Dramatic monologue

Dramatic monologue

A dramatic monologue is a type of poem, favoured by many poets in the Victorian period, in which a character in fiction or in history delivers a speech explaining his or her feelings, actions, or motives. The monologue is usually directed toward a silent audience, with the speaker's words influenced by a critical situation. An example of a dramatic monologue exists in My Last Duchess by Robert Browning, when a duke speaks to an emissary of his way, "The Captain of the 1964 Top of the Form Team" by Carol Ann Duffy, and "Lady Lazarus" by Sylvia Plath.

Influences on the dramatic monologue are both general and specific. In a general way, the dramatic tradition as a whole may have influenced the style of the monologue. Indeed, the style of the dramatic monologue, which attempts to evoke an entire story through representing part of it, may be called an endeavor to turn into poetry many of the distinctive features of drama.

Types of monologues

The most important direct influence on the development of the dramatic monologue are the Romantic poets. The long, personal lyrics typical of the Romantic period are not dramatic monologues, in the sense that they do not, for the most part, imply a concentrated narrative. However, poems such as William Wordsworth's Tintern Abbey and Percy Bysshe Shelley's Mont Blanc, to name two famous examples, offered a model of close psychological observation and philosophical or pseudo-philosophical inquiry described in a specific setting.

The novel is another indirect influence on the dramatic monologue, particularly in the novel's emphasis on closely observed detail to reveal character.

The Victorian Period

The Victorian period represented the high point of the dramatic monologue in English poetry.

  • Alfred, Lord Tennyson's Ulysses, published in 1842, has been called the first true dramatic monologue. After Ulysses, Tennyson's most famous efforts in this vein are Tithonus, The Lotus Eaters, and St. Simon Stylites, all from the 1842 Poems; later monologues appear in other volumes, notably Idylls of the King.
  • Matthew Arnold's Dover Beach and Stanzas from the Grand Chartreuse are famous, semi-autobiographical monologues. The former, usually regarded as the supreme expression of the growing skepticism of the mid-Victorian period, was published along with the later in 1867's New Poems.
  • Robert Browning is usually credited with perfecting the form; certainly, Browning is the poet who, above all, produced his finest and most famous work in this form. While My Last Duchess is the most famous of his monologues, he wrote others, such as Fra Lippo Lippi, Caliban upon Setebos, Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister and Porphyria's Lover, as well as the other poems in Men and Women.

Other Victorian poets also used the form. Dante Gabriel Rossetti wrote several, including Jenny and The Blessed Damozel; Christina Rossetti wrote a number, including The Convent Threshold. Algernon Swinburne's Hymn to Proserpine has been called a dramatic monologue vaguely reminiscent of Browning's work.



  • Howe, Elisabeth A. (1996). The Dramatic Monologue. Boston: Twayne Publishers.
  • Byron, Glennis (2003). Dramatic monologue. New York: Routledge.
  • Arco Publishing (2002). Arco Master the Ap English Language & Composition Test 2003 (Master the Ap English Language & Composition Test). New York: Arco.

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