Little has been written directly on the use of metaphor in The Ring and the Book, although there are four critics who do make some attempt to discuss the effects of Browning's extensive use of figurative language. Each of these critics acknowledges his inadequacy in this area and is satisfied with simply asserting a proposition.
Altick and Loucks in their book, Browning's Roman Murder Story1 , admit their differing views on the way metaphor is used in The Ring and the Book, and therefore make their observations individually.
The "first author" suggests that each metaphor is used so extensively and in such contradictory contexts that any metaphor which entered the poem with "generally well-defined connotations" ceases to have any clearly defined meaning by the time it has been used by a number of different monologuists. Thus, "The protean quality of language has been amply demonstrated, but so has the weakness of language as a
dependable means of communication. Metaphors, it turns out, are at the mercy of human motives..."2.
Metaphor, in the view of this author, becomes an inadequate means of communication and an unreliable moral indicator. For example, the Adam and Eve myth is used extensively in the poem, and in normal usage the serpent is accepted as a symbol of evil. However, by the time the poem has ended the serpent has been used to describe Guido, Violante and Pompilia by various speakers. Since this symbol of evil cannot be used
to adequately describe both Guido and Pompilia, the symbol or metaphor ceases to have value as a moral indicator.
The implications of this view are complex. If we consider the poem in terms of plot, then metaphor becomes somewhat irrelevant, since it cannot assist us in our attempt to form a judgement of the protagonists. But if we consider the poem in terms of what the author is trying to reveal about the problems of language and communication, then the undermining of the meaning of metaphors becomes crucial. This will be discussed more fully in a later chapter. [From Introduction]