Robert Browning

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How does Browning use dramatic monologue in his poetry?

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Robert Browning seems most often to be concerned with the psychology of the speaker in his dramatic monologues. Take "Porphyria's Lover," a monologue narrated by the unnamed, titular character. The speaker is clearly sad, listening to the storm outside "with heart fit to break." When Porphyria arrives, she tells the narrator that "she love[s]" him or her (the speaker's sex is not clear) but that she is

Too weak, for all her heart's endeavour,
To set its struggling passion free
From pride, and vainer ties dissever,
And give herself to me for ever.

Despite the fact that Porphyria is, essentially, breaking off their relationship because she does not have the strength to continue, what the narrator takes away from this is that Porphyria "worship[s]" him or her, and the speaker feels "happy and proud" rather than upset at the break up. The narrator says,

That moment she was mine, mine, fair,
Perfectly pure and good: I found
A thing to do, and all her hair
In one long yellow string I wound
Three times her little throat around,
And strangled her.

After the narrator murders Porphyria in order to keep her, the narrator believes that Porphyria "has [her] utmost will" now, that she is free to love the narrator now. The fact that Porphyria can no longer love now—because she is dead—does not seem to cause the speaker concern. In the end, the narrator assumes that what he or she has done must be all right because "God has not said a word!" The sickening psychology of the speaker who could commit murder and remain completely oblivious to the implications of Porphyria's death is both nauseating and fascinating.

In another poem that takes love as its subject, the speaker of "The Last Ride" has also just been dumped. However, he asks his mistress for "one more last ride." She agrees, and they ride away together on horseback but it is not clear whether or not their ride is a dream—as it seems never to end—or if the narrator simply fantasizes during the ride or if they are both dead. The narrator says,

We rode; it seem'd my spirit few,
Saw other regions, cities new,
As the world rush'd by on either side.

They seem to travel the world, seeing day and night—sun and stars—without ever returning home. The narrator asks,

What if we still ride on, we two
With life for ever old yet new,
Changed not in kind but in degree,
The instant made eternity,—
And heaven just prove that I and she
Ride, ride together, for ever ride?

Now this poem is much less explicit than "Porphyria's Lover," because the narrator never says exactly what is going on. It seems possible, however, that the couple are dead here: how else could they keep riding for eternity? Did tragedy befall them? Did the speaker kill her and then himself? He did ask, in the stanza before, "would heaven seem best?" Or maybe it is all a fantasy inside the speaker's head. Again, it is the psychology of the speaker that seems to mainly preoccupy Browning.

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Browning was indeed a poet closely associated with the dramatic monologue; some more famous examples are 'My Last Duchess', 'Porhyria's Lover' and 'The Laboratory'. The reason he often chose to write in this form is because he was interested in peoples' motivations for their actions and using the first person allows the audience into a character's thoughts and feelings.

The poems above all have the theme of murder and using the dramatic monologue form allows the reader to slowly realise what is actually happening which is very powerful.

This form also makes us question whether we actually believe what the character is telling us. For example the Duke in 'My Last Duchess' claims that the duchess was 'too soon made glad' but do we actually believe him? Or was this just an excuse to get rid of her? We can only imagine the reaction of the courtier that he is telling the story to.

It is interesting for Browning to write as though he were a women or a historical character which is more challenging.

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