The Poetry of Experience: The Dramatic Monologue in Modern Literary Tradition

The Poetry of Experience: The Dramatic Monologue in Modern Literary Tradition

The Poetry of Experience: The Dramatic Monologue in Modern Literary Tradition

The Poetry of Experience: The Dramatic Monologue in Modern Literary Tradition

Excerpt

Writers on the dramatic monologue never fail to remark how little has been written on the subject--and I shall be no exception. The reason for the neglect is, I think, that no one has quite known what to do with the dramatic monologue except to classify it, to distinguish kinds of dramatic monologues and to distinguish the dramatic monologue from both the lyrical and the dramatic or narrative genres. Such classifications are all too easily made and have a way of killing off further interest in the subject. For they too often mean little beyond themselves, they close doors where they ought to open them.

The usual procedure in discussing the dramatic monologue is to find precedents for the form in the poetry of all periods, and then to establish, on the model of a handful of poems by Browning and Tennyson, objective criteria by which the form is henceforth to be recognized and judged. The procedure combines, I think, opposite mistakes; it is at once too restrictive and not restrictive enough, and in either case tells us too little. For once we decide to treat the dramatic monologue as a traditional genre, then every lyric in which the speaker seems to be someone other than the poet, almost all love-songs and laments in fact ( Lycidas , The Song of Songs , Polyphemus' Complaint by Theocritus, the Anglo-Saxon Banished Wife's Complaint ) become dramatic monologues; as do all imaginary epistles and orations and all kinds of excerpts from plays and narratives--e.g. all long speeches and soliloquies, those portions of epics in which the hero recounts the events that occurred before the opening of the poem, Chaucer's prologues to the Canterbury Tales and the tales themselves since they are told by fictitious persons: almost all first person narratives, in fact, become dramatic monologues.

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