Robert Browning's "The Laboratory" and Carol Ann Duffy's "Havisham"

Categories: Carol Ann Duffy

“The Laboratory” by Robert Browning and “Havisham” by Carol Ann Duffy are two poems which are representations of a woman’s revenge and fury that takes place when angered by a male. It is a guide to what havoc a woman’s wrath can cause just to get her revenge back. We also come to realise as to what length a woman can go and the malicious capacities she displays out of revenge. It shows that the actions of a man can turn the character of a woman from a calm, loving individual into that of a ferocious, almost wicked one.

This is coined in a famous phrase “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned”.

In Carol Ann Duffy’s poem we see how outraged she is, as in the title of the poem she only mentions “Havisham” without specifying that she is “Miss Havisham” resenting the fact that she has been rejected by her lover. In heart breaking desperation she curses “Not a day since then I haven’t wished him dead”.

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Bitter resentment brought even a change in her life as the verse clearly shows: “Whole days in bed cawing…” She degrades herself to the state of an animal, even a lonely one because she came unsocial.

Due to his actions, she stereotypes every male and distrusts them as shown in the phrase “Give me a male corpse for a long slow honeymoon”. Similarly, in Robert Browning’s poem we see a woman regretting having trusted a male; however she is more outraged by the fact that the husband has betrayed her, so she curses and plans to murder her rival.

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She seems desperate to get her revenge back, but also enjoy the time it takes to plan her murder. Both poems portray the phrase, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” which means that even hell does not have the fury or rage to match a woman who has been deceived. This phrase was commonly used when women started to have equal rights as men.

Although these poems carry similar meaning, revenge is expressed in different ways. In Carol Ann Duffy’s poem “Havisham” we see that the victim shows great signs of rejection, although she feels that she is powerless to do anything. She is constantly aware of her situation and curses her lover for his actions. “Havisham” seems very passive and pathetic, while the person in Robert Browning’s poem seems much more aggressive, responsive and strong to her situation. “Havisham” is so mentally unstable that she is only able to hope evil things will happen to him, reminiscent of a kid who is powerless to do anything when opposed by someone bigger than them.

The woman in Robert Browning’s poem is possibly trying to reclaim back some power by planning to actually use physical force on the target. We can also derive from these facts that the two women differ in ages. “Havisham” is obviously the older woman as she describes herself in the sentence “ropes on the back of my hands”, which may mean that her skin is fragile such as that of an old person or from so much tensing and being angry. Her old age could also explain why she has such a passive personality. We see that she is very frustrated as she uses inappropriate language in the oxymoronic phrase “Beloved sweetheart bastard.” This shows more resentment and hatred to the husband. While in Robert Browning’s poem we see that the woman is very aware of her beauty and she says “She’s not little, no minion like me!” This may suggest that her rival is larger, therefore unattractive. Since we know that she is younger and more energetic, it could be why she is deciding to use physical force.

These two women feel pretty much the same about the men who disturbed them however, we see that in “Havisham” the woman detests all males, whilst in Robert Browning’s poem we see that the woman wants another chance with the husband as she says on the last line “Ere I know it — next moment I dance at the King’s”. Both women have very low self esteem as they cannot take it that they have been left and the man has departed. They cannot accept their own fate and this has made them very weak and they cannot keep control of their own lives.

The woman in “The Laboratory” resents her rival who has attracted her husband. She feels that removing her rival would make things better and also she thinks that she will have her husband back as shown in the phrase “next moment I dance at the King’s”. In “Havisham” the lady bear a grudge to the man who has left her on the wedding her and she is astounded to be “Spinster”. In the phrase “her, myself” she is does not even recognise who she is and clearly does not want to be in such position. She clearly wants to cause damage but because of the circumstance she does not even bother as in the sentence “till I suddenly bite awake” and “Bang”.

Both of these women are mentally unstable. In Havisham, we see that she has lost the power of speech. Since she has no-one to talk to she often makes animal noises as she believes that she has been rejected like an animal. This is in the phrase “cawing Nooooo at the wall” and “Puce curses that are sounds not words.”, this also shows us that animals caw and make noises so we can derive that she is already mentally stable in behaving the ways she is.

She has remained in her wedding dress since the day she was supposed to get married, this suggest that she will do anything to get married and cannot carry on without getting married. In Robert Browning’s poem, we see that the lady is deranged as she imagines very evil thoughts towards her rivals Pauline and Elise. She has a certain pleasure watching the apothecary which is very unusual and suggests that she is missing pleasure from being with her husband. Both women are sexually frustrated at the fact that they have been left for someone else and they considered themselves degraded.

In these poems a lot of gothic literature is used throughout to emphasize on the severity and longing of a male partner. It explores madness and isolation and is set in very old houses which fit the scene of horror and evil. The poem contains many supernatural and decay in them and vivid description of death and mysterious things. Both women act in an uncivilised manner such as the phrase “the dress yellowing” which could mean that she does not change them and urinates in them. This also makes her seem like an animal. In “The Laboratory” we see that the woman goes to a secret dark place to an alchemist for making her poison. This is all associated with gothic literature.

Both poems carry very similar meanings and are expressed in different ways and the supposed audience is for people who treat women as possessions and does not recognise them as a favour. Both women have reacted in very different manners but carry a same important meaning. It reinforces the fact that women may cause ultimate harm if provoked and make men more aware of them. The women are similar because they have experience the same thing, they are just reacting in different ways to each other. Which way is more efficient is another question.

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Robert Browning's "The Laboratory" and Carol Ann Duffy's "Havisham". (2017, Sep 24). Retrieved from

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