The Dramatic Monologues of Robert Browning
Consider the range of characterisation in Browning’s dramatic monologues and the poetic methods he employs to portray his speakers. Some are written in rhyming verse, use metaphors, et cetera, but for what reason? What is the writer trying to achieve and how successful is he?
Robert Browning (1812-1889) was an English poet noted for his mastery of dramatic monologue. He was born in London, the son of a wealthy clerk at the bank of England, he received scant formal education but had access to his father’s large library of about 6,000 volumes. Though initially unsuccessful as a poet and financially dependent on his family until well into adulthood Browning was to become a celebrated Victorian poet. In some of his finest works people from the past speak their thoughts and reveal their lives to the reader through the ……?
The poems I will be taking into account will be:
‘Porphyria’s Lover’ from Dramatic Lyrics, 1842
‘The Laboratory’, 1844
‘My last Duchess’, from Dramatic Lyrics, 1842
‘Andrea del Sarto’ from Men and Women, 1855
‘Fra Lippo Lippi’ from Men and Women, 1855
All these poems are presented from the viewpoint of an individual explaining their actions. The speakers all consider their actions justified, though only Fra Lippo Lippi has reason to explain himself to anyone.
These poems use different poetic methods to form the character of the speaker. The rhyme schemes vary from obvious, as in the rhyming couplets of ‘The Laboratory’, to subtle, as in ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ to an absence of a rhyme scheme as in the blank verse of ‘Andrea del Sarto’. Also there are many uses of alliteration, assonance, enjambment and onomatopoeic words to draw our attention to areas of the poem. Similes and metaphors are employed throughout to create images that reflect the speaker or their conduct.
The speaker in ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ is possessive, a psychopath without conscience over his actions, though this is not entirely evident to the reader at first due to the steady structure and poetic language used at the beginning of the poem. Browning has used the rhyme scheme to help form the reader’s impression of the speaker, it is a rigid 5-line scheme but well concealed by using enjambment to lead one line into the next, and by the absence of separate stanzas to divide the poem. This presents a slow constant rhythm, which tells the reader the speaker is calm. The poem flows like a continuous train of thought, the speaker is obviously contemplates and is deliberate in his actions. This is why we are shocked when the speaker, in the same tone, tells us,
‘…all her hair
In one long yellow string I wound
Three times her little throat around
And strangled her.’
The lack of emotion which the steady rhythm conveys is very important in the characterisation of the speaker as it shows the speakers state of mind. Had the rhythm broken and quickened at dramatic moments...