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How does Robert Browning tell the story in Fra Lippo Lippi?

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Hannah Brzezinka

on 31 January 2013

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Transcript of How does Robert Browning tell the story in Fra Lippo Lippi?

How does Robert Browning tell the story in Fra Lippo Lippi? Form Form Structure Language Language Setting Setting Fra Lippo Lippi is written by Browning in blank verse form which generally follows iambic pentameter. The iambic pentameter allows the reader to feel like Fra Lippo Lippi (the main character talking through the poem) is talking to whom he is adressing (the guards) in a formal yet conversational tone which is perhaps desperate for the guards to comprehend how bad his life actually is, and his conflict between what he should be "scrawling" for the church, which is either in Fra Lippo Lippi's opinion their physical appearance, such as their "faces, arms, legs and bodies like the true", or their "souls", like "a fire, smoke" or "vapour done up like a new-born babe" in the Prior's opinion. We can also see that Fra Lippo Lippi is written in the form of a Dramatic monologue, much like alot of Browning's poems. We can see this because of the vast amount of emotion he shows not only in this section of the poem but throughout. There is an initial sense of relief that Lippi feels as he's "bade" to express in art form what is around him on "the walls a blank"; "First, every sort of monk" then "folk at church". "Thank you!" Fra Lippo Lippi cries, because he is an artist, and depicting people he's seen could be seen as a pause from the everyday, dull life that he usually experiences as a monk himself. Browning tells the story in these lines using linear chronology to tell us the story of his first artistic triumph and defeat which also offers an early climax in the story. There is another embedded narrative in this section when Fra tells the story of a murderer, his victim’s son and his lover ‘for that white anger of his victim’s son shaking a fist at him with one fierce arm’. The overload of information is used by browning to tell the story by illustrating the monk’s drunken state this is also shown by the use of enjambment. The length of the poem is used by browning to illustrate the insanity of Fra Lippo Lippi. Browning uses extensive amounts of ellipsis, repetition, exclamations, rhetorical questions and direct commands during the Prior’s speech. Ellipsis is used in the line ‘Man’s soul, and it’s a fire…no, it’s not…’ to illustrate the Prior’s loss for words in explaining how a painter would go about painting a man’s soul rather than simply his body. Throughout his speech he uses phrases said with an authoritative tone to emphasise his power such as ‘paint the soul.’ The extensive use of exclamations ‘As much as pea and pea! It’s devil’s-game’ pertinently express the Prior’s shock and disapproval of Fra’s style, his use of rhetorical questioning are used to illustrate the power he holds over Fra Lippo Lippi and the authority he has in the church in general. Lines 130 to 190 take place in flashback to Lippi being taken in by the Church and painting a scene of the people inside the Monastery. Set in the 15th Century at the time of the Italian Renaissance, philosophical ideas were being spread as people began to question religion and how they should live their lives. This exploration of how religion should interpret sin and ungodliness is the central theme of Fra Lippo Lippi.
The Monastery Is: Contrasting with the streets Lippi’s lived on before, the Monastery is a place of faith, tradition and visual beauty. However inside the Church are a range of people, arguing, in poverty, murderers and other negative elements of society. This contrast explores the poems themes as to whether religion is positive or brings more problems than it solves. Rather than praying, children are admiring murderers and the victim’s son is raging with “white anger”, the Church is full of people but seemingly devoid of God. This represents the Prior’s wants for Lippi to paint “the souls of men” rather than a realistic image of man’s woes.
Ultimately the setting acts as a metaphor. The Grand preconceptions from the outside are met with a cramped, spiritually vacuous interior. Acting as a metaphor for Lippi’s thoughts on his art and living an unholy life it questions what is better – accepting our imperfections as what makes us who we are, or striving to achieve something spiritually higher. Cramped. This is shown by Browning’s list of people inside. Enjambment throughout the 50 lines created one solid block of descriptive text showing the full range of people attending the Church. Busy. A huge variety of attendees are present. “fat and lean” “black and white” “little children” and a man “fresh from his murder” shows the stark difference between visitors. Spiritually empty. Little Children crowd around the murderer to admire his beard and watch the confrontation between him and “his victim’s son”. The Church is full of anguish yet the only person who sees is “Christ (whose sad face on the cross only sees this after the passion of a thousand years)”. Although the church is physically full, it’s a spiritual void; the antithesis of the Prior’s demands later in the poem (not to paint the crowd of “flesh” but to paint “the souls of men”). A snapshot of the renaissance. Traditional religious beliefs are being ignored or overlooked by people as others explore if religious guidelines to living life are outdated or wrong. Fra Lippo Lippi uses self-depreciating language when talking about his work ‘scrawled them within the antiphonary’s marge’ this illustrating his lack of confidence in his work, this could be due to the criticism he gets from the church about it as they later tell him ‘rub all out, try at it a second time.’ This shows how the church is in control of the art much like they are in control of Fra Lippo Lippi this lack of control is much like the lack of control he had when being fostered into the monastery. Fra Lippo Lippi’s view of the monks is shown when he says ‘The monks looked black’ the use of ‘black’ suggesting he believes they are dull and implying he thinks they lead boring lives. The words ‘Fresh’ and ‘murder’ in the line ‘Fresh from his murder’ juxtapose each other this not only illustrates but also emphasises Fra Lippo Lippi’s lively mind.
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