is quite different from the normal women. The nouns used tell us she has a hatred of men as the nouns sound very bitter and vicious. A different poetic device in ‘Salome’ is positive language. An example of that is ‘I’d guess, may be laughter,’ this language is very happy and positive as the poet has used the word laughter which generally associated with happiness and joyfulness. This creates a light-hearted tone as the woman doesn’t’ care what she has done or is going to do. But in contrast ‘from pain…maybe laughter’ she has confused the two emotions. She has positive associations with death and this reveals her unsettled psychotic mind set. This could be from a troubled childhood or experience she has had.
The language in both poems is very different. ‘Salome’ uses colloquial language for example ‘…booze and the fags.’ Whereas ‘The Laboratory’ uses formal and old language for example ‘NOW that I, tying thy glass mask tightly.’ But the tone of both poems is very interesting. The tone in ‘The laboratory’ is very optimistic, intense and the thrilling tone of the narrator makes you ask questions about the narrator. Evidence of this is when the woman in the poem asks ‘is that poison too?’ This suggests that she is frantic about killing her rival.
In ‘Salome’ the tone is quite light-hearted as she doesn’t know what’s happened as she only just woke up. And also she doesn’t care that she’s killed someone and the victims head is on her bed. An example of this is ‘I’d guess, maybe laughter.’ This suggests the woman has no emotional ties with her victims and laughs it off. The poem has a sense of black humour around it.
Although some may say the tone is important, so is the structure and form. The rhyme scheme in ‘The Laboratory’ is much organised. It has an AABB rhyme scheme. An example is ‘grim and dim and stir and prefer.’ This can suggest that the woman has a much organised mind and can be said to be sane. This contrasts with the content of the poem. The rhyme scheme lightens up the mood of the poem; you sometimes feel it’s not about death. The metre of the poem is anapestic two unstressed syllables, followed by a stressed one. An example of this is “May gaze thro’,” this creates a sprightly effect which seems contradictory to the poem's dark subject matter, if we take it too seriously. Browning doesn’t want the reader to take this too seriously; he wants us to find this amusing and laughable. There are parts of the poem that have traits of a horror film. In addition to this, the stanza form is very orderly.
Each stanza consists of four lines and there are 12 stanzas in total. This tells us the speaker of the poem is much methodical unlike the speaker in ‘Salome’. Also the rhythm of the poem is very upbeat and faster pace which contrasts between sprightly rhythms and dark subject matters.
However in the poem, ‘Salome’ the structure of the poem isn’t quite so organized like the ‘The laboratory’. In ‘Salome’ the rhyme scheme is irregular. The ‘er’ rhymes reflect the dripping of the blood. As the Salome wakes up the rhyming becomes more regular. This suggests she is starting to piece together what happened last night and is gradually recovering from her hangover. A clever device the speaker uses is foreshadowing. She asks rhetorical question to foreshadow future events. Like, ‘What was his name? Peter?’ This is telling us she can’t remember names because she’s killed so many men and she’s going to continue killing and seducing men. And finally the stanza form is in free verse. There is no specific stanza form. There are four stanzas with the first stanza containing the most amounts of lines and the last stanza containing the least amount of lines.
Both poems have their own ways in which they compare and contrast women and death. I believe the most effective is ‘The Laboratory’. I consider ‘The laboratory’ to be the most effective as the meter of the poem is anapestic which creates a chirpy effect in contrast to the great plan the speaker is hatching up. Other reason why I believe ‘The Laboratory’ to be effect is because of the structure. It has been ordered methodical and is easy on the eye. Both poems are written in dramatic monologue, which gives a sense of adventure to poem as if a story is being told. This is effective as it connects with the readers and you do not feel uninterested after the first few lines like a stereotypical poem. The poetic devices used in both poems are very similar for example onomatopoeias and powerful verbs. These devices engage the reader but I believe the devices are used more effectively in ‘The Laboratory’.
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