Norton Anthology, pages 1182-1219.
What are the principal characteristics of the form known as the "dramatic monologue" (see
1182-1183)? What is it, as a poetic form, especially well-suited to do? Support your
answers with specific examples from "The Laboratory," "The Bishop Orders His Tomb at
Saint Praxed's Church," and "Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came." Characterize the
speaker in each poem. How does Browning's use of the dramatic monologue compare or
contrast to Tennyson's use of the form in "Ulysses"?
The dramatic monologue was a new form of poetry that changed how poetry was to be
written. Page 1182 describes that the dramatic monologue “separates the speaker from the poet
in such a way that the reader must work through the words of the speaker to discover the
meaning of the poet.” This means that one character in the poem tells a story, and a reader must
infer from details in the story what the author thinks of the character and events. The speaker
addresses a silent audience. The dramatic monologue’s language and sentence, including rhymes
and at times offensive diction make it well suited to attract a broad audience.
In “The Laboratory”, a scientist collects poisons, which he calls “invisible pleasures” (18). He
experiments with patients who are dying, thinking not about their lives but rather about the
wonders of his potions. He clearly has no conscience, saying in stanza 11, “Is it done? Take my
mask off! Nay, be not morose, / It kills her, and this prevents seeing it close.” He thinks it’s fine
because “beside, can it ever hurt me?” He is selfish and terrible. Browning may be doubting
science and the way it seems like a cold and inhuman practice.
In “The Bishop Orders His Tomb at Saint Praxed’s Church,” a bishop directs the building of
his own tomb. He solicits “nephews” (possibly younger priests) to build the tomb for him. He is
evidently very concerned about being remembered on earth, and ensures that his tomb is
magnificent, down to every stone. He is corrupt: he describes a “lump” of blue stone that he stole
from his church when it burned down, and wishes for it to be part of his tomb (43). The Bishop is
guilty of pride, greed, sexual relationships, rivalry, and envy. Thus, he is not a very religious
person. Browning likely is expressing a theme that is common in many of his works: that of
religious people who lack faith and thus are not actually good people. (see below)