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Dramatic Monologue

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Dramatic Monologue

No other poetic form brings the taste of the theatrical quite like the dramatic monologue. The form's often dark themes are explored through the eyes of a fictional character. Here we will look at some examples of dramatic monologue and explore its different types and characteristics.

Dramatic monologues: definition

The dramatic monologue is a poetic form which is written in the first person, with one character addressing another. A monologue is a theatrical term for a lengthy speech from a single character. The dramatic monologue in poetry is similar as it is also from the perspective of one person. The speaker is usually thought of as a character, and as the poems progress, more of their personality is revealed.

A dramatic monologue can sometimes be referred to as a persona poem, with the poem's speaker regarded as the 'persona'. Elements of the dramatic monologue can be found in epic poetry, but it is largely thought to have come into prominence in the early 19th century. Romantic poets such as William Wordsworth and Robert Browning are seen as early pioneers of dramatic monologues. The poetic form continued to be popular with poets in the 20th century; modernist T.S Eliot wrote the well-known dramatic monologue 'The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock' (1915).

Often in dramatic monologues, the speaker is a fictional character. In other dramatic monologues, the speaker is a known person from history.

Robert Browning's poem 'My Last Duchess' (1849) is loosely based on the 16th-century Duke of Ferrara.

Whether the speaker is fictional or historical, they are usually considered distinctively different from the poet. This allows poets to explore themes or narratives that are outside their own experiences.

DramaticMonologue,Theatre,StudySmarterThe dramatic monologue is seen as a theatrical form of poetry. Pixabay.com

Dramatic monologue: characteristics

Here we will look at some of the common characteristics of the dramatic monologue form.

First-person perspective

As the name suggests, the dramatic monologue uses the voice of a single person. The poems are usually presented as a speech from a character who is markedly different from the poet. The reader only hears from the point of view of the speaker and their thoughts and feeling. The character or speaker is normally addressing their thoughts to an audience that the reader is unaware of.

A silent audience

Though dramatic monologues often take the form and tone of a conversation, the reader does not hear the thoughts of the audience the speaker is addressing. The speaker would address the audience directly and even ask questions, but their answers are unheard. The audience is largely only ever implied rather than explicitly referenced.

The slow reveal of character

Often dramatic monologues occur before or after a significant moment for the character. The speaker tends to reveal more of their personality or intentions as the poem progresses. In 'My Last Duchess', it becomes clear at the end of the poem that the speaker has had their previous wife killed.

DramaticMonologue,Pyschological,StudySmarterDramatic monologues allow poets to explore a character's psychology and slowly reveal their personality. Pixabay.com

Types of dramatic monologue

In this section, we will look at the three common types of dramatic monologue with examples.

The romantic

Not to be confused with the poets of the 18th century, the romantic monologue is romantic in the way we now know it. These are poems that are on the subject of love and relationships. Sometimes these poems are about past or current loves, and occasionally they can be about a love desired or unrequited.

'The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock' (1915) by T.S Eliot is about unrequited love

. Romantic monologues can also express other difficulties with relationships.

The poem 'Dilemma' (1990) by Anthony Hecht is about a woman having trouble choosing between two men.

The conversational

In the conversational dramatic monologue, the poems are depicted in the style and tone of a conversation. The speaker of these poems would appear to be talking to another person and often responding to their audience. Judith Wright's poem 'Eve to Her Daughters' (1961) is presented as the Biblical Eve addressing her daughters in a post-apocalyptic world. Despite these monologues being presented as conversations, readers only hear the speech of one character.

The psychological or philosophical

In these poems, the speaker is either musing on their philosophy or providing an insight into their psychology. One famous example of the psychological dramatic monologue is Sylvia Plath's 'Lady Lazarus' (1965). In Plath's poem, the reader is made aware of the speaker's state of mind after failing to commit suicide. A more philosophical monologue is William Wordsworth's 'Lines Written a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey' (1798). The poem's speaker informs the reader about their personal philosophy while walking by a river.

Dramatic monologue: examples

Here we will take a closer look at two of the more famous examples of dramatic monologue.

'My Last Duchess' (1849)

Perhaps one of the most famous examples of the dramatic monologue is Robert Browning's 'My Last Duchess'. The speaker in the poem is loosely based on a 16th-century duke, Alfonso of Ferrara. In the poem, the speaker addresses an ambassador for a rich family who is arranging the Duke's next marriage.

The Duke is showing the ambassador a portrait of his deceased wife. He begins to talk of the painting's creation but soon speaks more about his wife herself. It soon becomes apparent that the Duke is extremely jealous of his wife's flirtatious behaviour and eventually reveals that he had her killed. The poem uses heroic couplets and is written in iambic pentameter.

