In this essay, I will be analysing murder, revenge and violence in “Salome” by Carol Ann Duffy and “The Laboratory” by Robert Browning. I will be referring to both the poems, focusing on language, structure and poetic devices.
The Biblical version of ‘Salome’ was set in the Kings Chambers. It took place around AD 30. This version was about Salome who danced for Herod’s birthday feast. Her step father Herod was captivated by her lascivious performance so he was willing to offer her whatever she desiderated.
John Baptist believed it was unacceptable as Salome’s mother formerly had an affair with Herod. Salome was persuaded by her mother to call for the head of John the Baptist
Carol Ann Duffy’s version of ‘Salome’ was written before 1914. Duffy updates the biblical version of Salome and is writing from a perspective of a modern day Salome. She presents Salome as a ‘modern girl on the town’ who frequently goes out drinking and ends up with a one night stand.
Also Duffy presents Salome a modern day ‘vigilante’ and a sexual predator which is a role usually associated with men. Many of Carol Ann Duffy’s poems reflect on time, age and loss. It is about a female psychopath who takes advantage of her attractiveness by deceiving men and luring them to her bedroom. Then kills her victims who use her to reclaim her power and reverse the roles of men and women. Moreover, Duffy conveys that Salome feels as if many women are mistreated by men and wants to prove that women have the same abilities as men.
The poem explains Salome’s attitude, behaviour and feelings or her views on killing men. She draws attention of the mistreatment of women which are abused and tormented by men.
The poem ‘Salome’ is a dramatic monologue. A dramatic monologue is a type of poem; which is based during the Victorian period. It is a speech where the actual speaker is speaking to the audience. Carol Ann Duffy uses dramatic monologue to emphasise Salome’s motives, actions, feelings and behaviour. This is seen in the words “I’d done it before, (and doubtless I’ll do it again, sooner or later.)” The quote “I’ll do it again” emphasises that Salome is cold hearted, callous and is prepared for killing more men. This could also suggest that her actions are premeditated. Also, the words show that Salome she is careless and obsessed with killing men. She does not fear any consequences that may occur after the death of the men she killed. This shows that her attitudes to violence are very casual.
The attitudes towards men and women compared to the biblical times and now are very different. In the past the stereo types for men were associated as sexual predators and more superior than women. Women were seen as subservient, passive and inferior compared to the men. Now men and women are both treated equally. However, women are sometimes seen as objects to satisfy men’s desires; and men sometimes see women as easy targets. The words “turf out the blighter” symbolises the men who exploit or abuse vulnerable women, Salome perhaps describes the men as a plague and it is her duty to rid the world of humanity. Usually men see women who are emotionally terrified, weak and powerless as easy targets. In Salome’s mind, she believes it is her responsibility to “turf out” the men who behave in an abusive manner. The verb “turf out” is used in today’s society, this suggests that she wants to get rid of something or believes it has no value.
‘The Laboratory’ was written by Robert Browning before 1914. This was set in France before the French revolution ‘Ancient regime.’ Browning creates a voice of a woman to make the reader understand the speaker’s behaviour and actions. In the poem a woman (whose name is not mentioned) discovers her husband and his lover (Pauline) are betraying her; for this reason she becomes demented, deceptive and eager to take revenge. She decides to take an unhealthy interest by visiting the apothecary so she can create a powerful poison to murder her rival. After the potion is made, the apothecary who had agreed to make the poison was rewarded with all her jewels and a kiss. Throughout the poem, it seems as if the speaker’s husband or lover is a serial philanderer. However, this is not the case as she is excessively jealous of Pauline and a woman called Elise as well.
Robert Browning uses the dramatic monologue to convey setting, action and also reveals the insanity of the character. This mainly reveals that the speaker is seeking revenge on her lover and her mistress. “Let it brighten her drink, let her turn it and stir, And try it and taste, ere fix and prefer.” This conveys the idea of jealously, also that she will be satisfied if her lovers mistress life ends. In many ways, ‘The Laboratory’ is profoundly a sinister poem. Robert Browning creates a voice of a woman in the eighteenth century. It is a dramatic poem where it is narrated by one person who is expressing the matter of the poem in their own point of view. It is not the poet speaking to us, but the voice of the character he has created. In ‘Salome’ and ‘The Laboratory’ both the speakers want to take revenge however the speakers of the poem have different motives. ‘The laboratory’ motive is for the speaker to only kill her lover and his two mistresses as she feels they have betrayed her, also she has a feeling of jealousy towards them. However, ‘Salome’s’ motives differ as she is not jealous and reclaims her power by killing the men who take advantage of women.
