Study Guide

The Laboratory Stanza 5

By Robert Browning

Stanza 5

Line 17-18

Had I but all of them, thee and thy treasures,
What a wild crowd of invisible pleasures! 

  • All of a sudden, she takes off into a kind of daydream. She imagines herself owning all of these poisons ("treasures") and thinks about how much fun she would have using them to kill people. 
  • Not to jump to any conclusions, but we think she might be just a tad nuts.
  • To underline that point, Browning slips in words like "wild" to let us know that things are a little out of control. We're not dealing with a stable individual here.

Line 19

To carry pure death in an earring, a casket,

  • She dreams about being able to "carry pure death" around with her in ordinary objects. 
  • We think what this lady is really after is power—the ability to decide who lives and dies. 
  • There's also kind of a cool spy movie undertone here as she imagines things you could hide poison in, including a "casket" (a little box) and an earring (we don't quite see how that would work, but then again, we don't spend a lot of time hiding poison—honest!).
  • By the way, it's kind of hard to lug around pure death. Here the speaker describing the poison with something that it's closely associated with (death). That, Shmoopers, is called metonymy.

Line 20

A signet, a fan-mount, a filigree basket!

  • Yay—more weird stuff to hide poison in! 
  • A signet is a ring used to stamp a symbol into things, a fan mount is the solid center of a lady's fan, and a filigree basket is a little container made of delicate, carefully cut metal. 
  • What does all this stuff have in common? Well, they're all accessories that an elegant lady at court might carry around with her. Because they are such ordinary things, no one would ever guess that they carried "pure death."