Robert Browning's Dramatic Monologues
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Robert Browning was a 19th century popular English poet who is best known for his dramatic monologues. In his poems, the author skillfully managed to represent the mood and personality of his characters making them really vivid and true-to-life. Browning’s dramatic monologues have a set of common characteristics, which contribute to their unique style and make them still popular with modern readers.
The first poem under consideration is called My Last Duchess. The main character in the poem is a duke who is showing his guest a portrait of his deceased wife. The young woman in the picture is beautiful beyond words. While describing her, the duke sounds jealous, and there are lines suggestive of his wife’s affairs. According to the duke, his late wife was a flirting, shallow, and light-minded creature. She was too easily impressed and got fascinated by everything she saw. She smiled at other men indiscriminately, which could not but nurture bitter jealousy in her husband’s heart. Also, he was infuriated with the fact that she did not appreciate his gift of his nine-hundred-years-old name, and she could allow herself to look and smile at other men. It is quite evident from the poem that the duke has killed his wife out of jealousy and humiliation so that she would not flirt with other men, and only the duke could look at her in the picture.
The second poem is titled Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister. In the poem, the main persona is a young monk who is watching one of his fellow monks, Brother Lawrence by name, and is criticizing him in a sarcastic and mocking manner. The character is undoubtedly overwhelmed with hatred for Brother Lawrence, although there are no evident reasons for his hateful attitude. He ridicules whatever Brother Lawrence does; he even damages the flowers that Brother Lawrence is taking care of. At the same time, Brother Lawrence does not seem to be a negative character. He is a good conversationalist and a polite and caring young man. However, the persona of the poem even thinks of damaging Brother Lawrence’s reputation. Also, he accuses Brother Lawrence of lusting after some nuns, while the persona himself is lust-stricken. Despite being a monk who should be a righteous and spiritual person, the persona is filled with hatred; he is a malicious hypocrite who is so jealous of his fellow monk’s spiritual perfection that he is ready to ruin Brother Lawrence’s life.
The third poem under analysis is called Porphyria’s Lover. The main persona of the poem tells how one night his lover, Porphyria, came to him and he strangled her with her own hair. He did so to preserve their love and make her stay with him and belong to him forever. The calm and scrupulous manner in which he describes how he killed the girl is suggestive of his madness. He tries to justify his actions saying that Porphyria was happy to die and be with her beloved forever, and her dead eyes even laughed. He is convinced that she wanted to die. The stormy weather outside reflects the persona’s suffering and hesitation. Perhaps, he is not sure that he did the right thing; he might be feeling sorry for killing Porphyria. Judging by the description of Porphyria and her actions, it can be concluded that she loved the main hero of the poem. The question why he killed her then arises. It is peculiar to note that his final decision to kill Porphyria was made when he realized that she belonged completely to him, that she worshiped and loved him. Consequently, he wanted to preserve this moment and her feelings for him, to make them last forever, because she would never love him as strong as at that moment.
Finally, the last poem under consideration is titled The Laboratory, which is another dramatic monologue. The character of the poem is a woman who asks a chemist to prepare some poison to kill her ex-lover’s new fiancée. She describes in a cold and calculating manner how she wants that woman to die. She wants her to experience extreme pain and die in excruciating suffering. This woman is hurt, and she feels wounded and jealous after the separation. She wants to cause her ex-lover and his new fiancée unbearable sufferings. Thus, she is ready to give her jewels to pay for the poison. She feels no remorse and seems to be determined. She even says that she would rather look how the poison is being concocted than go and dance at the king’s palace.
All the four poems discussed above are similar in many ways. All the characters are overwhelmed with jealousy and hatred; they are hypocritical, malicious, and revengeful. The atmosphere in all the four poems is rather sinister and malignant. It is interesting to note that the main characters’ names are not given by the author, although he provides insight into their most evil thoughts and deeds. Undoubtedly, all of them are criminals who are ready to go to extremes to satisfy the hurt ego. With the help of the dramatic monologue technique, the author allows his readers to see what is happening in some people’s heads and shudder at the thought that people like these can be somewhere near plotting and scheming. Robert Browning’s dramatic monologues sound rather realistic and fascinating, which makes them popular even with modern readers.