I believe murder, revenge and violence are important themes as it creates very crucial moments which draws the reader’s attention. It has a great impact in a way which the audience are left in suspense and builds their curiosity. The poets draw us to the murderers’ worlds by the description of events to demonstrate the characters feelings. This is apparent in Robert Browning’s poem “smokes curling”, “gold oozing” and “taste sweetly” the descriptions of the speakers words show that she is fascinated by the making of the potion because of her twisted and demented plan to kill Pauline. As “poison” is a slow death, this shows that she wants the victim to suffer in pain; and the consequences of her actions are brutal. The reader is drawn by the murderer’s world in ‘The laboratory’ as the reader may perhaps also feel fascinated by the making of the potion and feel eager because of how Robert Browning describes the making of the potion in a positive manner. We are drawn to Salome’s worlds by her daily lifestyle she describes, this is seen in the words “Simon? Andrew? John?” these draw us to her world as we know her daily lifestyle. We know Salome’s expectations of men; and it seems as if Salome does not take men seriously and is only using men for pleasure, ‘role reversal.’ The reader is drawn by the murders world as they know Salome’s motive is to reclaim her power as she wants to oust the men who take advantage of women.
At the beginning of the poem, there is no tone of regret. Stanza one begins with Salome after a one-night stand, waking up in bed with a stranger next to her. Carol Ann Duffy uses the character Salome to express Salome’s feelings on murder and violence through the description of events. For instance, “I’d done it before” emphasises that Salome has become an experienced serial remover of heads as she expresses the idea that she continuously kills men and it seems as if it is her ambition to persist. The words “(and doubtless I’ll do it again, sooner or later)” conveys the inability to stop the gruesome murders. This further indicates that the murder is intentional as she is not determined to stop herself from murdering and knows that she will persist, possibly in the near future. The brackets are used to reflect on Salome’s state of mind and attitudes to murder. The tone shows that this must have been a brutal murder. Salome’s attitude shows she is absent minded, the murder is premeditated, has no remorse on what she has done, and is willing to kill men in the near future. Carol Ann Duffy conveys violence as the reader knows that Salome may never regret what she has done and is obsessed with killing. When the reader realises that the speaker of the poem is a female serial killer they are perhaps startled, agitated and are more interested in her lifestyle which builds a sense of eagerness for the reader.
In ‘The Laboratory’ the speaker of the poem expresses her feelings of murder and violence through the series of events. For example, “While they laugh, laugh at me, at me fled to the drear.” This suggests that the speaker feels insulted by the relationship between her partner and the mistress. She feels as if they have no consideration towards her. The speaker feels this way as they flaunt their relationship openly. This could express her feelings towards murder as it could lead to revenge on the mistress. The words “Drear” suggests that the speaker is depressed, “fled” gives the impression of the speaker having the urge to run away from the depression of hatred she is currently going through. “Laugh at me” highlights that she is feeling insecure because of her lover and the mistress relationship. She reckons that they are attempting to humiliate her and represents her as being innocent and naive. Her being humiliated leads her to her anger, her attitude implies that she is blameless and she presents herself as being the victim.
Duffy uses dashes to separate the words “-whose?” from the line “Woke up with the head on the pillow beside me…” It emphasises that Salome detaches from her victims emotionally. Moreover, Salome has no compassion and does not care anything from herself to her victims. “Head on pillow” beside her is profoundly shocking and unordinary for the reader. This also adds to the point that she is insane and heartless. Salome is brave, lazy and has no shame at all as she has not attempted to hide the decapitated head. She is not afraid of the “head” being found as it is still “on the pillow.”
Robert Browning uses everyday speech to hide the horror of the speaker’s actions and intentions. Such as “Empty church, to pray God in, for them!” This disguises the speaker’s horror of her actions and intentions as she is asking for forgiveness. However, she is asking for forgiveness by the actions she is going to make in advance. (The action she is going to make is killing her partner’s mistress.)This perhaps shows that she has no experience in murder. It disguises the horror as this makes the reader believe that the speaker is a good and innocent person. However, while she is praying she has something which is a sin in her mind. As a reader, I would feel confused as normally if a person wants to receive forgiveness, they would have wish that they did not make that mistake earlier and will make sure they will never do it again. However, the speaker must consciously know that she will be satisfied once her lover’s mistress life is ended and may have no remorse.
