One of the most important features of the dramatic monologue is the role played by the dramatis personae, representing the central character of the monologue through whose words we are informed about all the events talked about in the poem. It is the only window through which we can see and experience the themes and content, but also the other characters in the poem. The dramatis personae is the main and the only narrator in the work, thus according to the classification by Genet it is a homodiegetic narrator that even pushes into the background the author himself. We have this impression because the monologue seemingly does not leave room for any other authorial intervention or narration within the framework of the poem. Secondly, by being the main narrator the dramatis personae is striving to assume the role and the authority of the omniscient narrator, though it always fails to meet those expectations inherent to the literary form, as well as the expectations of the reader who puts his or her trust in it during the process of reading. This act of betrayal or failure, the gap between the objectivity of the author and the fictional objectivity of the dramatis personae opens up room for doubt by the reader, which is the primary prerequisite for closer analysis and evaluation. This fissure also allows to put into doubt the objectivity, truthfulness and authority of the text itself, but also to cast a suspicious eye on the ideology and societal reality which the text represents and portents to embody. The reader is forced through the process of interpretation to take a better and more attentive look at the underlying ideological structure and thus to have a chance to uncover the hidden and repressed meanings, denials and deletions of certain undesirable values and realities, an act which is always part of the ideological process of the representation of reality..
THE FEATURES OF THE DRAMATIC MONOLOGUES OF ROBERT BROWNING
In the treatment of the dramatis personae in his dramatic monologues, Robert Browning is very close to Keats’ concept of negative capability, which demands full objectivity and loss of identity from the author in favour of ensuring complete immersion into the voice of the character and his or her narration of the events. This tradition in English literature can be traced back to the works of Chaucer and Shakespeare, who is singled out by Keats as the ideal author whose own voice could never be truly heard or identified in his creations. The hand of the author in the dramatic monologue can only be sensed and seen on the level of the organization and distribution of the various voices within the structure and narration of the poem, something that Browning has proven to be a true master of. This dovetails nicely with what Bakhtin has stated that the hand of the author is not just lead by his ideas, creativity and skills as a writer, but also is impacted by rules and limitations of the genre he is working in, as well as the social conditions and circumstances in which he or she is living and creating. That is what we think comprises the main obstacle to the rise of new voices in literature, especially in works based on traditional forms, genres and topics.
Browning is utilising lyrical and dramatic forms which are mature and have well established structures, rules and limitations which sometimes contribute to the difficulty of discerning the real meaning and intention of the author, as is unfortunately often the case with the interpretation of his work. Yet, on the other hand, Browning’s masterful use of versification and meter, his profound erudition and lexical range, his inventiveness and keen eye and ear for experimentation have helped him achieve a delicate poetic balance. In his more famous monologues such as “My Last Duchess” and “Fra Lippo Lippi”, he transcends the limitations of the genre with supreme confidence. We also have to note that Browning never intended to debase or simplify his style in order to appease his readers, because he believed that each poem should represent a challenge, a process through which the reader should go in order to reach its meaning. It can be also concluded that in this manner the reader helps intensify and strengthen the occurrence of the new voice embodying that given historical period allowing it to be better heard, come to life and then be incorporated into the newly formed identity of the society of the time.
MY LAST DUCHESS
Robert Browning’s best known dramatic monologue “My Last Duchess” provides us with an excellent example how Browning utilizes a dominant narrator and voice. The Duke of Ferrara, who is reminiscing to a visitor about his deceased wife in front of her portrait, wants throughout the poem to control the narration. This is also fully incorporated into the nature of his character. His title brings with itself an inherent aristocratic authority, the weight of his family background and high position in society. The Duke is used to being the institution and authority that determines, controls and defines reality for all of his subjects. At the same time he is a patriarchal figure and head of his Duchy, the embodiment of the patriarchal system of values which is also one of the defining features of Victorian British society.