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Dramatic Monologues: a Brief Introduction

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    Dramatic Monologues: According to M. H. Abrahms, dramatic monologue is a poetic form, “a lengthy speech by a single person”, addressing a silent listener, intended to convey his or her inner thoughts and emotions. It can be rewritten in jargonised terms as ‘a cross or hybrid of the genres of drama and lyric’. A lyric poem is ‘any fairly short poem, consisting of the utterance by a single speaker, who expresses a state of mind or a process of perception, thought, and feeling’.

    Though, the invention of the form remains unknown, it was widely practiced widely by poets of the Victorian era like Robert Browning, Alfred Tennyson in”Ulysses”, Dante and recent poets like Ezra Pound’s “The River Merchant’s Wife: A Letter”, Amy Lowell, Robert Frost’s “The Pauper Witch of Grafton”, T. S. Eliot’s “Love Song of J”. Alfred Prufrock, Robert Hayden’s “Night, Death, Mississippi” and other poets of the twentieth century. As we know, the dramatic monologue is arguably the greatest contribution of Victorian poetry.

    Is the most significant poetic innovation of the age and gained widespread use after the 1830s by an overwhelming range of poets. Though the form is cheifly associated with Robert Browning, there are many old English poems were dramatic monologues for example, “The Wanderer” and “The Seafarer”, Robert Burns’ “Holy Willie’s Prayer. ” The technique is evident in many of the Greek dramas as well. But still the origin of the form have been much debated in the last several decades as the critics claimed it to be the Victorians probably.

    The dramatic monologue has provoked a vast literature since it is in many respects a curious, innovative genre. Leaving the origin, lets look upon the features and characters of a dramatic monologue: The dramatic monologue is a highly theatrical form occupying (paradoxically) a very untheatrical space. It is built upon the essential elements of live theatre: the pacings, turns, and rhythms of actor-spoken speech, yet it exists as a lyric, a private work in a volume of poems to be privately consumed.

    It is as though the largeness of theatrical time and space finds itself shrunk, made dense and elliptical, in the framework of a fifty- or hundred-line poem. In other words, one way of thinking of the dramatic monologue would be as a play that had shrunk to one speech by one character. From that one speech we can infer a wider dramatic situation, but the speech is all we have of the larger reality. The form requires that we absorb the dramatic scene from within, through ‘inference and imagination’, and thus these texts are rules by which the reader plays an imagined drama.

    Being immersed in the cultural conditions of its time – philosophical, psychological and political – it also provides the best guide to what is Victorian about Victorian poetry. At the same time, while the poems were written in the nineteenth century, and talked about then as retrospective or psychological drama, the dramatic monologue is effectively a twentieth-century concept. There are many other potential backgrounds to the development of the dramatic monologue.

    The movement of aesthetic trends, practices, and ideas creating the conditions in which a genre can emerge and be explored are impossible to trace in full, but the following are some hints. M. H. Abrams, one of the general editors of the Norton Anthology of English Literature and a American critic known especially for work on Literary Terms, lists three features of the dramatic monologue as it applies to poetry: 1. A single person, utters the speech that makes up the whole of the poem, in a specific situation at a critical moment, and the person may or maynot be the poet. . This person addresses and interacts with one or more people; but we know of the listeners’ presence, and what they say or do, only from clues in the discourse of the single speaker. 3. The main principle that controls the poet’s choice and formulation is what the lyric speaker says is revealed to the reader, in a way that enhances its interest, the speaker’s temperament and chararcter. The poet uses the psychology of the speaker as the subject of the `poem. The speaker may use a complaining or an argumentative tone.

    The tone of the argument tells us that there is a second point of view present, and it is that point of view which we take. It is this well fixed rhetorical language which distinguishes the dramatic monologue from the soliloquy. There may be one or more silent listeners, to whom the speaker interacts and details about the listener are discovered from the clues in the discourse. While speaking about the listener of the dramatic monologues, listener may appear or silent or the reader assumes the part of the listener.

    Because the listener is not always physically present most critica assessments have misunderstod the significance. The listener never speaks, though, he or she is the second speaker, and thus looses the proxy. The other, the silent listener, completely passive presence, throughout, gives us a place to stand within the narrative and respond. Much of the experiecnce of the reader is in creating the other side of the picture from the poem’s hints and implications.

    The focus on self revelation- serves to distinguish a dramatic monologue to it closely related form- dramatic lyric, which is also a monologue uttered in an identifiable situationat a dramatic moment. The subject discussed is usually less interesting than what is unintentionaly revealed about the speaker himself. In one of the most influential definitions , Robert Langbaum saw the form as a continuation of an essentially Romantic “poetry of experience” in which the reader experiences a tension between sympathy and judgment.

    The clues which poet’s speakers provide to their obsessions are observable only if we imagine ourselves within the dramatic situation, with the speaker there before us. In the twentieth century, the influence of the Victorian poets’ monologues can be seen in the work of Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot. In Eliot’s “The Love Song of J”, readers find the voice of the poet cloaked in a mask, a technique that Eliot mastered in his career. More recently, a number of poets have offered variations on the form, including “Mirror” and “Lady Lazarus” by Sylvia Plath, and “Daffy Duck in Hollywood” by John Ashbery.

    John Berryman used the form in his series of Dream Songs, writing poems with shifting narrators, including his alter egos “Henry” and “Mr. Bones. ” One powerful example of the interplay between a dramatic monologue and the perception of the audience is “Night, Death, Mississippi,” by Robert Hayden. Dante Gabriel Rossetti wrote several, including “Jenny and The Blessed Damozel”; Christina Rossetti wrote a number, including “The Convent Threshold”. Algernon Charles Swinburne’s “Hymn to Proserpine” has been called a dramatic monologue.

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