What is the meaning of Langbaum's quote, "dramatic monologue is in disequilibrium with what the speaker reveals and understands"?Please discuss the question in relation to "Porphyria's Lover"...

What is the meaning of Langbaum's quote, "dramatic monologue is in disequilibrium with what the speaker reveals and understands"?

Please discuss the question in relation to "Porphyria's Lover" and "Telephone Conversation" by Robert Browning and Wole Soyinka, respectively.

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

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As discussed by Glennis Byron in Dramatic Monologue, Robert Langbaum in 1957 said "the meaning of the dramatic monologue is in disequilibrium with what the speaker reveals and understands. ... we understand, if not more, at least something other than the speaker understands." Byron explains that what this means is that the reader distinguishes two distinct voices, the poetic speaker and the poet, thus creating a disequilibrium in the monologue, which, since two voices are recognized, is not a monologue after all. The poet can be recognized most readily in the poetic structure and in the diction.

The poetic speaker is revealed in the narrative s/he is involved in. In "Porphyria's Lover," the speaker reveals the doubts and hesitations of love stolen in secret and the desperate lover's macabre solution. What the speaker doesn't understand--understand in the sense that meta-fiction reveals poetic self-consciousness--is that there is a larger structure from within which s/he speaks. Yet the reader is fully aware of the larger structure, in fact, the reader is first aware of the larger structure while being equally aware of the speaker and the speaker's story.

For instance, in "Porphyria's Lover" the reader knows about the poet through the iambic pentameter that has an a b a b b etc. rhyme scheme with an ending couplet, while in diction, the poet employs elision to pare words down for a fit with the meter (e.g., "o're" and "soil'd" and "look'd"). In "Telephone Conversation" the poet's voice underlies the poetic speaker's voice and is opened to the reader's knowledge also through structure and the treatment of diction.

The structure is free verse with no particular metrical pattern, but there is a cadence built from two contrasting accents that don't match in individual cadence: (1) “Madam,” I warned, / “I hate a wasted journey—I am African” in contrast with (2) "ARE YOU DARK? OR VERY LIGHT?" There is no traditional rhyme scheme but there is the repetition of vowel or consonant sounds at the end of lines as in "rolled" and "foully" and "lived," "remained," "warned." As for diction, specific words and phrases are in all capital letters, a stylistic choice that directly announces the presence of a controlling poet behind the poetic speaker's narrative.

Again, poetic structure and diction reveal a voice in the dramatic monologue that is a voice other than the poetic speaker's voice and that creates disequilibrium in which the reader knows what the speaker doesn't know about the poet's poetic presence.

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