In literature, a dramatic monologue refers to a character presenting their inner thoughts and motivations aloud. In poetry, the definition is much the same, except the speaker is generally an invented persona separate from the poet themselves. The speaker's ideas are addressed to an imagined listener, often dramatically or eloquently. The goal of most dramatic monologues is to reveal important information about a character and their state of mind.
Matthew Arnold’s poem “Dover Beach” is often classified as a poetic dramatic monologue because the speaker of the poem addresses an unseen audience and confides his existential sadness. While viewing the moonlit cliffs and listening to the roar of the waves at Dover Beach, the speaker uses the first fourteen lines of the poem to describe the setting. Despite the natural beauty of his surroundings, the speaker of the dramatic monologue shifts his thoughts to the “eternal note of sadness” that he hears in the grinding rocks. This existential angst is the true topic of the dramatic monologue.
The remainder of the poem explores the speaker’s loss of faith and the existential hole this leaves. The calm, peaceful atmosphere of the opening stanza shifts into an exploration of the chaotic, dark, meaningless reality of human existence.
Matthew Arnold’s poem “Dover Beach” could be considered a dramatic monologue because the speaker confides a deep sadness over his loss of faith and his realization of the futility of human existence to the silent listener.