Abrams, one of the general editors of the Norton Anthology of English Literature and a respected American critic known especially for work on Romanticism, lists three features of the dramatic monologue as it applies to poetry: 1. A single person, who is clearly not the poet, utters the speech that makes up the whole of the poem, in a specific situation at a critical moment. 2. This person addresses and interacts with one or more people; but we know of the auditors’ presence, and what they say or do, only from clues in the discourse of the single speaker. . The main principle controlling the poet’s choice and formulation of what the lyric speaker says is to reveal to the reader, in a way that enhances its interest, the speaker’s temperament and chararcter Robert Browning is considered to be the perfecter f the dramatic monologue, which had its heyday in the Victorian Period. Other Victorian poets to produce one or more dramatic monologues include Alfred Lord Tennyson, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Matthew Arnold, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Christina Rossetti, and Algernon Charles Swinburne.
None, however, produced as many, or as striking, dramatic monologues as Robert Browning. A famous example is Brownings “My Last Duchess. ” Notice how the Duke’s character is revealed by what he says: “MY LAST DUCHESS” That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall, Looking as if she were alive. I call That piece a wonder, now: Fra Pandolfs hands Worked busily a day, and there she stands. Will’t please you sit and look at her?
I said “Fra Pandolf’ by design, for never read Strangers like you that pictured countenance, The depth and passion of its earnest glance, But to myself they turned (since none puts by The curtain I have drawn for you, but l) And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst, How such a glance came there; so, not the first Are you to turn and ask thus. Sir, ’twas not Her husband’s presence only, called that spot Of joy into the Duchess’ cheek: perhaps Fra Pandolf chanced to say “Her mantle laps Over my ladys wrist too much,” or “Paint
Must never hope to reproduce the faint Half-flush that dies along her throat”: such stuff Was courtesy, she thought, and cause enough For calling up that spot of joy. She had A heart”how shall I say? ”too soon made glad, Too easily impressed; she liked whate’er She looked on, and her looks went everywhere. Sir, ’twas all one! My favour at her breast, The dropping of the daylight in the West, The bough of cherries some officious fool Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule She rode with round the terrace”all and each Would draw from her alike the approving speech, Or blush, at least. She thanked men,”good! t thanked Somehow”I know not how”as if she ranked My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name With anybodys gift. Who’d stoop to blame This sort of trifling? Even had you skill In speech”(which I have not)”to make your will Quite clear to such an one, and say, “Just this Or that in you disgusts me; here you miss, Or there exceed the if she let Herself be lessoned so, nor plainly set Her wits to yours, forsooth, and made excuse, ”E’en then would be some stooping; and I choose Never to stoop. Oh sir, she smiled, no doubt, Whene’er I passed her; but who passed without Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands;
Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands As if alive. Will’t please you rise? We’ll meet The company below, then. I repeat, The Count your master’s known munificence Is ample warrant that no just pretence Of mine for dowry will be disallowed; Though his fair daughter’s self, as I avowed At starting, is my object. Nay, we’ll go Together down, sir. Notice Neptune, though, Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity, Other of Brownings brief dramatic monologues include “Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister,” “The Laboratory” and “Porphyria’s Lover,” Several important longer dramatic monologues, which appeared in the poet’s collection Men and
Women. are “Fra Lippo Lippi,” “Bishop Blougram’s Apology,’ and “Andrea del Sarto. ” His crowning achievement in the style are the dramatic monologues he wrote for his acknowledged masterwork The Ring and the Book, published in four installments in 1868-1869. The Ring and the Book, an epic-length poem of 21,000 lines, is based on the documents from a Roman murder trial of 1698. From this material Browning created a verse-novel that includes twelve “Books,” ten of which are dramatic monologues offering the differing perspectives of narrators involved in the case.
The one accused of murder, an impoverished nobleman amed Count Guido Franceschini, speaks twice. The first and twelfth books are spoken by the poet himself. The Ring and the Book has been called a tour de force of dramatic poetry and was a great success both commercially and critically. or Dramatic monologue in poetry, also known as a persona poem, shares many characteristics with a theatrical monologue: an audience is implied; there is no dialogue; and the poet speaks through an assumed voice”a character, a fictional identity, or a persona.
