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"The Laboratory" is a poem and dramatic monologue by Robert Browning. The poem was first published in June 1844 in Hood's Magazine and Comic Miscellany, and later Dramatic Romances and Lyrics in 1845.
This poem, set in seventeenth century France, is the monologue of a woman speaking to an apothecary as he prepares a poison, which she intends to use to kill her rival in love. It was inspired by the life of Marie Madeleine Marguerite D'Aubray, marquise de Brinvilliers (1630-1676), who poisoned her father and two brothers and planned to poison her husband.
Now that I, tying thy glass mask tightly,
May gaze thro' these faint smokes curling whitely,
As thou pliest thy trade in this devil's-smithy--
Which is the poison to poison her, prithee?
He 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.
Grind 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.
That 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?
Had 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!
Soon, 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!
Quick -- 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!
What a drop! She's not little, no minion like me--
That's why she ensnared him: this never will free
The soul from those masculine eyes, -- say, 'no!'
To that pulse's magnificent come-and-go.
For 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!
Not 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!
Is 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?
Now, 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!
There is lots of enjambment in the poem which makes it sound more like a story which helps it flow so it shows her emotions more. Also the poem follows A A B B rhyming structure and uses rhyming couplets. This also helps the poem flow and makes it a bit more catchy. It gives us a good idea of how excitied she is about her revenge. The first and last stanzas are similar, which shows that nothing has changed for her by telling the story at the apothecary, she will take her revenge. The poem is a monolgue, written in first person and showing her point of view.
The poem is written in archaic language which gives us a clue to when it is set. The alliteration ‘Brand, burn up, bite’ helps us understand her emotions as it makes the tone angry and bitter. The words also remind us how she feels branded as someone who has been cheated on, she is marked and scarred by her deceitful lover. She burns with shame and the word ‘bite’ gives us a clue to how much the cheating lover has hurt her. The poem is written in first person, giving the character’s view.
- English and English Literature Anthology for AQAA