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The Laboratory

The Laboratory


by Robert Browning

The Laboratory Theme of Science

"The Laboratory" isn't about the kind of science we usually think about. There are no white coats or controlled experiments or anything like that. Still, the poem does take place in a laboratory of some kind. Even though they wouldn't have used the same words or methods, guys like the poison-maker in this poem are doing a kind of science. Good for them! Oh wait—Browning is telling a story about love and revenge, but he's definitely in love with the details of the laboratory. He spends a lot of time talking about vials and mortars and gums and mixing and pounding, inviting us to see this world of science through the enamored eyes of his speaker.

Questions About Science

  1. If all the stuff about vials and gums and powders was taken out of the poem, do you think you would miss it? What's the point of all of those details?
  2. Can you really call the work that's going on here science? Or is it more like magic, or cooking, or something like that?
  3. Does our speaker seem genuinely curious about what's going in the laboratory, or is it just because she's so hungry for revenge? 
  4. Is this a poem about the dangerous side of science, or do you think that's not what's going on here at all? Why do you think so?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

The speaker's interest in the laboratory lets us know that she's not just some mean and crazy so-and-so. No! She's also a curious, clever, and sharp-eyed so-and-so as well.

Beware! "The Laboratory" takes a dark view of the possibilities of science, showing us its dangerous, devilish side and its power to do evil.

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