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Feb 19, 2011

Browning: Dramatic Monologue

Browning’s greatest discovery was the dramatic monologue—though he did not invented the form. It reflected the life just as his poetic vision took it to be. It mirrored the individual finding his place in the universe. It depicted a situation in which soul was made manifests through circumstances. Browning did not first realize importance of this new poetic form but he discovered its ampler range by experiments. The main stuff of dramatic monologue is speaker’s personality and the situation in which he speaks. It seems more apt to the portraiture of the person, so individual as to be abnormal, fanatic and even madman.

Browning’s monologue is a synthesis of dramatic and lyric quality. It is dramatic because it is the utterance of a single speaker who is different from the poet; at the same time it lyrical because it is expression of his own thoughts and inner drama. The relation of the poet and the speaker is the dramatic monologue which is quite complex. Sometimes it favourable sometimes it is complex. Another quality of Browning's monologue is that they are conversation in tone; and its speaker talks day to day life and this language is to that of telegraphic language. In dramatic monologues Browning takes liberty with grammar and syntax. He uses all the words of grammar---- commas, interrogation, side remarks etc. Browning calls it “Brothers language”.

A glance at even the titles that Browning gave to his work show that how strong the dramatic elements in him:
                       Dramatic Lyric (1842)
                       Dramatic Romances and Lyric (1845)
                       Man and Women (1855)
                       Dramatic Romances (1858)
                       Dramatic Personae (1864)
In a dramatic monologue a speaker lays bare his soul that is why Browning’s monologues are called “soul studies”. In Browning words:
                      “The soul is the stage
                       moods and thoughts are characters”.
Among Browning’s soul studies there is a wide range. My Last Duchess is a hint of them. It is very short but keen analysis of a duke who reveals consciously his character when he adores the picture of his wife. A little thinking on the part of readers is enough to makes him think that he is a jealous person who can stop the smile of his innocent without any reason:
                       “Oh sir, she smile, no doubts
                        Whenever 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”.

Browning takes us to the ranging situation in his dramatic monologues. He shows us rejected lover; and an old man who glorifies the old age; and a painter who sits with his faithless wife. He shows us rejected lover in The Last Ride Together but the lover is not dissatisfied with what happened to him. He would be satisfied if she would agree for last ride with him. When she grants his request he feels himself lucky and says:
                    “Fail I alone in words and deed?
                     Why all men strive and who succeed?”
Similarly, the reader very easily understood that the speaker of Rabbi Ben Ezra is an old man who glorifies the old age
                   “Grow old with me
                    Best is yet to be
                    For which the first was made”
the opening of My Last Duchess is also dramatic
                  “This is my last duchess painted on the wall
                    Looking as if she were alive”.
One disadvantage of his monologue is that they are known for their obscurity. The best known of these is Sordellow. After reading it Tennyson remarks that he could understand only two lines of the poem, first and the last----
                 “who may read the Sordellow’s story told
                  who would have heared the Sordellow’s story tell”
---- and he goes on saying that both were lies. The main reason of Browning’s obscurity is that he wrote too much and revised a little; and he rings with some odd scrap of information which he gains from his wide reading--- which is difficult for reader to understand.

In sum, Browning monologue is not a simple form. It combines reflection and lyricism with dramatic properties of raising out of the definite situation it deals with; and there is also an element of artificiality. One may add to it, he uses the form with great care and liberty and does not try to overpass its limits. Modern poets like Pound, Eliot, and Read were highly influenced by Browning’s monologues. Ezra Pound remarks “I stem from browning, why deny ones father?” In the end we can conclude with the idea that Browning envolved the dramatic monologue to its fullest extent and even today he remains as the greatest poet of this poetic form.



  2. Very helpful article. I suppose in the last sentence the word "envolved" should be read as "evolved". Suggesting necessary corrections for future readers.

  3. It can be said without any doubt that Browning is the champion of dramatic monologue. The technique adds to the overall effects of the poem. Great work in every sense. Thanks for sharing the views on the poem.
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