Comparison Of The Presentation Of Women In "Salome" (1996) And "The Laboratory" (1842)

“Salome” and “The Laboratory” are two poems, written over 150 years apart, which portray profoundly the “real side” of women in their respective periods. “The Laboratory” was penned by Robert Browning in 1842, a time in which women were subordinate to men and were allowed very little independence or freedom. “Salome” was written by Carol Ann Duffy in 1996, 150 years after Browning’s poem and in a time in which the woman is equal to, if not above on some levels, her male counterpart. The first poem centres on a middle-class woman who has been cheated on by her husband. Taking advantage of the typical view that women “shut up and get on with it”, she goes to the apothecary and buys a potion to spike his new lover’s drink with. It is not found out whether or not she goes through with the murder. The second poem is focused on a far different woman; Salome is not hurt at all by her continued one night stands, seems to shake the emotion off with ease and what is more, she has murdered many times before. She is far more at one with the prospect of ending lives than the protagonist in “The Laboratory” – indeed, to her it is but a pastime, something she likes doing and is used to.

In the poem, it is unclear the exact motive for Salome’s killings. Her victims vary in appearance, and seem to have done no wrong. Although there are several constants in her account – the dead people are all males who have slept with her the night before, and they are all beheaded by her – what cannot be found is a clear reason for the murders. It seems that in contrast to there being a true motive, she is merely enjoying the “company” of the men before quite simply removing their heads. She does it for the satisfaction which is gained from knowing she is in control; perhaps she intends to gain something back from the men who have been using her.

The differences between Salome and the protagonist in “The Laboratory” could not be greater. This woman, although an upper-class lady, is far more vulnerable than Salome. She allows her emotions to be toyed with, and has devoted her entire life to one man. What is more, the motive behind her intent to kill is clear for all to see; her partner, her love, has left her for another woman and she is incensed at this, hell-bent on achieving revenge. This lady, as opposed to the habitual killer Salome, has not murdered in all her life; it seems that she is by nature a pleasant woman and wife, but has snapped at seeing her husband with a different woman. It is not her husband she intends to kill – but the new love of his, which would not only remove her but leave the most horrifying of images in his mind in doing so – that of her dying before his eyes. This is firmly established in the quote, “he is sure to remember her dying face”, as is her absolute search for revenge.

Over hundreds of years, women have been stereotyped in many different ways. The primary of these has always been that they are weaker than the other sex, more virtuous, in the past subordinate. In particular, the theory that they are more virtuous is interesting, considering that the protagonists in both of the poems studied here are contemplating murder – they are both impatient in addition, which in itself proves they are not “virtuous” women. In comparison to the stereotypical woman, Salome differs from this stereotype by a vast margin. She is anything but virtuous – she spends her life using and beheading men – and seems not to care. Salome has no regard for the men she is killing, least of all their emotions, and seems quite content with carrying on her ways simply for her own satisfaction.


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