Another way Salome expresses her feelings on murder and violence is by Duffy’s description of events. This is apparent when Salome says “and a beautiful crimson mouth that obviously knew how to flatter… which I kissed…” This is very deceiving when Duffy describes the victim’s mouth as “crimson” this could perhaps be describing something beautiful or something deadly such as blood. In this case Salome is referring to blood. The colour crimson is a strong, bright deep red colour. This reinforces the idea that Salome believes that the murder is beautiful. Salome expresses the idea that she has no recrimination. For the reader, this shows that the murder is immoral, gruesome and implicating as Salome believes the murder is pleasuring and joyful.
Robert Browning uses punctuation to reflect the speakers changing state of mind and attitude to the murder. In every stanza of the poem, there is an exclamation mark. For instance, in the words “for them!” and “drop dead!” the speaker mentions this when she wants the murder to happen quickly; or when she is fed up with her partner cheating on her and flaunting his relationship with another woman. The exclamation marks show that she is excited, eager and enthusiastic to take revenge. This builds tension for the reader and is eager for the future events as the reader believes that murder will happen soon.
Throughout the poem Salome does not show much interest in her victim. She shows no emotions in these lines as Salome does not know his name and is not concerned that his lips feel “Colder than pewter.” This conveys that Salome treats her victims like a pleasant fishing hobby. It seems as if her cycle is to wait for a fish, then catch it, kisses the fish, and then kills it. The words “colder” suggests that her victims’ life has ended as there has been loss of the victim’s body heat since his death. “Pewter” is an alloyed metal made primarily from tin. When tin is cold it reaches a very low temperature. Salome’s words emphasise that she is a cold hearted person who does not care about other peoples’ emotions and feelings. The reader is shocked at the fact that she had kissed the head since the decapitation. There is a sick inevitability and depravity about her; this is immediately evident from the gruesome crime she has committed.
The use of rhyme in ‘the Laboratory’ coveys the writer’s attitude to murder. This is seen in the words “mash up thy paste” and “I am not in haste!” The word “paste” is when the potion is being made. Robert Browning uses the words “mash” to suggest the idea of murder by conveying that the speaker wants to destroy her lover’s mistress life. It leads to her attitude to murder as her partner has betrayed her; and this is the reason why the speaking is behaving in this way. “Haste!” could suggest that the speaker is in a hurry to kill, “not in haste” shows that she wants her victim to suffer in a slow death. This emphasises that she is cunning as earlier she conveyed herself as innocent and naive and it appeared to the reader that the speaker was blameless. The use of rhyming quickens the pace of the poem, this adds to the woman’s increasing excitement as the apothecary is creating the mixture.
Carol Ann Duffy creates an image of death and links them to the themes of murder, revenge and violence. Salome describes the head in close detail, referring to the colour of the hair beard and mouth as well as the “very deep lines around the eyes from pain, I’d guess, maybe laughter.” Duffy implies that Salome’s victims were mortified, threatened and tortured. It perhaps means her victims feel tired, distraught and stressed “deep lines.” The words “I’d guess” creates an image of revenge as this indicates that she does not have any sympathy towards her victims. Salome does not care about anything else as long as she meets her goal of using men, luring them to her bedroom and then killing them.
Robert Browning uses character to express the speaker’s feeling on murder and violence. In ‘The Laboratory’ the speaker of the poem expresses her feelings of murder and violence. This is illustrated in the words “Soon, at the King’s, a mere lozenge to give” and “Pauline should have just thirty minutes.” Robert Browning conveys murder and violence because the reader knows that the speaker is planning to kill her partner’s mistress and take revenge. “Mere” and “thirty minutes” suggests that the speaker is demented and wants the lover’s mistress to suffer a slow death; she delights in imagining her dead victim lying in agony. This means that in a slow death, her victim will suffer more pain and it is a very gruesome murder. She perhaps does not want to be present whilst the victim is suffering or dying. The consequences of her actions are brutal. The words “soon” conveys the idea that the speaker wants to kill the mistress as quick as possible, and does not want to waste time doing something else. It seems as if there is a sense of urgency.
