Dramatic monologue: meaning with examples

Categories : Literary Forms

Dramatic monologue

Dramatic monologue
Dramatic monologue: meaning with examples 2

The dramatic monologue is a type of lyric poem that was perfected by Robert Browning. While a monologue in a play refers to a character expressing their private thoughts and is known as a soliloquy, the dramatic monologue as a poetic form is distinct and not a component of a play.

In its fullest form, the dramatic monologue features a single person, who is clearly not the poet, delivering a speech that constitutes the entire poem. This speech takes place in a specific situation at a critical moment. For example, Browning’s poems like “My Last Duchess,” “The Bishop Orders His Tomb,” and “Andrea del Sarto” exemplify the dramatic monologue. In these poems, the Duke negotiates with an emissary for a second wife, the Bishop lies on his deathbed, and Andrea desperately tries to believe his wife’s lies.

Within the dramatic monologue, the speaker addresses and interacts with one or more other individuals. However, the presence of these listeners is known only through clues provided in the speaker’s discourse. Their words and actions are revealed solely through the speaker’s account. This technique adds depth and complexity to the monologue.

The primary principle guiding the poet’s selection and formulation of the speaker’s words in a dramatic monologue is to reveal the speaker’s temperament and character in an engaging manner. The focus is on uncovering the inner workings and essence of the speaker. This emphasis on character exploration distinguishes the dramatic monologue from other forms of poetry.

By utilizing these features, the dramatic monologue allows the poet to create a powerful and captivating exploration of a character’s psyche, motivations, and unique perspective. Browning’s mastery of the dramatic monologue form contributed significantly to its popularity and influence in poetry.

In some of Browning’s monologues, such as “Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister” and “Caliban upon Setebos,” he deviates from the second feature of the dramatic monologue, which involves the presence of a silent auditor. However, the first and third features, as mentioned earlier, remain essential to the dramatic monologue form. The third feature, which focuses on self-revelation, serves as a distinguishing factor between a dramatic monologue and a related form known as the dramatic lyric.

In the case of dramatic lyrics like John Donne’s “The Canonization” and “The Flea,” they possess almost all the features of a dramatic monologue except for one. These poems are monologues uttered in identifiable situations at dramatic moments. However, their primary focus lies in the speaker’s elaborately ingenious argument rather than the inadvertent revelation of the speaker’s character during the course of the argument.

As for Wordsworth’s “Tintern Abbey,” it is not considered a dramatic monologue proper. While it is spoken by one person to a silent auditor (the speaker’s sister) in a specific situation at a significant moment in the speaker’s life, it differs in two key aspects. Firstly, the speaker is more closely associated with the poet himself, inviting the reader to identify them as one. Secondly, the organizing principle and focus of interest in the poem are not primarily centered on the revelation of the speaker’s distinctive temperament. Instead, the poem explores the evolution of the speaker’s observations, memories, and thoughts toward the resolution of an emotional problem.

Indeed, Tennyson was a notable writer of dramatic monologues, with “Ulysses” (1842) being one of his well-known examples. Throughout the twentieth century, many poets continued to utilize this form. H. D. (Hilda Doolittle), Amy Lowell, Robert Frost, E. A. Robinson, Ezra Pound, Robert Lowell, and others all made use of the dramatic monologue in their works.

Among these poets, one of the most renowned instances of a modern dramatic monologue is T. S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” (1915). This poem presents the interior thoughts and reflections of its speaker, J. Alfred Prufrock, in a fragmented and introspective manner. Through the use of the dramatic monologue form, Eliot offers a profound exploration of the speaker’s anxieties, insecurities, and societal alienation. The poem’s introspective nature and its examination of the modern individual’s struggles became emblematic of the modernist literary movement.

Read also: Dissociation of sensibility by T.S. Eliot, 100 unique literary terms in cultural studies

other sources you can learn: https://www.britannica.com/art/dramatic-monologue

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