An Epistle Containing the Strange Medical Experience of Karshish, the Arab Physician Themes

Robert Browning

Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

What is admirable about this poem from an artistic standpoint, as it is about most of Browning’s dramatic monologues, is that it makes the past come alive—in this case, the past of nearly two thousand years ago. The closest parallel to Browning’s unrhymed iambic pentameter in his dramatic monologues is to be found in Shakespeare’s historical dramas. Shakespeare was never greatly concerned about historical accuracy, however, and his historical plays are full of anachronisms and other glaring errors. Browning could not rival Shakespeare as a dramatist, but he excelled at being able to give the reader the feeling of having been swept backward in time.

Browning’s purpose in persuading the reader that the story of Lazarus was literally true was to persuade the reader of the truth of a religion founded on the belief that the Son of God had appeared on earth and had brought salvation to humankind. Browning lived at a time when scientific discoveries were undermining the authority of the Bible. For example, it had been estimated that the universe, instead of having been created some 6,000 years ago, as recorded in the Old Testament, was actually billions of years old. The most telling blow against established Western religion was to come in 1859 with the publication of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, which argued convincingly that life had existed on earth for billions of years and had been gradually evolving since its spontaneous...

(The entire section is 458 words.)