Robert Browning and the Power of the Dramatic Monologue Form

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Robert Browning and the Power of the Dramatic Monologue Form The dramatic monologue form, widely used by Victorian poets, allows the writer to engage more directly with his reader by placing him in the role of listener. Robert Browning utilised the form to a famously profound effect, creating a startling aspect to his poetry. In poems such as “Porphyria’s Lover,” and “My Last Duchess,” for example, Browning induces a feeling of intimacy by presenting the reader as the ‘confidant’ to the narrator’s crimes; in “Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister,” the reader is more a witness to the narrator’s increasing instability. Thus, Browning is able to use the dramatic monologue form both to expose the narrator’s frailties, and as a channel for them to relinquish their sins. Furthermore, the form allows for a direct insight into the character’s thinking, thus creating an atmosphere of urgency and drama whilst the narrator’s contemplate their situations and actions. Thus, Browning’s use of the dramatic monologue form allows him to both deepen and dramatise the action developing within the poems. It is interesting to note that traditionally high-standing members of society narrate many of Browning’s dramatic monologues. Browning utilises the form to expose the frailties of these characters. He reveals the envy of The Duke in “My Last Duchess”; the lust of the monk in “Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister”; and an excessive amount of greed and pride in “The Bishop [who] Orders His Tomb at Saint Praxed’s Church”. The Duke’s requirements of his wife seem unreasonable, exposing an aspect of instability within his supposedly impeachable character. He complains that “’t was not/ Her husband’s presence only, called that spot/... ... middle of paper ... ...lines before the action is revealed. “And strangled her” is the poem’s most dramatic line, affording it a line of its own. In describing Porphyria as “little” before the crime and “as a shut [flower] bud” after it, the sin is further compounded. Thus, the monologue form is essential in both explaining and dramatising the actions of Browning’s narrators. In using the monologue form so frequently, Browning develops an intimate relationship with his readers through the narrators. The reader acts as ‘confidant’ to the narrators’ crimes, and as witness to their frailties. Further, the action is dramatised by the monologues’ ability to draw out the poems’ most crucial moments. Thus, Browning creates a profoundly accessible element to his poetry. The Victorians who once criticized his “incomprehensible and unapproachable” poetry might well regret their words.
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