Year 11

Understanding the poem 'Porphyria's Lover'

I can explain how Browning presents a transgressive and abusive relationship.

Year 11

Understanding the poem 'Porphyria's Lover'

I can explain how Browning presents a transgressive and abusive relationship.

Lesson details

Key learning points

  1. The poem starts with the speaker feeling unsettled but is soon warmed physically and emotionally by Porphyria's arrival.
  2. Porphyria begins to undress and instigates intimacy with the speaker.
  3. The speaker seems to want ownership of Porphyria and is jealous she has a life outside of his.
  4. The speaker strangles Porphyria with her own hair and marvels how he can then keep Porphyria like a doll.
  5. Browning was writing at a time when Porphyria's sexual and suggestive manner would have been transgressive.

Common misconception

The speaker kills Porphyria out of love, and his actions can be seen as a romantic gesture.

The speaker's actions aren't a romantic gesture but a sign of his disturbed mind. His love is possessive and obsessive, shown by his desire to control Porphyria. The calm tone he uses to describe the murder show his detachment from reality.


  • Unsettled - to be in a state of uncertainty or unease

  • Instigate - to initiate or provoke an action or event

  • Transgressive - involving actions that go beyond accepted boundaries or norms

  • Marvel - to be filled with wonder or astonishment; to admire greatly

  • Misogyny - hatred, prejudice or discrimination against women

Browning was said to have been influenced by several high-profile and gruesome murders which happened around the time he was writing the poem. You may wish to explore these in your contextual introduction to the poem.
Teacher tip

Content guidance

  • Contains conflict or violence.
  • Contains references to sexual or domestic abuse.


Adult supervision recommended.


This content is © Oak National Academy Limited (2024), licensed on Open Government Licence version 3.0 except where otherwise stated. See Oak's terms & conditions (Collection 2).


6 Questions

Robert Browning wrote the entirety of his work in the 1800s. As such he is ...
a 21st century writer.
a 20th century writer.
an 18th century writer.
Correct answer: a 19th century writer.
Robert Browning was particularly well known for writing narrative poems from a particular character's perspective. What would we call these poems?
Correct answer: Dramatic monologues
Robert Browning was writing through most of the Victorian era, a time known for its ...
Correct answer: sexual restraint and emotional control.
sexual liberality and emotional openness.
sexual conformity and emotional intelligence.
If you 'marvel' at someone or something then you are filled with ...
Correct answer: wonder and astonishment.
love and affection.
fear and disgust.
boredom and apathy.
Which of the below are reasonable synonyms of the word 'instigate'?
Correct answer: initiate
Correct answer: incite
Browning wrote 'Porphyrias's Lover' at a time when Victorian readers would have considered Porphyria's overtly sexual and suggestive manner as ...
Correct answer: transgressive.

6 Questions

Who wrote the poem 'Porphyria's Lover'?
Correct Answer: Robert Browning, Browning
The poem 'Porphyria's Lover' opens as a violent is taking place.
Correct answer: storm
Starting with the first, put these events from 'Porphyria's Lover' in chronological order.
1 - The speaker describes a destructive storm.
2 - Porphyria enters the cottage.
3 - She removes her damp clothing and unfurls her hair.
4 - Porphyria tells the narrator of her love for him.
5 - The narrator is unsure what to do but eventually decides to murder her.
6 - The narrator kills Porphyria by strangling her with her own hair.
7 - He spends all night with her body declaring that God will not condemn him.
Which of the below are major themes in the poem 'Porphyria's Lover'?
Correct answer: madness
Correct answer: power and control
Correct answer: love and obsession
Complete this quotation from the poem 'Porphyria's Lover': "And laid her gloves by".
Correct Answer: soiled
Complete this quotation from 'Porphyria's Lover': "A sudden thought of one so for love of her".
Correct Answer: pale

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