Because a dramatic monologue is by definition one person’s speech, it is offered without overt analysis or commentary, lacing emphasis on subjective qualities that are left to the audience to interpret. Though the technique is evident in many ancient Greek dramas, the dramatic monologue as a poetic form achieved its first era of distinction in the work of Victorian poet Robert Browning. Browning’s poems “My Last Duchess” and “Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister,” though considered largely inscrutable by Victorian readers, have become models of the form.
His monologues combine the elements of the speaker and the audience so deftly that the reader seems to have some control over how much the speaker will ivulge in his monologue. This complex relationship is evident in the following excerpt from “My Last Duchess”: Even had you skill Quite clear to such an one, and say, ‘Just this Or there exceed the mark’ and if she let ”E’en then would be some stooping… Or Dramatic Monologue When discussing the poetic form of dramatic monologue it is rare that it is not associated with and its usage attributed to the poet Robert Browning.
Robert Browning has been considered the master of the dramatic monologue. Although some critics are skeptical of his invention of the form, for dramatic monologue s evidenced in poetry preceding Browning, it is believed that his extensive and varied use of the dramatic monologue has significantly contributed to the form and has had an enormous impact on modern poetry. “The dramatic monologues of Robert Browning represent the most significant use of the form in postromantic poetry” (Preminger and Brogan 799).
The dramatic monologue as we understand it today “is a lyric poem in which the speaker addresses a silent listener, revealing himself in the context of a dramatic situation” (Murfin 97). “The character is speaking to an identifiable but silent listener at a dramatic moment n the speaker’s life. The circumstances surrounding the conversation, one side which we “hear” as the dramatic monologue, are made by clear implication, and an insight into the character of the speaker may result” (Holman and Harmon 152).
Although Browning wrote numerous dramatic monologues his contemporaries often criticized his works as being too emotional. The dramatic monologues of Browning are characterized by certain identifiable traits. The three requirements of a Browning dramatic monologue are “The reader takes the part of the silent listener; The speaker uses a case-making argumentative tone; We complete the ramatic scene from within, by means of inference and imagination” (Landow). Critics have interpreted the third requirement, the reader’s interpretation and conclusions, as a suspension of the reader/listener between sympathy and judgment.
The reader has a choice regarding the intent of the speaker, but he/ she must remain removed until the speaker is done making his argument. Glenn Everett believes the role of the listener is one of discovery which engages the imagination, but the listener must remain detached and abstain from passing judgment until the work is known as a whole (Everett). The role of the listener is passive. He/she “cannot help but hear” because the position of the listener is exactly “a passive receptor of a verbal tour de force that leaves him no opportunity for response” (Wagner-Lawlor 287).
On the other hand the typical Browning speaker is an “eloquent rhetorician” whose “dramatic situation itself is obviously only created by the presence of the other”(Wagner-Lawlor 288), the other is identified as the silent listener. The speaker characteristically uses “strongly rhetorical language which distinguishes the dramatic monologue from the soliloquy” (Everett). The elements of the dramatic monologue are each a topic for further analysis. Both “Caliban Upon Setebos” and “A Grammarian’s Funeral” are dramatic monologues.
The agenda of each speaker is quite different, as is the tone. Applying the three principles that characterize a Browning dramatic monologue can help the modern reader understand the unique intent of each poem more fully. Caliban Upon Setebos “Caliban Upon Setebosn is a dramatic monologue whose speaker is a literary figure. To understand the poem fully the listener should be acquainted with the character of Caliban as the deformed slave of Prospero in Shakespeare’s The Tempest. In this poem Caliban is explaining his concept of religion.
