The Importance of the Concept of a Self-image of Speakers within Dramatic Monologues

“My Last Duchess” and “Ulysses”

Essay 2011 10 Pages

English Language and Literature Studies - Literature


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2.1 Historical background in “My Last Duchess”
2.2 The self-image of the speaker in “My Last Duchess”

3.1 A short look into “Ulysses” character
3.2 The self-image of the speaker in “Ulysses”

4. Conclusion

5. Bibliography

1. Introduction

Identity, imagination, thought, emotions and behavior all have an association with the term self-image. Every person possesses a self-image, but how important is this self-image for that person? What are the significant points to work with if we are speaking about self-image? How are self-images influenced by other people, and what can individuals do to influence their own self-images in such a way as to realize personal wishes.

The intention of this essay is to find answers for these questions within the dramatic monologues studied during the seminar. But first of all, we must define the dramatic monologue. M. H. Abrams presents three important characterizations, with which the conception of the dramatic monologue can be briefly summarized.

“(1) A single person, who is patently not the poet, utters the entire poem in a specific situation at a critical moment.
(2)This person addresses and interacts with one or more other people; but we know of the auditors' presence, and what they say and do, only from clues in the discourse of the single speaker.
(3)The main principle controlling the poet's choice and formulation of what the lyric speaker says is to reveal to the reader, in a way that enhances its interest, the speaker's temperament and character.”1

From this perspective, the dramatic monologue sets a good example to examine the concept of the self-image within poetry. Formally, the conception can be characterized as a combination of lyric, drama and narration. As part of this conception, the monologue, comprises lyrical elements of characteristics of emotion through a different narrator, who is not the writer of the author of the poem, but can, as I will explain, be used to express his/her emotions. The most fundamental example of the dramatic monologue can be found in Victorian era literature, which often placed a particularly strong emphasis on this.2

Two definitive poets of this period are Robert Browning and Alfred (Lord) Tennyson, and this essay will attempt to analyze the importance of the concept of speaker self-images within dramatic monologues based on two of their poems, namely Browning´s “My Last Duchess”, and Tennyson´s “Ulysses”. The essay is divided into two parts, the first part concerning “My Last Duchess”, and the second “Ulysses”.

2.1 Historical background in “My Last Duchess”

In “My Last Duchess”3, Robert Browning perfectly balanced a genre which is one of the highest forms of a lyrical poem, and Browning´s dramatic monologue epitomizes an ideogram of this genre.4

Like a few other poems by Browning, “My Last Duchess” has characters based on historical personalities. Some of these can be related to persons who lived during the Italian Renaissance. The character of the duke who is speaking in the poem is based on Alfonso II, the fifth Duke of Ferrara, and the last of the Este line. Alfonso married a 14-year old girl whose name was Lucrezia de´ Medici. Under certain unexplained circumstances, the relationship between both came to an end three years later. The girl reportedly died from poison. It is Lucrezia who is the woman in the portrait, under which the duke holds his monologue. Three years later, the Emperor, Ferdinand I of Austria, died. Shortly after his death, plans for a new marriage between his daughter Barbara and Alfonso II had started, and had been initiated by Ferdinand, the Count of Tyrol and the former son of the Emperor, via an envoy, named Nikolaus Madruz, a local citizen of Innsbruck. This background knowledge is important to know when attempting to understand the monologue of the duke.5

2.2 The self-image of the speaker in “My Last Duchess”

The writer only has a minimal presence in the poem. More significant in this poem is the character of the speaker, who conveys a feeling of authority and strength. The duke is the only person who speaks in the poem. This fact imparts strength and power to the duke, because the reader is therefore incapable of gaining any different perspective. Browning conveys the impression that the duke has an invulnerable self-image, no matter what tremendous and cruel deeds he had done in the past. By solely exposing the reader to the duke's point of view, the author establishes a situation in which the thoughts of the duke are easily absorbed by the mind of the reader. As a result of this, the reader is quite able to understand the feelings and thoughts of the duke.6


1 M. H. Abrams, A glossary of literary terms, Dramatic Monologue, Forth Worth 1993, p. 48.

2 E. Warwick Slinn, “Dramatic Monologue”, in: Richard Cronin et al (eds), A companion to Victorian Poetry, UK 2002, p. 80-81.

3 J. Woolford and D. Karlin, R. Browning, The poems of Browning Volume II, London 1991, p. 157-160. All subsequent references within this paper refer to this edition.

4 M. H. Abrams, p. 48.

5 J. Woolford and D. Karlin, R. Browning, p.157.

6 H. Bloom, Comprehensive research and study guide, Robert Browning, Bloom`s Major Poets, New York, 2001, p. 16.


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University of Erfurt
Victorian Poetry My Last Duchess Ulysses”



Title: The Importance of the Concept of a Self-image of Speakers within Dramatic Monologues