Carol Ann Duffy uses punctuation to reflect Salome’s changing state of mind and attitude to the murder. In the poem there is a repeated question mark to show rhetorical question. It is seen in the words “Whose?” “What did it matter?” and “Simon? Andrew? John?” the question marks are always in a short sentence. It is as if Salome is dismissing her victims and they are unworthy to her. As she could not even remember the man’s name; this shows her lack of interest towards the individual and her psychopathic tendencies. This further indicates that Salome is a serial killer; as she has seduced and killed many men in her life, it has led her to not even remembering the victim’s name. This could also convey Salome’s eager attitude to murder; as to her it is like a challenge to oust the men who use women. She may have not even considered questioning the victims name as it is her aim to kill the men who she believes deserves to die. The names she is trying to figure out are name of disciples of Jesus; and John refers to John the Baptist. The use of question marks could perhaps mean she is regaining her consciousness. The rhetorical question implies that Salome does not care and is not concerned in answering her own question. Therefore this conveys that her attitude to murder is ruthless and cold. To the reader, Salome will seem insane as she has no regret on her actions. This points out that there is clearly a deep-seated hatred of men and a desire to dominate.
Robert Browning conveys an image of death. This is made clear in the lines “And her breasts and her arms and her hands, should drop dead!” it shows an image of how the speaker is going to kill Pauline. (Her partner’s mistress.) You can clearly see that the speaker is seeking revenge towards the mistress; because of the description of body parts. The speaker may feel insecure as she mentions Pauline’s body parts, she does not want another man; but to take revenge instead. Also, her jealousy is erotic and believes that everything about the mistress is better than her in the alliteration “drop dead!” The exclamation mark expresses the speaker’s very strong feelings of betrayal. Therefore this is possibly the reason why the speaker wants to take revenge.
An ellipsis is used in the poem to contribute the meaning of the poem and to highlight memory lapse. This is seen in the words “How to flatter…” and “Which I kissed…” which implies that Salome believes all men are the same by luring women who are drunk, looking for love and romance. She believes that men generally take advantage of women by abusing them and only expecting ‘one night stands.’ “How to flatter” illustrates that she believes her victim was a decent man, but for someone to only have a ‘one night stand’ with. However in a way, Salome also believes that her victim is not decent in person as he probably would have been like the majority of men and used her for pleasure. Salome has power over her victims by luring men to her bedroom. The second ellipsis is a contrast to the first as “how to flatter…” is not Salome taking her revenge yet, she may be planning to take revenge as her actions to murder is calculating; but at this point it seems as if she is lured by the victim. “Which I kissed…” contrasts to the first ellipses as this is her taking revenge and reversing the roles of the stereotypes for men and women. She believes that the victim is foolish and is easily led by lust and desire. The reader of the poem is perhaps confused as Salome is complimenting the victim’s actions “How to flatter.” Moreover it seems as if there is more love and romance at this moment rather than revenge.
Browning uses the characters in the poem to express the speaker’s feelings on murder and violence through their description of events. “Quick -is it finished?” This illustrates that the speaker of the poem is eager for her partner’s mistress to die by the words “Quick” It proves that the speaker wants to get rid of her and has no sympathy or guilt. “Quick” on its own shows how excited and manipulative the speaker is when choosing to kill by deception. She enjoys the images conjured up by her evil plans. Also, she is arrogant to believe that what she is doing is right. The short sentence shows she does not want her victim to live any longer and it shows how deranged the protagonist’s nature has become.
Duffy deliberately uses simple and everyday language in a complex way to disguise horror of Salome’s actions and intentions. She uses colloquial phrases and everyday slang to create the sense of an up to date character “Cut out the booze and the fags and the sex.” This was how men were like in the biblical times and Salome is reversing the roles of men and women. It is a contrast to the modern lifestyle. She uses these words to disguise her actions and intentions. She does not want to cut out the “booze” “fags” and “sex” as the majority of men believe that women with this particular attitude are easy targets. She is fully in control of her men and their deaths. However ironically, Salome needs to be better in control of her own excesses in every way apart from killing. The choice of words reflects her casual attitude. This contrasts to the seriousness of what she has done. As the poem is read by the reader, it seems to the reader that Salome wants to change her attitude and lifestyle.
The impact of the words “Never again!” on the reader is that the reader believes she is regretful for what she has done. The exclamation marks may appear to the reader that Salome wants a sudden change to her horrific lifestyle. However, Salome’s attitude is completely opposite to what the reader may believe. Salome does not care what she has done and does not feel any regret for the victims at all.”Turf out the blighter” she does not feel any regret as see wants to get rid of the men who take advantage of women.
