The dramatic monologue is characterized as a hybrid literary form which erases the boundaries between the two genres it has originated from: lyrical poetry and drama with its monologues and soliloquies. The development of the dramatic monologue, though it appeared to be sudden and revolutionary in its time, was a logical step forward. This is supported by the fact that no new form or genre can be created without combining already existing ones with emerging voices, technologies and media, or without combining the dominant art forms with older and neglected, yet still vital literary forms. As Kennedy points out, the dramatic monologue “was filling a need that the nineteenth-century theater was no longer able to supply. Certainly there is a connection between the decline of vigorous new drama in nineteenth-century England and the development of new skills in the writing of dramatic poems.” (Kennedy, 2007:86)
The very form and nature of the dramatic monologue imposes polyaccented and polyphonic features onto the monological structure of the poem. It is in the nature of the monologue to require a stable and dominant perspective. Even though it may encompass reflection or discussion of a subject or event that includes multiple parties, aspects or perspectives, it ultimately makes a definitive judgment on it or it conveys a dominant attitude through which all the other elements are filtered and to which they are subjugated. This approach is characteristic for a number of traditional literary genres, such as the epic, the lyrical and the ode which authority has been established and cemented in the past and in that form have been present in the moment of history in which Browning is writing. Yet, these poetic genres are no longer capable or suitable to meet the demands of the new social and historical tendencies in the 19th century. This fact is confirmed by the failure of Romantic poetry and its monological lyrical subject to deal and properly portray the multiplicity of voices and realities of the new societal reality. In response to this quandary, poetry turned to another literary genre that is inherently polyphonic, yet it is much closely linked in its evolution to poetry then to the novel, i.e. drama.
The first characters that appear in the dramatic monologues from the 1830s by Tennyson and Browning (“Simeon Stylites”, “Porphyria’s Lover”) are characters existing at the boundaries of the socially acceptable, normative and normal. They live in a state of duality and psychological dilemma of which on the surface they might not be aware, but their inner monologue indicates they are in conflict with the norms and laws of society. This conflict in its self gives birth to the multiplicity of voices within their inner or intimate monologue, something which is characteristic of the monologue in a play, thus allowing for the development of a new complex and multilayered genre. These initial monologues contain the seeds, but also serve as harbingers of the possibilities of this new hybrid genre of the dramatic monologue or the monodrama, as this new form was called at the beginning. The depicted psychological, but also social conflict attests also to the fragility and the breaking of the monolithic and monological structure of traditional forms of poetry and drama. Furthermore, this exposed their inability to cope with, depict and interpret the new tendencies and phenomena in society, especially by utilizing previously established fixed literary subgenres and forms.
Usually, the analysis of the dramatic monologues by Browning, as well as of the genre itself focus on the psychology of the main character and the specific structure of the monologue which helps to expose hidden psychological motives and reveal the full psychological profile of the dramatis personae. In our paper we want to show how this open-ended, fragmented and multilayered narrative structure allows the representation of the repression, duality and essentialization that is the result of the pressures inflicted by the dominant ideology and discourses of society. Loy D. Martin states that “The technique of provoking unanswered questions, delaying the useful information that answers them as long as possible and then, while supplying that information, raising new questions to start the process all over again, constitutes one of the central rhetorical strategies of the dramatic monologue” (Bloom, 2001:28-29). It is this that makes the dramatic monologue such a productive and receptive form for criticism and analysis of society and its pressing issues, conflicts and doubts.