Examining Tension In Robert Browning's The Bishop Orders His Tomb At Saint Praxed's Church

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And the Afterlife Goes On: Examining Tension in Robert Browning’s “The Bishop Orders His Tomb at Saint Praxed’s Church” This paper attempts a critical study of Robert Browning’s “The Bishop Orders His Tomb at Saint Praxed’s Church” focusing on the tension in the poem and on the Bishop’s notion of the afterlife. This poem was first published in Hood’s Magazine as “The Tomb at St Praxed’s (Rome, 15—)” and later in Dramatic Romances and Lyrics in 1845. The poem, a dramatic monologue, is written in blank verse in a manner befitting the rambling speech of the dying Bishop who is instructing his heirs on the construction of his tomb as well as contemplating on his past life and his enmity with Gandolf. Here, Browning’s choice of meter and style…show more content…
However, it could also be possible that the woman in question may be his wife considering his references to his past: What’s done is done, and she is dead beside, Dead long ago, and I am Bishop since, And as she died so must we die ourselves . . . (6-8) And later in the poem: About the life before I lived this life, And this life too, popes, cardinals and priests, Saint Praxed at his sermon on the mount, Your tall pale mother with her talking eyes . . . (93-96) However, the woman could well be his sister-in-law considering that he is unsure whether his heirs are his nephews or his sons: Nephews—sons mine . . . ah God, I know not! Well— She, men would have to be your mother once . . . (3-4; 1st ellipsis in orig.) To further the conflict, Browning presents the Renaissance spirit in the paradoxical intermingling of Christian and pagan imagery in the deathbed ramblings of the Bishop as seen in the lines…show more content…
. . (47-49) The Bishop doubts the intentions and integrity of his heirs and suspects—and rightly so—that they will appropriate the precious lapis for themselves; this doubt reflects his own feelings of covetousness, another of the seven deadly sins. In addition, one questions the manner in which such a rare and costly item ever came to be in the possession of the Bishop, not to mention his many villas. In fact, he even hints at being guilty of arson of the church in order to quench his burning desire of appropriating the lapis: Draw close: that conflagration of my church —What then? So much was saved if aught were missed! (34-35) To force his heirs into complying with his wishes, he threatens to bequeath all his villas to the pope. The Bishop is a product of his times and through him, Browning deftly presents his views on the corrupt state of affairs infecting the Roman Catholic Church during, but not restricted to, the years of the Renaissance. The reaction and attitude of the sons as conveyed by the Bishop’s speech in the last part of the poem and in lines such as the following is noteworthy: . . . but I know Ye mark me not! What do they whisper thee, Child of my bowels, Anselm? Ah, ye
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