Robert Browning uses first person “I” to show the loneliness of the speaker. He uses this to give the characters point of view. ‘The Laboratory’ follows an AABB rhyming structure. This makes the poem flow and makes it clear that the speaker is excited about taking revenge. This is seen in the words “grace” and “dying face” these suggest that the speaker is eager and willing to take the charm or elegance from the victim; and cause it with pain and aggravation with the poison she will soon give her. The structure creates a jaunty effect which is unsuited for the poems subject and makes the reader eager as well as the speaker for the death of Pauline.
Carol Ann Duffy uses rhyme to make the poem sound more affective. The use of rhyme in “Salome” conveys the writers’ attitude to murder and brings the speaker back to full consciousness. This is illustrated in the words “Clatter” and “Batter.” It conveys attitude to murder because “Clatter” could suggest the “booze” on the floor. “Booze” was Salome’s addiction which made her seem as an easy target towards the men that used her. Moreover, this emphasises the mess Salome made after she has succeeded her plan; which indicates that Salome has a careless attitude as she has not yet cleaned her mess. Moreover, “Batter” could suggest how Salome kills men and the result of the victim’s appearance after her plan has worked.
Another way Salome’s feelings are expressed on murder and violence is when she had finished killing the victim. This is seen in the words “I flung back the sticky red sheets, and there, like I said- and ain’t life a bitch.” The words “Sticky red sheets” suggest that Salome is careless. Salome is reflecting on her sexual conquests. She is straight forward, open and clear with her murder and does not deny killing or attempt to hide the decapitated body. If she did want to keep her murder discreet, she would have disposed the “sticky red sheets” as soon as possible. (Not just put them back.) “ain’t life a bitch” conveys the idea that she admits that her life is hard. However, Salome believes she is powerless to stop killing. To her, it is like her nature and what she normally does in her daily life. She represents the woman who is totally dominant over her male victims.
There are biblical undertones in Duffy’s descriptions “Lamb to the slaughter” is an animal imagery. Salome is referring to the men in her life and represents her victims are innocent and helpless without realising the danger. A “lamb” can be easily lead, this highlights the idea of the foolish men who are lead by lust or desire. This links to the ideas of vulnerability and sacrifice. In society men and women have different expectations, Salome’s mind set is to oust the men who lure women who are drunk, looking for love and romance. She is delusional to believe that it is her responsibility to ‘rid the world of the plague.’ And kills by deception by luring men.
In the poems ‘Salome’ and ‘The Laboratory.’ Both the poems use everyday events or speech to disguise the horror of their actions or intentions. Carol Ann Duffy uses daily events such as “for teas, dry toast, no butter.” This suggests that Salome is only having breakefast to make herself feel better after manipulating the victims. This could also suggest that the murder was very horrific and needs to take a relaxing break.
In conclusion, I believe that both the poems are personal in ‘Salome’ and ‘The Laboratory’ because they both describe their inner feelings. Salome believes that all men are the same because of her experiences in the past and has a feeling of animosity towards them. Salome is delusional and believes that she lives her own world. (What youthink is how you see the world.) She believes that she is responsible to ‘rid the world of the plague’ and oust the men. In ‘The Laboratory’ it is personal as the speaker has a feeling of hate and jealousy. Her attitude shows that she is blameless and presents herself as the victim. ‘While they laugh, laugh at me.”
In ‘Salome’ I do not think the character Salome will succeed because no matter how many men she kills. There will still be another man who sees women as objects or inferior towards them. (she cannot kill all the men in the world.) Furthermore, commiting murder is a crime; this could lead her to going to jail. Salome killing men, because of their ignorant behaviour will not deter other men from using women and abusing women’s feelings mentally. As many will believe that this severe crime may not happen to them as it is not common for women to kill men while the women lure them in their bedroom.
I think that in ‘The Laboratory’ the speaker succeeded when she killed her partner’s mistress. She succeeded as her partner will not be able to flaunt his and the mistress relationship in front of her. Also, she will not be depressed or feel betrayed anymore.
My opinion of the poems are that they are very interesting as I did not believe that women did not have the courage do such a drastic or demented crime. Moreover, it made me learn how they are psychologically; and the reasons why they kill.