Percy Shelley's The Cenci and Robert Browning's The Ring and the Book are similar in many ways. While The Cenci is a drama written in the form of poetry, The Ring and the Book, one of the longest poems in English, is a drama in that the poem is a coll ...
Percy Shelley's The Cenci and Robert Browning's The Ring and the Book are similar in many ways. While The Cenci is a drama written in the form of poetry, The Ring and the Book, one of the longest poems in English, is a drama in that the poem is a collection of monologues of different characters. These two works are based on actual historical events happened long ago in Italy, which both Shelley and Browning transformed into literary works while they lived in Italy. The Cenci is based on a murder story in which Beatrice killed her father who raped her to make her submissive to his authority and was hanged for it. The Ring and the Book is another murder story in which Guido murdered his young wife, Pompilia, and was put to death.
Beatrice and Pompilia are victims of social oppression. Both of them are victimized by patriarchal oppression in that they are abused and killed by father and husband respectively. What oppress them are patriarchism and male-dominant ideology, which are sustained by various customs and institutions, including religion, law and tradition. The Count Cenci, Beatrice's father, firmly believes that his right over his children is given by God and he treats them as if they were his belongings and expects an absolute submission from them to his authority. He rapes Beatrice, who does not submit herself to his authority, to make her submissive. Beatrice kills her father as a way of defending herself from her father's oppressive power, and claims that she is not guilty of the murder. However, she is sentenced to death by the Church, which is a symbol of another patriarchal power. Guido marries Pompilia, not for his love for her, but for the wealth of her family. Pompilia who cannot endure the loveless marriage life with aged Guido manages to escape from Guido's house, which is a symbol of patriarchal oppression, and briefly enjoys freedom, but soon she is killed by Guido.
The reason why both Shelley and Browning were interested in the deaths of Beatrice and Pompilia was because they felt women's social status in England was little different from that of Italy where Beatrice and Pompilia were victimized by patriarchal oppression. In transforming the tragic deaths of the two Italian women into literary works, both Shelley and Browning direct the reader's attention to the low social status of women in the contemporary English society. In particular, both Shelley and Browning make efforts to investigatel what is the root of the powers that oppress women, and how the powers are sustained and exercised.