Defining his belief in and understanding of his God Setebos as he is able to see and experience Him in nature. The poem becomes a doctrine for Caliban’s “natural theology”; one that has no books but evolves from Caliban’s own observations and experience. Caliban “reads nature as a text with a hidden author, and ceaselessly endeavors to fix within an elaborative interpretative scheme himself and everything he encounters” (Shaviro 140). The listener is introduced to Caliban’s. When Caliban says, “Setebos, Setebos, and Setebos! / Thinketh, He dwelleth i’ the cold o’ the moon. Thinketh He made it, with the sun to match,/ But not the stars; the stars came otherwise;” (24-27). He is giving an account of his concept of creation. Caliban spends the entire poem talking about the nature of his God and the listener is given a glimpse into the psyche of the speaker. It is a powerful dramatic monologue and theological explanation. “What is most striking is the way in which the poem itself dramatizes an interpretive dilemma” (Shaviro 139). The dramatic monologue is an excellent vehicle for the intention of Robert Browning.
The dynamic of speaker and listener, the choice of Caliban as speaker and the content of the poem (natural theology) ll work together to serve the purposes of the poet (which could be manifold) by presenting the listener with an “argument” and a choice to be made at completion of the poem. A Grammarian’s Funeral “A Grammarian’s Funeral” is another example of a Browning dramatic monologue, but it is different from “Caliban upon Setebos”. The tone of the speaker is less forwardly argumentative the poem because it is a eulogy given by a scholar’s student.
The suggestion to the reader/listener by the speaker is to sympathize with the speaker and respect the greatness of his teacher. The speaker wants the listener to know the attributes of his deceased teacher. There is a movement in the poem to higher ground that can be interpreted on many levels. The corpse of the teacher moves to higher ground as it is taken to the city on the hill as well as the students who have been enlightened by his teachings, and the listener may be moved to higher ground as well if he/she sympathizes with the speaker’s view of education or enlightenment.
The listener is invited into the poem/eulogy right at the beginning, “Let us begin and carry up this corpse,/Singing together” (1-2). From here the speaker has the attention of the listener and will continue on to speak of his teacher. The dramatic elements of his particular poem are rooted in the fact that it is a eulogy, which is in itself a type of monologue. The eulogy expresses a dramatic moment and asks the listener to pay respect. In “A Grammarian’s Funeral” the speaker is clearly making an argument, but it is not direct.
The argument inferred by the language used in discussion of his teacher can be seen in lines such as, Yea this in him was the peculiar grace (Hearten’our chorus! ) That before living he’ll learn how to live- No end to learning: Earn the means first- God surely will contrive Use for our earning. (75-80) This quote is evidence of the speaker’s own ideas. As he exalts his teacher he expresses his own argument in favor of a meditative life of learning.
There is a moral judgement being presented by the speaker to the listener who is in turn being asked to make a judgement. The argument of the speaker in this dramatic dialogue is carried out through the praise and discussion of the deceased grammarian. We not only get to know what made the teacher great, but we also get an inside look, a portrait, of the student’s mind. Dramatic Monologue and Modern Literary Criticism As a reader can see, the dramatic monologue is a powerful form of poetry with the potential to be quite persuasive.
The form well suits poets who have something to express. It is poetic propaganda. The dramatic elements and psychological implications make it a fascinating form to read. Modern literary critics with regard to the role of speaker, silent listener and the poet have extensively examined the form of dramatic monologue as well. It is such an expressive form of poetry that the listener (reader) follows the designs of the speaker (poet) almost automatically.
The perspective of critic Robert Langbaum finds the dramatic monologue a combination of “lyric and dramatic elements” that represent a “poetic innovation whose influence could be traced in the ork of all the great modernist poets” (ONeill 82) He states “We understand the speaker of the dramatic monologue by sympathizing with him and yet remaining aware of the moral judgment we have suspended for the sake of understanding” (Langbaum 34). Or The first distinguishing characteristic of Browning’s dramatic monologues is the point of entry, which, I argue, is not through an empathetic relationship with the speaker.
The experience Browning offers us is not the same as that offered by the Wordsworthian lyric, although the poets begin the same way. In both cases, the poet’s subject is the psychology of the speaker, and in both cases the uthor explores the speaker’s point of view by means of imaginative sympathy ”Einfuhlung. With the Wordsworthian lyric, the reader’s job is to achieve that sympathy; with the Browningesque monologue the reader may instead take the part of the listener, and this point of view is always available within the form.
