Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




John Ferns




The thesis re-examines the dramatic monologues and criticism of Robert Browning. Browning's innovations to form have been the topic of several studies, beginning with William C. DeVane A Browning Handbook (1932) that provided a way of reading this new form. Later, Robert Langbaum's The Poetry of Experience (1957) and Park Honan's Browning's Characters (1961) further explored the insights provided by DeVane. The readings of the dramatic monologue that they developed studied the significance of the division between poet and speakers in Browning's poems. Langbaum and Honan, as well as Roma King, David Shaw and others, argued that the division defines the form by allowing Browning to state poetic meaning through another's voice, freeing him to speak "truth" without fear of criticism. In reconsidering definitions of poetic form, I intend to demonstrate an alternative model to Langbaum's and Honan's, in order both to study the shortcomings and contributions of their reading models, as well as to re-define how we approach Browning's poetry.

Building upon ideas first suggested by Robert Garratt in "Browning's Dramatic Monologues: The Strategy of the Double Mask" (1974), and Loy Martin's Browning's Dramatic Monologues and the Post Romantic Subject (1985), I will demonstrate a reading of the dramatic monologue that studies the poetic voices in monologues. In particular, Garratt and Martin identify the voices of, at least, poetic speakers and internal auditors. Studying voices shifts the focus of interpretation away from simply appropriating poetic meaning from the speaker, to considering how the speaker's intentional (and unintentional) alterations of speech affect his statements of "meaning."

The theory that informs my thesis about the dramatic monologue is proposed in Mikhail Bakhtin's Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics (1929) and "The Discourse in the Novel" (1934). According to Bakhtin, narrators, primarily in Dostoevsky novels, use multiple voices to narrate themselves and their world. Bakhtin's theories argue that the multivoiced narration undermines the narrator's attempt to present poetic meaning monologically. A single speaker's own "dialogical" utterances become a foundation for textual discourse in which meaning exists, but may never be completely known. To demonstrate Bakhtin's model of reading and how dialogism affects interpreting poetry, I will be studying Browning's "Fra Lippo Lippi" (1855), "An Epistle ... of Karshish" (1855), and "Cleon" (1855).

McMaster University Library