Heroic couplets are pairs of lines that rhyme in iambic pentameter. Each pair of lines would contain an end rhyme.

Iambic pentameter is a form of meter which uses ten syllables in each line. The syllables are arranged in pairs of unstressed syllables followed by a stressed one.

'The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock' (1915)

T.S. Eliot's dramatic monologue is regarded as one of the most important poems of the modernist movement. In the poem, the speaker discusses his anxieties regarding social interaction. The poem's main theme is loneliness. 'The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock' is a long poem with 19 stanzas of varying length.

The speaker of the poem is the Alfred Prufrock of the title, who appears to be addressing a prospective lover. However, he is crippled by anxiety and would not 'dare' pursue the relationship. The poem is highly complex and uses a variety of meters throughout. The variety of meters means that the poem is largely considered to be written in free verse. The poem does not have a consistent rhyme scheme but does feature many rhyming couplets within.

Dramatic monologue: effect

As alluded to in its name, the dramatic monologue is often theatrical. The word 'dramatic' can be described as being associated with high drama. All dramatic monologues consist of one character sharing their point of view with an audience that can't be heard. This allows poets to present a dramatic situation through the eyes of a character distant from themselves. It also affords an opportunity for the poet to present a character that is both biased and unreliable.

The dramatic monologue also provides poets with the opportunity to express somewhat contrarian ideas in a theatrical scenario. The character in a dramatic monologue can act as a mask for a poet, and the ideas expressed can be seen as different to their own. This means that the points of view can be darker or more exaggerated than they might usually be.

The themes covered in dramatic monologues often show the more extreme side of human emotion, such as jealousy, anxiety or obsessive love.

The poem 'My Last Duchess' by Robert Browning is a good example of the dark themes afforded by the dramatic monologue - the speaker states that he had his wife killed due to his extreme jealousy.

The dramatic monologue is one of the rare poetic forms that can dictate a poem's theme and tone.

Dramatic Monologue - Key takeaways

  • A dramatic monologue is a form of poetry written in the first person.
  • The poems are told from the perspective of a fictional character who is addressing an unseen audience.
  • The three characteristics of a dramatic monologue are; first-person perspective, a silent audience and the slow reveal of character.
  • One of the most famous dramatic monologues is Robert Browning's 'My Last Duchess'(1849).
  • There are three types of dramatic monologue; romantic, conversational and psychological.

Frequently Asked Questions about Dramatic Monologue

The function of a dramatic monologue is to explore a character's psychology through their speech.

A dramatic monologue is a poem written in the first person from a fictional character's perspective. 

One of the most famous examples of a dramatic monologue is Robert Browning's 'My Last Duchess' (1849).

You can identify a dramatic monologue if it is a poem told in the first person with one character addressing another.

The three characteristics of a dramatic monologue are:

  • first-person perspective
  • a silent audience
  • a slow reveal of character 

Final Dramatic Monologue Quiz

Question

What is a dramatic monologue?

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Answer

A dramatic monologue is a poem written in the first person from a fictional character's perspective. 

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Question

What is the function of dramatic monologue?

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Answer

The function of a dramatic monologue is to explore a character's psychology through their speech.

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Question

What is a dramatic monologue example?

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Answer

One of the most famous examples of a dramatic monologue is Robert Browning's 'My Last Duchess' (1849).

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Question

How do you identify a dramatic monologue?

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Answer

You can identify a dramatic monologue if it is a poem told in the first person with one character addressing another.

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Question

What are the most important characteristics of a dramatic monologue?

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Answer

The three characteristics of a dramatic monologue are:

  • first-person perspective
  • a silent audience
  • a slow reveal of character 

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Question

T.S. Eliot wrote which famous dramatic monologue?

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Answer

T.S Eliot wrote the dramatic monologue, 'The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock' (1915).

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Question

What are the three types of dramatic monologue?

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Answer

The three types of dramatic monologue are; romantic, conversational and psychological.


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Question

Dramatic monologues are told from which narrative point of view?

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Answer

Dramatic monologues are told in the first person.

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Question

Who are the two early pioneers of the dramatic monologue?

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Answer

Two early pioneers of the dramatic monologue are William Wordsworth and Robert Browning.

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Question

By which other name is the dramatic monologue sometimes referred to? 

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Answer

The dramatic monologue is sometimes referred to as 'persona poems'.

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Question

'My Last Duchess'(1849) is loosely based on which historical character?

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Answer

The speaker in the poem 'My Last Duchess'(1849) is loosely based on a 16th-century Duke, Alfonso of Ferrara.

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