The Bishop Orders His Tomb

November 30, 2016 General Studies

Robert Browning, the famed English poet wrote “The Bishop Orders His Tomb at Saint Praxed’s Church- in 1845. In this poem, he brings to life the Italian Renaissance, nearly 300 years in the past. The character, a bishop of a Roman church, is lying on his deathbed, speaking to those who have gathered at his feet. Reliability is the question at hand, and whether or not the narrator is exactly that is the main focus.

Within the first few lines of the monologue, the initial reaction is to jump to the conclusion that because the bishop is on his deathbed, he could not be reliable due to clouded emotions. However, upon further reading, one could also jump to the conclusion that because he is dying, the bishop would have nothing to lose, so therefore he wouldn’t hold back the truth. What would be the point of lying when on your deathbed? This would be the definition of a reliable character, answering the main question. Yet, these are simply conclusions with no real basis behind them.

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Throughout the poem, the narrator proves to those that are listening to his monologue, that he was the very paragon of what a bishop should not be. At the beginning of his speech, he very blatantly points out the fact that he had a mistress, calling his so-called nephews his own sons. “Nephews “sons mine ah God, I know not! Well “/She, men would have to be your mother once,””. To become a bishop, one must take a vow of celibacy. Obviously, this bishop broke those vows. This would also help prove the idea that perhaps the bishop is a reliable person. He also seems to relish the material possessions of life, especially those of the jewelry and adornment type. This is yet another ideal that the bishops are supposed to vow against, as it is one of the seven deadly sins. His tale of stealing a large piece of lapis lazuli is yet another clue as to the reliability of his character. He seems to be laying it all on the line upon his deathbed.


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