Despite being written two centuries after Romeo and Juliet, The Laboratory by Robert Browning, taken from the 1842 collection, Dramatic Lyrics, explores many aspects of conflict that relate to both the Elizabethan and Victorian societies. Written as a dramatic monologue rather than a play, Browning uses the poem to expose how jealousy and envy lead to a catastrophic build-up of internal conflict, which results in her desire kill her rival by poisoning her in the presence of her lover.
However, while it is clear that both Shakespeare and Browning are interested in presenting similar aspects of conflict within their respective societies, their approach to presenting these conflicts is rather different. Indeed, while Romeo and Juliet was written at the time as a play that was meant to be performed for an audience both in theatre and later as a film production, The Laboratory is a poem in the form of a dramatic monologue with a silent listener.
Moreover, although Act 3 Scene 1 conveys aspects of conflict through a heavily male dominated scene, The Laboratory is delivered solely from the point of view of a female. As a result, when comparing how both texts present conflict, it is important to realise England was a different place in the 19th century; the growing industrial revolution was coupled with new scientific discoveries, and this meant that society placed less importance on religious belief and traditional behaviour.
This is quite different to the context of Romeo and Juliet, where an Elizabethan society was strictly governed by social norms, limiting how people behaved, dressed and defined their sexuality. Firstly, both Shakespeare and Browning attempt to explore the conflict between religious belief and human morality. Both writers use religious imagery to externalise the internal conflict between religion and human morality building up inside each character. Browning uses anti-religious imagery right from the first stanza with the phrase ‘devil’s smithy’ and later by sarcastically referring to an ‘empty Church, to pray God in’.
On the contrary, Shakespeare juxtaposes the change in Romeo’s character after Mercutio’s death by contrasting the line ‘away to heaven respective lenity’ with ‘fire-eyed fury be my conduct now. ’ While both references were considered blasphemous (against religious belief) in both the Elizabethan era and the Victorian era, Browning makes the blasphemy more explicit through the word ‘devil,’ and the juxtaposition between the word ‘empty’ and ‘God’ highlights the growing conflict between scientific development and religious belief in Victorian society.
This conflict is further reinforced by the positive imagery of death created through the oxymoron ‘pure death’. Indeed, in the 19th century, more people lost faith in religious belief, when scientific theories like Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution began to create even more conflict between religion and science in society, so the idea of killing someone became both spiritually and morally easier. Yet, because society was stricter in the Elizabethan era, Shakespeare used alliteration in the letter ‘f’ in ‘fire eyed fury’ to add more emphasis to Romeo’s devilish behaviour…