Since April is National Poetry Month, it seems befitting to present the best of Robert Browning’s dramatic monologues. Although not as famous as his lyrical wife, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Robert is highly regarded for his ability to create devious characters within his poems.
When closely read, these complex lines reveal setting, conflict, and above all, characterization. Unlike characters within Shakespearean soliloquies who blatantly reveal their deepest confessions, the speakers within Browning’s monologues reveal their nature in subtler ways.
“My Last Duchess”: This monologue is spoken by a pompous duke who shows off the portrait of his wife, a kind young woman whom he had executed.
“Porphyria's Lover”: This dramatic poem is by far the most disturbing of Browning’s poems. It reminds me of Edgar Allen Poe’s "The Tell Tale Heart.” The main character is clearly insane as he calmly explains how and why he killed the woman who loved him.
“Home Thoughts From Abroad”: This poetic monologue is not as sinister as the others. This one is a sweet, sentimental speech from the point of view of a road-weary traveler who longs to be back home.
Oftentimes, drama students and professional actors instantly reach for their over-used volume of Hamlet when they want to perform a classical monologue. However, Robert Browning’s monologues can provide thespians with dramatic speeches that are classical yet far from old.