Indeed, the auditor may appear to be absent (as in “Johannes Agricola”), dead (“Porphyria’s Lover”), out of earshot (“Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister”), or simply inattentive (“Andrea del Sarto”). Second, whether this auditor is present does not matter so long as we find the speaker using the same kind of case- aking, argumentative tone that marks “My Last Duchess” and which is the second definitive characteristic of the type.
In all these instances the real listener (that is, the target of the argument) is the speaker’s “second self”; and it becomes clear that in many monologues the putative auditor within the poem is less important than this Other. The arguments in “Karshish” are not really intended for Abib’s eye, but for Karshish’s own, as the rationalizing in “Cleon” is not intended to dissuade Protus’s interest in Paulus and in Christ, but Cleon’s own. The tone of the argument tells us that there is a second point of view present, nd it is that point of view which we take.
It is this strongly rhetorical language which distinguishes the dramatic monologue from the soliloquy, for it shows the speaker arguing with a second self. We are coaxed out of our natural sympathy with the first-person speaker by the vehemence of the arguments made; and if Abib or Lucrezia are not impressed by the arguments, we take their places within the monologues and listen as they should. As its third important distinction, the form requires that we complete the dramatic scene from within, by means of inference and imagination, and thus these texts are rules by which the reader lays an imagined drama.
The clues which Browning’s speakers provide to their obsessions are observable only if we imagine ourselves within the dramatic situation, with the speaker there before us. (Because Wordsworth intends to put us within the mind of the speaker, his poems remain essentially lyric. ) In order to read the poems in this way, we must often sacrifice our certainty about which way to take them: do the Bishop’s sons really give him cause for worry that they will substitute travertine for his antique-black and make off with his lapis lazuli, or is he paranoiac? What word did Porphyria’s lover expect to hear from
God? Was there any truth to the “lie” that Count Gauthier told and Gismond made him swallow? We and the listeners in these dramatic monologues can only speculate, for within the text neither they nor we can find conclusive proofs. This indeterminacy, which his first readers found so distressing, accords with Browning’s own “uncertainty” about what happens in his poems: most famously his comment to Hiram Corson that the Duke might have had his Duchess put to death “or he might have had her shut up in a convent” (Corson viii). Since the envoy cannot know conclusively, neither can we. Robert Browning and the
Julia Margaret Cameron [Public domain), via Wikimedia Commons Source: Julia Margaret Cameron [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons Dramatic Monologue The dramatic monologue is a poetic form that was used by Victorian poets to its fullest, especially by Robert Browning, now considered one of the most talented and prolific dramatic monologists. It worked as a tool to examine issues of the day that may not have been examined otherwise, particularly domestic abuse and religious hypocrisy by allowing the reader to function as an audience member of a dramatic production, making his or her own judgments of the situation being described.
The dramatic monologue found its first true audience and home in the Victorian Era. Poets such as Robert Browning used the form. It hasn’t gone away – it’s been used by new poets, such as Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, Sylvia Plath, John Ashbery, John Berryman, and Robery Hayden (American Academy of Poets). Glen Everett, a professor of English at the University of Tennessee, defines three characteristics that distinguish a dramatic monologue from other forms of poetry. The first of these characteristics is a sense of Einfuhlung (imaginative sympathy) that the author explores through the narrator’s point of view.
The receiver of this point of view may be another character within the poem, or it may be the reader of the poem. If it is a character, commonly referred to as an “auditor,” the auditor may be “absent… dead… out of earshot… or simply inattentive” (Three Characteristics). The second characteristic is that the speaker in the poem must argue with his or her “second self’ (really the speaker him/herself) and rationalize not to the actual listener, but to the speaker him/herself.
The third characteristic is that the reader must “complete the dramatic scene from within, by means of inference nd imagination” (Three Characteristics). While the author will present clues, the reader must take an active part in creating the scene in which the monologue occurs. Wagner-Lawlor, in WThe Pragmatics of Silence, and the Figuration of the Reader in Brownings Dramatic Monologues,” argues that another characteristic of the dramatic monologue is the silence of the auditor. “… he silent listener is absolutely crucial; the dramatic situation itself is obviously only created by the presence of the other, and he is necessary for the delineation of the speaker’s self-portrait” (Wagner-Lawlor 288). While the auditor may be silent within the poem for two real reasons – assent or dissent – it is often the case that neither is true, and the silence is merely the reaction of a person put into a situation where any response is unnecessary or unwanted. In these cases, the silence is one of intimidation.
