M.H. Abrams notes the following three features of the dramatic monologue as it applies to poetry:
- A single person, who is patently not the poet, utters the speech that makes up the whole of the poem, in a specific situation at a critical moment […].
- This person addresses and interacts with one or more other people; but we know of the auditors' presence, and what they say and do, only from clues in the discourse of the single speaker.
- The main principle controlling the poet's choice and formulation of what the lyric speaker says is to reveal to the reader, in a way that enhances its interest, the speaker's temperament and character.
Types of dramatic monologue
One of the most important influences on the development of the dramatic monologue is romantic poetry. However, the long, personal lyrics typical of the Romantic period are not dramatic monologues, in the sense that they do not, for the most part, imply a concentrated narrative. Poems such as William Wordsworth's Tintern Abbey and Percy Bysshe Shelley's Mont Blanc, to name two famous examples, offered a model of close psychological observation and philosophical or pseudo-philosophical inquiry described in a specific setting. The conversation poems of Samuel Taylor Coleridge are perhaps a better precedent.
The novel and plays have also been important influences on the dramatic monologue, particularly as a means of characterization. Dramatic monologues are a way of expressing the views of a character and offering the audience greater insight into that character's feelings. Dramatic monologues can also be used in novels to tell stories, as in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, and to implicate the audience in moral judgments, as in Albert Camus' The Fall and Mohsin Hamid's The Reluctant Fundamentalist.
The Victorian Period
The Victorian period represented the high point of the dramatic monologue in English poetry.
- Alfred, Lord Tennyson's Ulysses, published in 1842, has been called the first true dramatic monologue. After Ulysses, Tennyson's most famous efforts in this vein are Tithonus, The Lotos-Eaters, and St. Simon Stylites, all from the 1842 Poems; later monologues appear in other volumes, notably Idylls of the King.
- Matthew Arnold's Dover Beach and Stanzas from the Grand Chartreuse are famous, semi-autobiographical monologues. The former, usually regarded as the supreme expression of the growing skepticism of the mid-Victorian period, was published along with the latter in 1867's New Poems.
- Robert Browning is usually credited with perfecting the form; certainly, Browning is the poet who, above all, produced his finest and most famous work in this form. While My Last Duchess is the most famous of his monologues, the form dominated his writing career. Fra Lippo Lippi, Caliban upon Setebos, Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister and Porphyria's Lover, as well as the other poems in Men and Women are just a handful of Browning's monologues.
Other Victorian poets also used the form. 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 vaguely reminiscent of Browning's work.
- M. H. Abrams, gen. ed. "Dramatic Monologue." A Glossary of Literary Terms. 8th ed. Boston: Thomson Wadsworth, 2005. 70-71.
- Howe, Elisabeth A. (1996). The Dramatic Monologue. Boston: Twayne Publishers. pp. 166 pages. ISBN 0-8057-0969-X.
- Byron, Glennis (2003). Dramatic monologue. New York: Routledge. pp. 208 pages. ISBN 0-415-22937-5.
- Arco Publishing (2002). Arco Master the Ap English Language & Composition Test 2003 (Master the Ap English Language & Composition Test). New York: Arco. pp. 288 pages. ISBN 0-7689-0991-0.