Dramatic Monologue of Alfred Lord Tennyson

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      How does a dramatic monologue differ from a soliloquy? While in both there is but one speaker, in the monologue the words are supposed to be addressed to a silent listener. But this is a superficial difference. On a deeper level the dramatic monologue reflects the psychological reaction of the silent listener. He helps to draw out from the speaker thoughts and emotions he would not care to set forth with fullness or logical elaboration, but for the presence of one to whom he can disburden himself of his emotions or justify his actions and beliefs.

      The essence of the dramatic monologue lies in its suggesting action and the inner situation, by the way. The 'story' or what happens is a movement in thought and emotion; and it is not presented in a direct narration, but has to be inferred by the way.

      If we apply this criterion along with the importance and reaction of the silent listener, we see that Oenone and Locksley Hall are not true monologues. They are closer to the 'soliloquy' than to the 'monologue'. In Oenone, the poet begins the story and when Oenone takes it up she proceeds with a straightforward relation of events 'while Mother Ida is merely an excuse', a fictitious listener. Locksley Hall is pitched in a style and tone that would be absurd if they were meant for other ears than those of the speaker. But the lines that are addressed to the phantom figure of Amy have the sharp turns and jolts of the psychological monologue. Though in form Locksley Hall is but a soliloquy, it depicts the changing phases of the speaker's soul, and we see in succession the passionate lover, the jilted lover commiserating the woman who has thrown herself away on a lumpish thing, the fiery denouncer of social lies, the lover imagining the void in the heart of the married woman and inventing for her an ironical solace, the resilient young man in his resolve, to recapture the 'wild pulsation' and 'large excitement of his age,' the hater of civilization playing with the fancy of healing himself far away in savage isles, and the intellectual prodigal returning to sanity and the call of science.

      But even when Alfred Tennyson's dramatic monologues are true to type, he rarely puts them to the use to which the form is ideally adapted. They are psychologically static, and have been rightly compared to speeches taken out of an epic or a Greek play. There is no inner movement in The Miller's Daughter, Ulysses, Love and Duty, Tithonus, Tiresias or Demeter and Persephone, Tennyson's genius was ill-adapted to portray the intricacies of character and swift changes of emotion and impulse, in which sphere Browning was easily a master. Browning wields the monologue form with the ease of a juggler who keeps at once six balls in the air. Tennyson is not drawn to subtle and complex soul moods like Browning, but is content with the universal in human nature.

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