The auditor cannot respond to the situation because he or she is unable to break the barrier that is being imposed on him/her due to the position he/she finds him/herself in. This tension is a central characteristic of the genre – what any dramatic monologue is ‘really about’ – because it clarifies the genre’s ltimate irony: dramatic monologue ends up spotlighting the silent auditor precisely by effacing him/her in shadow. Like a stage whisper intended for all to hear, the shadovw figure who is the auditor cannot help but be seen finally by the figure for whom the auditor is obviously a stand-in – the reader (Wagner- Lawlor 288).
Browning’s Use of the Dramatic Monologue Robert Browning is often considered the master of the form of the dramatic monologue – if not the first to “inaugurate [the first] to perfect this poetic form… ” (Lennartz 418) – especially poems in which the speaker silences his uditor through intimidation. Brownings speakers are often aggressive and threatening. They are normally in a position of superiority, whether socially or intellectually, and because of this, the auditor must listen in silence and the reader must make his or her own assumptions and create the world, fulfilling Everett’s three requirements for dramatic monologues.
Brownings “company of ruined questers, imperfect poets, self-sabotaged artists, failed lovers, inspired fanatics, charlatans, monomaniacs, and self-deceiving confidence men all have a certain family resemblance, and they outweigh finally the other groups among is creations” (Trilling and Bloom 493-494). This paper will focus on a particular group of these men – those who help the reader examine domestic abuse that results in murder, as in “My Last Duchess” and “Porphyria’s Lover,” and those who help the reader examine religious hypocrisy, as in “The Bishop Orders his Tomb at St.
Praxis” and “Bishop Blougram’s Apology. ” According to Melissa Valiska Gregorys article, “Robert Browning and the Lure of the Violent Lyric Voice: Domestic Violence and the Dramatic Monologue Domestic,” violence occurred with regularity in Victorian homes, regardless of economic or social position, yet ther writings, such as novels, included scenes involving sexual violence that were either fleeting, which did not cover the true depth of the issue, or they purposely shunned examining the motives and effects of the violence (492-493).
Browning, however, included “acute depictions of sexual conflict within the domestic sphere – from the coarse physical brutality of Porphyria’s lover to the carefully controlled aesthetic and sexual domination of Duke Ferrara” (Gregory 493). There is no question that Browning covered the more violent end of the spectrum within the battle between the sexes – the struggle for sexual ominance and the control within marriage or relationships. My Last Duchess” “My Last Duchess,” often considered the preeminent dramatic monologue of the Victorian era, is the tale of a man, the Duke of Ferrara, who determined that his wife did not meet his standards and did not offer him the correct level of respect. In the ultimate show of power and domestic abuse, he has her murdered. The Duke is authoritarian, to say the least (Hayvvard 27). He expected absolute obedience from his Duchess: “… if she let/Herself be lessoned… and when he was disappointed, he ordered her death. “l gave commands;/Then all smiled stopped ogether. ” He also expected a high level of respect to be accorded for the name he bestowed upon her, yet he felt she “ranked/My gift of a nine-hundred-years- old name/With anybody’s gift. ” The dangerous combination made the Duke feel slighted, and as the husband and the one with power within the relationship, his displeasure in her was made clear through her death.
It has been suggested that another reason for the Duke’s murder of his young wife was that he was “somehow daunted by his wife’s freedom of spirit, and [disguised] this fact with exaggerated severity” (Hayward 29). This is shown in the text through his bsessive need to be in control of her smiles and happiness – he is the only one who is allowed to make her happy, although he does not seem to care about doing so. The auditor in “My Last Duchess” may be shocked or horrified, but none of that shows within the poem.
