Robert Browning has made the effective use of dramatic monologue. Through dramatic monologue the poet has revealed the motives of human behavior. The dramatic monologue is essentially a narrative spoken by a single character. The central character speaks alone. One or more than one listener listens to him. But the listener does not take part in the conversation. The listener only shows bodily reactions. The speaker speaks of his own life history – past, present and future.
The salient feature of the dramatic monologue can be understood if we compare it with the soliloquy. Dramatic monologue is spoken by a single person. Soliloquy is also a monologue but there is no presence of a second person.
In every poem of Browning, there is a presence of a silent listener. In the poem Fra Lippo Lippi, the speaker is Lippo and the listeners are the night guards. Lippo speaks his life history before the night guards.
Like other poems of Browning, Fra Lippo Lippi has dramatic beginning. The speaker Friar Lippo stealthily came out of the monastery and enjoyed the company of the sprightly slim girls. He violated the hard rule of the monastery. On his way back from a nocturnal adventure outside, he has been caught by the night guard. The night guards enthusiastically tried to identify him with their torch light. Lippo feels much disturbed. He began to speak dramatically-
I am poor brother Lippo, by your leave!
You need not clap your torches to my face.
After the dramatic beginning we can mention another salient feature of Browning’s dramatic monologue that it catches an intense moment in the life of a man and let him talk about the past, present and future. In the course of dramatic monologue, the speaker bares his innermost soul and reveals the social or psychological problem he is in. This problem we can realize in the poem Fra Lippo Lippi. The protagonist speaks of his past, present and future. Firar Lippo goes back to hist past. He became and orphan at his infancy. He entered the monastery at the age of eight. It was because of hunger that he became a monk. Gradually he became a painter in the monastery. But he is not allowed to paint the beautiful things of the earth. The authority of the monastery orders him only to paint saints and saints. Now he has become an adult man. He speaks against the mandatory celibacy of the monastery. Out of anger he is speaking to the night guards-
I’m grown a man no doubt, I’ve broken bounds:
You should not take a fellow eight years old
And make him swear to never kiss the girls.
Tonight, he has broken the rules of the monastery. Stealthily he came out of the monastery. He mixed with the sprightly girls and enjoyed much. But he tells the future plan that after six months he will paint a religious picture as a compensation of this fault of tonight. In this way, Browning allows his protagonist to speak his mind in every poem. We get a psychological analysis of the speaker of the poem.
Most of the Browning’s dramatic monologues are concerned with the life of men of the Italian Renaissance period. The Duke of Ferrara in the poem My Last Duchess, Andrea Del Sarto, Fra Lippo Lippi, the lover in the poem Porphyria’s Lover, the dead Grammarian in the poem A Grammarian’s Funeral – all are men of Italian renaissance period. But the problem and situation of every character is universal irrespective of time, climate and soil.
Browning’s skill of dramatic monologue is reflected in the variety of characters he represents in his poems. Each of his individual character has his own particular mental make-up, aspiration, problems and crisis of life. We have painters as different Fra Lippo Lippi and Andrea Del Sarto. The grammarian was a different kind of personality. He was interested only in search of knowledge. Unlike Andrea and Friar Lippo, he ignored he ignored the pleasures of materialistic life.
Browning’s monologues deal not only with the variety of characters but also variety of themes. Ideas of paintings and art are discussed in Fra Lippo Lippi and Andrea Del Sarto. The central idea of Andrea Del Sarto is that an artist should not be too much materialistic and mercenary. He should have noble aim. He should have truer light of God in his work. But Andrea painted only for money and to satisfy his faithless wife Lucrezia. The main theme of the poem Fra Lippo Lippi is that a painter should not only be spiritual. He has the duty to paint the beauty of the world. Here Browning criticizes too much fanaticism of the Roman Catholic Church.
The language of Browning’s monologues is also remarkable. He has employed his language conforming to the though process of the speaker. As a result, his language has sometimes omissions of grammatical rules. Sometimes his language has been lyrical and emotional and sometimes narrative, reflective and descriptive mixed even with colloquialism. Ultimately his language of his dramatic monologue has been accused of being obscure.
Through his dramatic monologue. Browning expresses his firm religious conviction. Browning stands as solid rock with his faith in divine values in an age which was engulfed by religious doubts and disbeliefs. He has been universally praised for his handling of the dramatic monologues. He is unparalleled in the history of English literature because of great variety and poetic genius he displays through his dramatic monologues.