Friday, April 20, 2018

R is for Robert Browning: Dramatic Monologue

It's April! Time for the AtoZ Blogging Challenge!

For those who haven't played along before, the AtoZ Blogging Challenge asks bloggers to post every day during April (excepting Sundays), which works out to 26 days, one for each letter of the alphabet. In my opinion, it's the most fun if you choose a theme.

This will be my 5th year participating.
My theme this year is Poets I Love all about some of the poets whose work has touched me over the years.

For my regular readers, you'll see more than the usual once-a-week posts from me this month. I'm having a great time writing them, so I hope you enjoy reading them, too. Be sure to check out some of the other bloggers stretching their limits this month to share their passions with you, too. With over 600 participants, there is bound to be something you'd love to read.

I love dramatic monologues. They bridge the space between poetry and theater, allowing the poet to take on a character completely separate from themselves and put words in their mouth. Like Shakespearean soliloquies, they can give real insight into a character while wowing you with gorgeous language and metaphor.

One of my favorite dramatic monologues ever was written by Robert Browning: My Last Duchess. It's a creepy thing, a slow reveal. At first it seems to be merely an art collector showing off his collection. But there are all these small red flags that creep up, until you find yourself wondering if the Duke in question killed his wife.

"That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall,
Looking as if she were alive."

It's there even in the opening lines. The ominous feeling. The next few lines have the Duke insisting strongly that the listener sit and examine the portrait, that he notice the look of warmth in her eyes.

"Sir, ’twas not
Her husband’s presence only, called that spot
Of joy into the Duchess’ cheek"

Jealousy reared its ugly head. 

"She had
A heart—how shall I say?— too soon made glad,
Too easily impressed; she liked whate’er
She looked on, and her looks went everywhere."

Yikes. Dangerous jealousy. I start to wonder if I misread and this is actually by Edgar Allan Poe. 

"Oh, sir, she smiled, no doubt,
Whene’er I passed her; but who passed without
Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands;
Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands
As if alive."

This poem amazes me for all it says by not saying, for all that is suggested, threatened, or implied. When he finishes and it is revealed that the visitor is there to discuss the Duke's intentions to marry again, a Count's daughter, I find myself hoping the emissary has the wit to refuse the match, lest this turn into Bluebeard's castle. Masterful work.

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