It is up to the reader to determine why the auditor (an envoy from the Count of Tyrol who was negotiating a potential marriage to Count’s niece) does not respond. It may be a case of intimidation, as is common in Browning’s dramatic monologues, or it may be consent to the situation. The envoy may be fully accepting of the Duke’s ability to make and arry out such decisions and actions, as it would have been expected that a man in that position would wield his power whenever he wished to. “Porphyria’s Lover” “Porphyria’s Lover” is another example of domestic violence told within dramatic monologue.
It tells the tale of a woman, Porphyria, who visits her lover. They are not married; however, she still takes the role of a submissive wife, calling to her lover, and, when he does not respond, making herself ready for him: “She put my arm about her waist,/And made her smooth white shoulder bare,/And all her yellow hair displaced/… Murmuring how she loved me… ” The lover, swelled with ride and happiness, determines there is only one way for him to keep her in this way, submissive and obedient – death.
He chooses to murder her: “l found/ A thing to do, and all her hair/ln one long yellow string I wound/Three times her little throat around/And strangled her. ” He justifies his murder but explaining to the auditor that she felt no pain – “No pain felt she;/l am quite sure she felt no pain” – and that she now is happy – “Her head, which droops upon it still:’ The smiling rosy little head/ So glad it has its utmost will. ” The lover is convinced in the rightness of his choice of actions.
His dominance of her is complete, and he murder has been “perpetrated for the lady’s well-being rather than for the man’s. Porphyria’s lover knows that she is frail and impure … ” (Pearsall 50). Her surrender to him was a signal to him that he was able to take this step and arrest the relationship at this stage, keeping her forever in the perfect moment. The reader is not sure who the auditor is in this case, but it is clear that the lover is speaking to someone, stating “And thus we sit together now,/And all night long we have not stirred. The question as to who this auditor is and why he/ she is silent is not answered, but, as was stated earlier, the auditor may not be hysically present. Domestic Violence In both “My Last Duchess” and “Porphyria’s Lover,” Browning has shown that the male in the relationship has the power to silence his lover. The act may be either the result of “the act of ultimate devotion or the result of disappointed expectations” (Burns-Davies v). In “My Last Duchess,” it appears to be disappointed expectation, but “Porphyria’s Lover” appears to be more in line with saving the moment of ultimate devotion.
In both cases, though, ‘the distinguishing quality of [Browning’s] villains is not the conscious diabolism of n Iago, but rather a meanness of spirit which finds expression in a censorious attitude toward life” (Hayward 26). Both the Duke and the lover feel that their interpretation of their women is correct, and that they are the ones who should be allowed to determine if the women live or die. The women are not given a say – their attitudes towards their own lives are immaterial. The poems create in their audience a demand that the “reader identify with the morally monstrous ‘l’… and] sympathize with speakers whose actions pose a threat to conventional domesticity and whose pleasures and satisfactions violate accepted norms of omestic behavior, was identified as the ultimate ‘perversity'” (Gregory 497). Victorian readers did not willingly accept the concept of domestic violence, and their inability to ignore what occurred in the poems made them unpopular when they were first published. Religious Hypocrisy Browning did not only discuss domestic violence in his controversial dramatic monologues. He also attacked religious hypocrisy, much to the dismay of reviewers of his time.
As quoted by Heather Morton in “A Church of Himself,” one reviewer, Richard Simpson, stated that: It is scandalous in Mr. Browning first to how so plainly whom he means, when he describes an English Catholic bishop, once bishop in partibus, now a member of ‘our novel hierarchy,’ one who ‘plays the part of Pandulph,’ one too, who through an Englishman, was born in foreign lands; and then to go on sketching a fancy portrait which is abominably untrue, and to draw this person not only as an arch-hypocrite, but also as the frankest of fools (33).
The poem being reviewed was “Bishop Blougram’s Apology,” one of the two poems that will be used to show the ability of the dramatic monologue to deal with the topic of religious hypocrisy. At the age of fourteen, Browning’s other purchased for him a copy of Shelley’s atheistical poem “Queen Mab. ” After reading the poem, Browning “promptly became, like Shelley, a vegetarian and an atheist.