Is Tennyson praising Ulysses, or Tennyson is criticizing Ulysses?Literary critics have debated whether Tennyson is sympathetic to Ulysses and intends readers to see him as a heroic model of...
Is Tennyson praising Ulysses, or Tennyson is criticizing Ulysses?
Literary critics have debated whether Tennyson is sympathetic to Ulysses and intends readers to see him as a heroic model of admirable behavior, or whether he is critical of Ulysses and intends the poem to expose him as reckless, selfish, and perhaps deluded. It is, of course, possible to read the poem either way. Taking this debate into account, reread the poem and take notes on the way its diction, rhythms, and tone might lead you to understand it as either praising Ulysses or criticizing him.
Alfred Lord Tennyson's poem, "Ulysses" is written in the form of a dramatic monologue, i.e. a soliloquy spoken by Ulysses overheard by an imagined audience. Because of this, there is no explicit narration which tells us Tennyson's attitude towards the speaker. Unlike Browning's dramatic monologues, Tennyson's are often more empathetic towards the speaker, eventually aiming neither to praise nor condemn, but to understand.
"Matched with an agèd wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me."
The cynicism and harshness of the phrasing here and elsewhere make Ulysses sound embittered, but the section on Telemachus echoes the tenderness of it contents. The harsh monosyllables of the last line let the reader share Ulysses' excitement at this final effort, and so perhaps we could say that rather than praise or blame, we do have empathy.