English Literature » Notes » Browning’s Dramatic Monologue

Browning’s Dramatic Monologue

Robert Browning aspired to be a dramatist. He wrote eight dramas and all of them failed on the stage. Browning’s genius was contemplating than dramatic. Its main reason was that neither Browning was so mature for writing a drama nor was his audience. Browning made a practical compromise and decided to write the drama of the soul – dramatic monologue. This drama is acted within the mind of the character. It is not projected on the stage of a theatre. So, Browning interiorized the drama.

Dramatic monologue is different from a drama and a soliloquy. In drama the action is external but in dramatic monologue, the action is internal and his soul is the stage. In a soliloquy, only one character speaks to himself and there is no interference of any other character but in a monologue, one character speaks his mind and the character is listening to him, but he is not interfering in the action.

Victorianism was an age of renaissance. It was an age when British colonies were being forced. British Empire was reducing to England. So people were very much disturbed. The whole of the England was in a state of crisis. There was also a restriction of the people that they could not discuss this issue with others in public places. So there was a conflict in the minds of the people and they were thinking in their minds of the people. They were thinking and talking only to themselves.

Browning wanted to present all this on the stage but in this period of gloominess it was not possible for him to stage a drama. Even the intellectuals were not allowed to write on critical issues of the country. Browning thought a very clever device and decided to write dramatic monologue. This was exactly the situation of the people that they had a drama in their minds but they could not express it. So they were only talking to themselves. Browning did not directly write about England rather he picked up the same situation of Italian Renaissance, some 200 years earlier, in Italy. At that time Italy was passing through the same critical situation as it was in the England in Browning’s times.

In this period every Englishman was suffering from a critical situation. Every individual was thinking about the past glory of the England, there was a conflict in his mind. He was thinking about his present and past. His soul was in confusion, he was thinking about the causes of this failure, he tried to give some justifications and everyone had a sense of optimism in his mind though that might not be a false one.

So we see that Browning’s characters are also representing the same situation of English people and the pessimism of the age.

Browning’s dramatic monologue deals with the subject of failure. He takes a character who has been failed in his life. He is caught up in crisis and now tells his story of crisis and bores out his soul before us. The last rider, Fra Lippo Lippi, Bishop at his death bed and Andrea are the typical example of this kind. Fra Lippo Lippi has been caught up in an area of prostitutes:

I am poor brother Lippo, by your leave!
You need not clap your torches to my face.

The last rider has been rejected by his beloved:

I said – Then, dearest, since ’tis so,
Since now at length my fate I know,

Bishop is on his bed:

Vanity, saith the preacher, vanity!
Draw round my bed: is Anselm keeping back?

And Andrea’s wife does not care for him.

But do not let us quarrel any more,
No, my Lucrezia; bear with me for once:

So, we see that Browning’s characters are in a conflict, they are in a critical situation and they now try to cope up with their situation.

To deal out with this situation Browning presents the whole of his case. Browning shows us the past and present of his character and how this character gets involved in this critical situation. So Browning unfolds the whole of the life of his character to make it possible to analyze the history of the character. This is Browning’s technique of case-making. The stronger is the case, the interesting will be the poem.

Through the technique of case-making, browning dissects the soul of his character and this technique of soul dissection helps the reader to understand the character and clearly see why his character reaches to this critical juncture.

We know that Fra was poor in his childhood and the guardian church was very strict with him. He had been suppressed adversely in his life.

And I’ve been three weeks shut within my mew,
A – painting for the great man, saints and saints
And saints again. I could not paint all night –

The last rider could not express his love to his beloved and won her.

– And this beside, if you will not blame,
Your leave for one more last ride with me.

The bishop had been a worldly man and jealous of Gandolf.

And so, abut his tomb of mine. I fought
With tooth and nail to save my niche, ye known:

Andrea deceived the French King, who was very kind to him.

… … … … … … … … God is just.
King Francis may forgive me: … … …

To conclude, Browning’s business is to render the soul or psyche of his protagonists and so he follows the same technique as the modern impressionist. With the help of the technique of soul dissection, we clearly see the soul of the character. In his monologues, Browning constantly strikes a curiously modern note.