Robert Browning (1812–1889)

11 Study Questions, Activities, and Resources

Study Questions and Activities

Porphyria’s Lover

  1. Why does the speaker murder Porphyria?
  2. Read the following essay, which argues that Shakespeare’s Othello is another source for Browning’s “Porphyria’s Lover.”

My Last Duchess

  1. What is the rhyme scheme in this poem?
  2. Give some examples of enjambment in the poem. What purpose does enjambment serve in this poem?
  3. What is the dramatic situation in the poem? Who is speaking and to whom?
  4. Is there any dramatic movement in the poem?
  5. What were the duchess’s alleged faults?
  6. How does Browning engage our sympathies for the duchess?

Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister

  1. What is the speaker’s dominant characteristic?
  2. What is the main characteristic of Brother Lawrence?
  3. In what way might Browning have used Friar Lawrence in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet to characterize his own Brother Lawrence?

The Bishop Orders His Tomb

  1. Who is Anselm?
  2. Is Browning criticizing aspects of 16th century Roman culture?
  3. Of what sins is the bishop guilty?
  4. Why is the choice of St. Praxed as the site of this bishop’s tomb ironic?
  5. List a few appropriately conventional sentiments uttered by the bishop.
  6. List some surprisingly unconventional sentiments he utters.
  7. How do you explain line 95: “St. Praxed at his sermon on the mount”?

Essay topics

Write an essay of 1,000 to 1,500 words on irony in “My Last Duchess,” “Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister,” and “The Bishop Orders His Tomb.”

Philip Allingham notes, “Browning is noted as a writer of Dramatic Monologues, in which a single ‘actor’ or persona (rather than the poet) speaks to an implied auditor and is, as it were, overheard by the reader (who has no authorial comment to shape his or her interpretation of the characters and their circumstances).” However, this poem is called a entitled a “soliloquy.” What features of “Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister” render the poem a soliloquy rather than a dramatic monologue? In particular, who is the poem’s “implied auditor”? Please refer to a good glossary of literary terms, and then in an essay of 1,000 to 1500 words, discuss any two of “My Last Duchess,” “Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister,” and “The Bishop Orders His Tomb” as dramatic monologues.

Compare any one of Browning’s dramatic monologues to one by Donne, such as “The Flea” or “The Canonization.” 


Film Treatments:

The Bishop Orders His Tomb

QR Code the Bishop Orders His Tomb

Porphyria’s Lover

QR Code for Porphyria’s Lover

Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister

QR Code Soliloquy of Spanish Cloister


About the poems of Robert Browning




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English Literature: Victorians and Moderns Copyright © 2014 by James Sexton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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