What is Dramatic Monologue?

A dramatic monologue is a type of poem in which the speaker is directly addressing and talking to some other person. The speaker in such poems usually speaks alone, in a one way conversation, and so it is called a monologue.

The setting of such poems is dramatic. As the poem begins, we find that the main character is found engaged in an emotional expression of his ideas and feelings; he is confident, excited, angry or proud. So the character will reveal us many secrets or hints about something he would not say consciously. The poems of John Donne are also dramatic monologues to some extent, but Browning’s dramatic monologues have more unique dramatic techniques. Dramatic poems must involve at the major dramatic elements of the characters, plot, and speech, though it may just be a one way monologue. Besides, some dramatic poems will also include other dramatizing elements like quickness in action, surprise, tension and so on. Poems of John Donne also have such elements, but Browning’s special “Dramatic Monologue” has some more elements like character revelation with an ironic exposure of what he is not conscious. This means that the character will be found talking to someone in such a situation and manner that he exposes the secrets about his real character. Browning’s characters are usually rogues who prove how corrupted they are in the process of trying to prove how great they are! This is what happens in the poem “My Last Duchess”.  Browning’s poems have a subtext, or a deeper level of the story of reality, which the reader explores gradually and understands the reality behind the bragging.

Browning’s dramatic monologues are conversational poems set dramatically in such a situation that the speech reveals a lot of the hidden story, a story which the character usually tries to disprove. They have been sometimes called mask lyrics for their being oblique expressions of the poet’s feelings through the character. But the character expresses something that the reader analyzes as an outrageously lie. It is a kind of monopolized conversation. The major ‘ingredients’ of the dramatic monologue are: dramatic situation, a speaker and at least one interlocutor, interaction, dramatic action, plot development  and character revelation in the process of the one way conversation. The character is revealed by means of ironic discrepancy so that the reader is made to make their own judgement about the character’s real characteristics: the character is usually caught in a moment of emotional intensity and though he does try to justify himself, the reader understands a very different subtext. It enables the reader, the character and the poet to be located at an appropriate distance from each other, aligned in such a way that readers must work through the words of the speaker towards the meaning of the poet themselves. For instance, in “My Last Duchess”, we listen to the duke as he speaks of his dead wife to a man, but to us it is as if we are overhearing a man talking into the telephone of a booth adjacent to ours. From his one sided conversation we piece together the situation, both past and present and we infer what sort of woman the Duchess really was, and what sort of man the duke is. Ultimately, we may also infer what the poet himself thinks of the speaker he has created. In this instance, from evidence outside the poem we know that Browning had a special hatred of domestic tyrants, and that the speaker was a real historical duke of Renaissance Italy, but even without this information we are able to conclude from our own analysis of the character that he represents a tyrannical, criminal and unrepentant savage called an aristocrat. But many other poems of Browning do not allow us to make a judgement about the poet’s attitude as easily as this: he makes it difficult for us to pass easy verdicts as jurors about the character also. For instance, in “A Grammarian's Funeral”, another famous dramatic monologue, we are really obliged to grope toward a choice as to whether the grammarian is meant to be a heroic man or a fool spending his life in mere rules of grammar at the cost of acknowledging and enjoying the prerogatives of life. Besides the technique of expression, the language and diction, the rhythm and tone are also important and unique in the dramatic monologue.

Published on 22 Sep. 2014 by Kedar Nath Sharma

Related Topics

Robert Browning: Biography

My Last Duchess: Analysis

Fra Lippo Lippi: Analysis

John Donne: Biography

Charlotte Mary Mew: Biography