How are the real personalities of the narrators of Browning's dramatic monlogues revealed?

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thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Robert Browning's dramatic monologues are normally written in the first person. Sometimes the narrator is portrayed as speaking the monologue aloud to an actual silent auditor, as in My Last Duchess. In other cases, the reader appears to be overhearing the thoughts of the narrator as in Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister or Porphyria's lover. At the start of the poem, the narrators might appear sympathetic characters. The Duke portrays himself as a loving husband and the monk as a strictly pious man condemning the laxity of Brother Lawrence. As the poems progress, the attitudes and actions revealed show the characters to be far less admirable that they appeared at first. At first we might believe that the Duke was legitimately concerned about his wife being unfaithful, but when he describes perfectly normal actions, like smiling, as though they were acts of adultery, one slowly realizes that his perceptions are distorted and that he is an unreliable narrator. As the monk describes that he himself owns and reads obscene novels and considers planting them in Brother Lawrence's room to discredit him, we realize that Brother Lawrence is harmless and the narrator consumed with hate.