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Browning (1812-1889)

Robert Browning was born near London , he started to appreciate the Italian renaissance in an art gallery near his house, his mother brought him un in an atmosphere of sincere evangelical piety. He spent most of his early life in his cultivated family environment. He gave up his studies at the University of London and wrote his first poem “Pauline”, witch was highly personal and was influenced by Byron and Shelly. His work was criticized and he decided he would have no longer revealed his own thoughts.
For the theatre he wrote his first drama “ Strafford”, but his talent as a writer lay in adapting the techniques of dramatic writing on poetry : “Dramatic Lyrics” and “Dramatic Romances”.
In 1845 browning met Elizabeth Barret, they got married and moved to Florence, during this year Browning wrote the firs collection of poems “Men and Women”. In 1861 his wife died and he returned to London, here soon began the composition of: “Dramatic Personae” and “The King and the book”. The university of Oxford conferred upon him an honorary degree.

The master of dramatic monologue
In his monologues every detail of the setting is revealed, the main character has the speaking part and utters his thoughts. They are characterized by the presence of a dialogue . he put great emphasis on singular psychological details and used irony in the confession of his characters. Is the reader himself that had to judge the character.
(The monologue is different by the soliloquy, because there is a listener )
• The first group includes the Dramatic Lyrics and Dramatic Romances (definition of dramatic)
• The second group is the volume of Men and Women ,in witch is present a strong interest in the Italian Renaissance ( sensuality and enthusiasm of the arts)
• The third group includes the love poems : Dramatic Personae (joyful reflection to a woman)


He’s interested in human psychology and Italian Renaissance (individual qualities), he had an optimistic faith in the usefulness of everything and believed in progress, literary concern with the inner life. He thought that the poet is responsible to God to his actions


He used rough colloquial diction and word order, unusual rhymes . his versification is based on the blank verse and heroic couplet, like Byron. Verbs of action, imperatives, alliterations and onomatopoeia involved the reader in the evolution of the characters.

Porphyria’s Lover

It’s a dramatic monologue wrote in iambic pentameter rhyming ABABB, the poet used many sound devices like onomatopoeia and alliterations. He creates a contrast between the regularity of the form and the sonority of the sounds and the content of the poem witch is chaotic, in this way he create more complex images and deeper descriptions. the language is always controlled and that has the effect of exaggerate the calm rationality of the lover and highlight his madness. Much of the description is sensuous and tactile and he uses hair and lips with erotic sensuality. We learn about P. thanks to her lover who describes her as a rich girl, weak, free and proud. The lover unwittingly tells us about himself: he is calm, passionate, possessive and with the words “laughed” and “smiling” revel his happiness. Porphyria is the name of a mental disease, the symbolic name is important in the interpretation of the characters : the girl is unusual, different and unconventional, the men is crazy and instable. The epilogue is a case of lucid insanity, he is aware of what he has done, he is calm and controlled, he understand that she loved him and he is at peace with himself because of that ( line 55 “and I it’s love”). In this poem are present some of the characteristics of the dramatic poem: there is a dialogue with a silent listener, the speaker is different from the poet, there is a moment of crisis and there is the representation of the human psychology. The progression “love-madness-death” has also been used by Shakespeare in Othello: both end with a women suffocate by her lover, one with her hair, the other with a pillow. Othello kills for revenge instead porphyria’s lover kills her because he wants to bind her to him eternally, both saw god as a judge. The artist wants to break the rules of prudery and censure Cleverly juxtaposing Porphyria's innocent femininity and her sexual transgression, Browning succeeds in displaying society's contradictory embrace of morality next to its rejection of sensual pleasure. In an ironically tranquil domestic setting, warm comfort and affection come to reveal burning emotional perversions within confining social structures. The speaker's violent display of passion ends not with external condemnation, but with the matter-of-fact sense of a duty fulfilled. Porphyria's lover sits next to his murdered love without any regretful aftermath or consequence; from the narrator's viewpoint, a perception wholly distorted by the forced internalization of his feelings for Porphyria, not even the ultimate hand of God can rob him the serenity of a moment free from judgment.

