Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
When Robert Browning published Dramatis Personae, he was beginning to gain a measure of general esteem in the eyes of the public and of the critics. The year before its publication a three-volume collection of his earlier works had sold moderately well. Dramatis Personae added considerably to his popularity, and a second edition was called for before the end of 1864. It is ironic that this volume, the first that can be said to have achieved popular success, contained the first clear signs of the decline of his poetic powers.
It was his first volume of new poems since Men and Women, published in 1855. In the interval the pattern of Browning’s life had undergone complete transformation. On June 29, 1861, his wife, the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning, had died. They had made their home in Italy; after her death, Browning returned to England. For years he had been virtually out of touch with the currents of English thought. He plunged into a society that was perplexed by what it had learned and troubled by what it had come to doubt. Browning was soon personally involved in the intellectual and religious controversies of the day.
The changes in his life produced changes in his poetry. His love poems, understandably, became more melancholy. Many of the poems in Men and Women have historical settings; all but a few of those in Dramatis Personae have contemporary settings. Even when he gives his version...
(The entire section is 1691 words.)
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