Еhe origins and characteristics of the dramatic monologue
A soliloquy is the act of talking to oneself, silently or aloud in drama. It is a convention. Playwrights use this device as a convenient way to convey to the audience information about a character’s thoughts, motives, and state of mind. Shakespeare was a great user of the soliloquy, the best known of his being Hamlet’s speech “To be or not to be. ” A soliloquy relies on a surrounding play for information about the situation whereas dramatic monologue does not. Dramatic monologue already contains a description of the situation within the poem, therefore does not need a surrounding play.
Dramatic monologue is a poem deriving from the soliloquy, with only a single speaker and narrated in first person. The speaker reveals their character whilst evidently directing their speech to a listener. A good example of this is in ‘My Last Duchess’ by Robert Browning (1812-1889), “How such a glance came there; so not the first are you to turn and ask thus. ” Or in another of his poems ‘Porphyria’s Lover’, “And yet God has not said a word! ” Although the listener here is less obvious, there is one, the implied ear is God.
This particular piece of dramatic monologue has a more confessional tone as has Juliet’s soliloquy in ‘Romeo and Juliet’ Act IV Scene iii. Here we can begin to recognise the way in which dramatic monologue has evolved from the soliloquy, hence the similarities between the two. We can go in to more depth with these conventions. Both forms are narrated from a single speaker and there is no other voice but the protagonist’s. This is the case for both forms but there is a difference, in a soliloquy the protagonist is not directing their speech to a listener, they are merely thinking aloud.
An example of this is ‘now I am alone,’ taken from ‘Hamlet. ‘ He clearly states that there is no one on stage but him. However there are less obvious examples such as Juliet’s soliloquy, there is evidently no listener but there is one implied. “What if this mixture do not work at all? Shall I be married then tomorrow? ” The implied listener being God. We can come to this conclusion from the questions Juliet asks, as if waiting for a reply. Knowing that there is no one else on stage with her the only possible explanation is that these questions are somewhat in prayer.
As there is a supposed listener, this soliloquy is partly dramatic monologue bringing me to my next point. Dramatic monologue always has a listener whether it be God or a living person. Although, the listener is not always obvious as they never speak within the poem. “A thing to do, and all her hair In one yellow string I wound Three times her little throat around, And strangled her. ” This is the crisis point of ‘Porphyia’s Lover,’ (dramatic monologue. ) The poem is based around this one event, the killing of Porphyria. ‘I go, and it is done,’ the crisis point in Macbeth Act II Scene I, a soliloquy.
This is moments before Macbeth is about to kill Duncan. Both forms are similar in the way they have a crisis point within their text. Porphyria’s death is explained in more detail than that of Duncan’s as it does not have a surrounding play to do so. There is a common theme of death between all the pieces, which shows the qualities from the soliloquy developing into dramatic monologue. An obvious point of the soliloquy is that without a surrounding play one would not have a good idea of the situation in which the voice speaks from.
For example ‘Macbeth’ Act I Scene vii we know only that he is having mixed feelings about an assassination, but whose? Where? Why? We need the background information of the play to tell us that Lady Macbeth wants him to kill Duncan in order to prove his ‘manliness’ to her. Whereas in dramatic monologue such as ‘My Last Duchess’ we do not need a background story. We learn that the Duke is showing a painting of his last Duchess to an implied listener and whilst doing so explains the story of her death, the crisis point. That was the past but we also learn the present situation, the Duke wants to wed the Count’s daughter.
In a soliloquy, the speaker reveals their character by speaking aloud their inner thoughts, motives and state of mind. This can be supported by ‘Hamlet,’ he has recently learnt that his uncle killed his father but is feeling self-disgust that he cannot bring himself to feel any physical emotion. Hamlet is feeling guilty and confused that an actor can “drown the stage with tears” without being in any real emotional situation yet he himself (Hamlet) who has all reason to be in tears “can say nothing. ” He shows he is a loving character because even-though he cannot bring himself to show his emotion he can certainly feel it due to his guilt.
Hamlet asks himself, “am I a coward? Who calls me villain? Breaks my pate across? ” He then concludes that he is a “remorseless, treacherous, lecherous, kindles villain! ” This shows how insecure he is, he has no known self-confidence and is confused. Nevertheless, this does not necessarily apply to the rest of the play, which is what we need to know about in order to discover his true personality. We cannot assume he has these character traits throughout the play, as he is not in the same particular situation throughout the play.
However, in dramatic monologue we can be certain of the personality of the character, as there is no other surrounding text to prove us wrong. In ‘My Last Duchess’ we learn that the Duke is an extremely jealous man, we can even go as far as to say he is obsessive. “Her husband’s presence only, called that spot Of joy into the Duchess’ cheek: perhaps Fra Pandolf chanced to say” we learn of the Duke’s jealousy towards the painter of the Duchess. He is jealous that another man has caused her joy, he implies that his wife was too kind and courteous to the extent men took advantage.
The Duke is revealing his character unintentionally whereas in a soliloquy the speakers’ character is quite blatantly revealed as they have nothing to hide whilst merely thinking to themselves. The Duke shows that he is a quick thinker. Whilst unintentionally explaining the Duchess’ death to a listener he realises what he is doing therefore swiftly changes the subject, “there she stands as if alive. ” (Death) “Will’t please you rise? ” (Change of subject) Similarities between the two forms are that they both portray the protagonist as philosophical by constantly asking questions.
Revelation of a secret plotting plan is only found in a soliloquy as dramatic monologue has no time to do so, it has to get straight to the point as it has no surrounding play to support it. “I’ll have these players Play something like the murder of my father Before mine uncle. I’ll observe his looks. I’ll tent him to the quick. If’a do blench, I know my course. ” From ‘Hamlet,’ this clearly reveals the plot and we know that it is a secret as it is a convention. Having discussed the similarities and individual characteristics, we can see how the dramatic monologue is a development of the soliloquy.
Both have a single speaker, are a moment in crisis, contain revelation and both often come across as philosophical. Cornelia Otis Skinner (1901-1979) was an actress who wrote her own dramatic monologues and then performed the poetry to audiences. Robert Lee Frost was also a fan, he published a book of dramatic monologues called ‘North of Boston’ in 1914. These enthusiasts of dramatic monologue demonstrate how it can still be a popular form of poetry today and most probably will continue to be for many years to come.