Dramatic Monologues and Lyrics of Browning

by Robert Browning
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What are the features of Browning's dramatic monologues?

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Browning, by giving his narrative characters distinct personalities, and by using irony carefully, succeeds in drawing fully fleshed dramatic characters.  His two most often anthologized dramatic monologues are “My Last Duchess” a monologue of a self-centered, cruel Duke, and “Fra Lippo Lippi,” a full-length portrait of the historical Renaissance painter of that name.  In “My Last Duchess,” the device is pure irony – we, the readers, go along with an ambassador as he is given a tour of the Duke’s dwelling, and see through the Duke right along with the ambassador.  In Fra Lippo Lippi, Browning writes a whole playlet, in which Fra Lippo Lippi in a prostitute neighborhood is caught after curfew by night watchmen. By name-dropping (“lodging with a friend…Cosimo of the Medici,”) by threats of reprisal, by flauting his monkhood, and by promising a painting for the church, he avoids arrest.  In the process, Browning, who identifies personally with this period of aesthetic unrest (1406-69) and change, manages to demonstrate not only the monk’s personality but also describe his artistic style and contribution.  In unrhymed but very rhythmic lines, using much exclamation and conversational tone, Browning give us a rich, lively visit to early Renaissance Italy.  The predominant device is conversational monologue with an antagonist, revealing a three-dimensional mise-en-scene.

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