My Last Duchess

My Last Duchess is contained in the “Dramatic Lyrics” published in 1842. Browning is mainly concerned with the psychological aspect of his characters. Browning modified the Shakespearean soliloquy characterized by the presence of nature, death and sleep, thanks to the introduction of a silent listener (Nicolaus Madruz,).
The story is set in Ferrara in the Italian Renaissance, the Duke (Alfonso I) speak about the Duchess with an auditor. The identity of the auditor will be made clear only at the end of the poem.
The poem starts with the duke drawing his interlocutor’s attention to the painting of the Duchess in the bedroom under a curtain, the duke describing the painting is detached, cold , emotionally involved (disgusted), indifferent.
Fra Pandolf depicted the duchess smiling, he’s the prototype of the Renaissance artist, working in the service of a patron: paying her so many compliments by flattery (curtesy), the duke is sneering towards flattery.
The Duke describes his wife behavior with disgust , he’s complaining about her and he’s clearly disapproving her (superficial, too soon made glad, too easily impressed, unaware of her honor bestowed on her…) and unconsciously reveals her genuine outstanding (full of life, generous, warm, spontaneous, passionate, delicate…). The image that emerge is the one of a very young girl married to a much older man. The girl unconsciously behaves in the wrong way ( she ranked my gift of a nine-hundred-years old name with anybody’s gift). The duke reveal his autocratic and proud temper by refusing to “stoop”. The duchess was murdered by her husband to stop her from dishonor his name. the Duke is cry, cold and cynical. At the end we discover that the listener was an ambassador who negotiated a new wedding and that the reason for the marriage is the dowry of the girl. The reason why the Duke told the auditor the tragic story is to warn him because, it will happen again and the title itself reveal that there have been several duchess.
The Duke has a complicated personality: he’s true love is art, he consider the Duchess as a piece of property, he’s cruel, proud, aristocratic, self-centered, but also a refined speaker and fond of the beautiful. The final words of the lines are rhyming couplets written in iambic pentameters. The punctuation make the Duke speech sound colloquial.
Browning is a master at compressing a whole tragedy in a very few words.
This poem may be considered a dramatic monologue because of the two parts that form if: “the visible part of the iceberg” is the love that the Duke felt for his wife, expressed many times in the passage; on the other side there’s the fact that he has killed her because of he was unhappy of her behavior: the “submerged, invisible part” is the one that refers to the murder itself. The monologue is dramatic because of the story not written, that the reader can see between lines of the murder of the wife by the Duke and the absence of a sense of guilty or pain caused by her death.

Comparison between Browning and Tennyson


o Faith and optimism
o Complex and intellectual style
o Life spent abroad
o Explored a mood
o Objective
o Developed dramatic monologue
o In his poems had showed his age
o Explored human psychology
o Opened a door on future
o He was more romantic
o He avoided autobiographical elements


o Faith and doubts
o Sensibility and musicality
o Routed in Victorian England
o Objective
o Started writing dramatic monologue
o Doubts due to Darwin’s discoveries
o The climax was life after death
o A poem should be musical and sensibility was put into the poem by the poet
o He describes behaviors
o he worked out a compromise between science and religion
o conservative

Browning focuses on the psyche of his frantic characters and tries to look into deep inside of such characters in his writings. Browning tries to understand human nature, religion, and society properly. He studies the innermost psychology of characters. On the other hand, Tennyson draws material from external specific realities, ideas, and objects and tries to express it through ornate language. Another significant difference between poems of Alfred Tennyson's and Robert Browning is in their nature of expression. Browning's writings are always energetic but in Tennyson's tone of expression is generally melancholic where he tends to give touch of nostalgia. Their poetic concerns are hardly related. Browning systematically depicts the essence of a character whereas Tennyson gives importance in inducing and endorsing a particular mood.
Tennyson is in the first artist and then teacher, instead Browning’s messages are always important and he’s careless of the form in witch he expressed them

Homer, Dante and Tennyson’s Ulysses

According to Homer, once Odysseus made it home he still had to take one more voyage, though that voyage is only mentioned, never made. Dante's Inferno, a much later work about a poet's journey through Hell, actually describes this voyage, though in a slightly different way; in Dante's account, Ulysses never returns home to Ithaca and instead chooses to continue sailing, as he does in Tennyson's poem. But unlike Tennyson, Dante condemns Ulysses for irresponsible adventure-seeking.
Tennyson's poem fuses both Homer and Dante's versions of the story; in the poem, Ulysses has made it home (Homer), but he wants to go sailing around the world again (Dante). The poem is a long monologue spoken by Ulysses detailing how bored he is in Ithaca (an island off the coast of Greece) and how he wants to get as much out of life as he can.
Tennyson’s Ulysses is almost the litteral translation of Dante’s one: the greek man is ready to challenge death and unknown, Homer instead describes Ulysses as an intelligent man more than an adventurer . in Homer’s view the king of Ithaca isn’t looking for an adventure, but instead trying to make peace between peoples trough war. So if on one side we have the tired king who ruled over an island inhabited by people who re only concerned about material life (in Dante and Tennyson’s view); to Homer Ulysses is valorous and courageous does not want to leave just to live another adventure.
Dramatic monologue features
• the use of the first person singular “I” which stands for a persona distinct from the poet
• the use of verbs or expressions that refers to a listener who does not appear directly in the poem
• the use of colloquial language with different degrees of informality
• the use of dramatic rather than lyrical language that can be recognized by the presence of fillers like “you are”, “well” or the use of deictic like “here”, ”there”, “that”, “this” as is typical in the language of drama.
• The revelation of a responsibility or a particular pathology of a personality occurring at a critical point of life.
• The poet using the dramatic monologue reveals a marked interest in human psychology and need to beyond the limits of his own self and experience.

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