Robert Browning’s Dramatic Monologue Brings Forth the Soul
Within the dramatic monologue that Robert Browning brought to the world of poetry lay a depth of human soul unseen before. Using this form driven by the voice of the character, not necessarily that of the author, the poet was able to expose the voice’s soul to the reader in a way that could not be done even in prose. Poetry took on a new level that opened up many more doors of poetic exploration with Browning’s contribution.
The dramatic monologue can be seen in Browning’s “The Last Duchess” through the eyes of the husband, the Duke. One might observe how a husband feels for his wife. In this poem, Browning give the glimpse into his heart, soul, and mind in way that takes the reader’s breathe away. The reader is told that they might have seen her and formed his own impression. The husband saw her differently. He describes her as “Too easily impressed” and was easily pleased with everything she looked upon including that of men. He did not see it as merely kindness and openness to others. He saw it as too much. He also knew that his personality did not join hers peacefully as he noted how his commanding personality eventually resulted in “all smiles stopped together”. What the public would have perceived as a comfortable marriage actually held darker secrets that can only be seen through the eyes of the husband as he gazes upon the portrait of his wife.
In poetry, the dramatic monologue has a close relationship with the monologues commonly found on the stage. There is only one character aside from the audience who is hearing something so private that no other person has access to it. Within the frame of poetry, there is no ‘he said’ or ‘she said’. There is only one person speaking “without overt analysis or commentary” leaving the “audience to interpret” the words (“Poetic Technique: Dramatic Monologue”).
Browning uses this technique to explore the dark side of love in “Porphyria’s Lover” where the voice talks of looking in Porphyria’s eyes and seeing how “Happy and proud” she was. His reaction to that look is not surprising as the voice describes how it “Made my heart swell” and led him down a very surprising path. Instead of kissing her or declaring his love, the voice takes her hair and “strangled her”. This act the voice saw as love pulls a reaction of horror from the reader who is allowed to see the act of murder through the eyes of the murderer. The voice might expect the reader to understand because of the viewpoint, but the reaction would be quite the opposite.
Browning’s work is so powerful that the strength of his dramatic monologue “tempts us to forget” that the voice within the poem is “not the voice of the author” (Baker). It is only a character that has suddenly become real and powerful. The words are no longer descriptive. They become alive with emotion and depth.
Baker, Lyman A. “Critical Concepts: Dramatic Monologue.” Kansas State University. Web. 11 August 2012.
Browning, Robert. “My Last Duchess.” The Literature Network. Web. 11 August 2012.
Browning, Robert. “Porphyria’s Lover.” The Literature Network. Web. 3 August 2012.
“Poetic Technique: Dramatic Monologue.” Poets.org. Web. 11 August 2012.
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