Dramatic monologues


When this term applies to poetry it means a poem delivered as a first person monologue, in the voice of a character who is not the author.

This introduces us to the idea of the persona. The persona is a real or imaginary character, through whose voice the poem is delivered. The words of the poem are meant to be those uttered by a specific character to an audience in a particular dramatic situation, real or imaginary.

The audience may be defined or implied. The audience may be specifically addressed and obvious given the particular context of the poem, or it may be ill-defined and ambiguous.

Dramatic monologues tend to employ irony and ambiguity. Poets often wish to present the persona as a fully rounded complex character, with faults as well as virtues. As narrators do not willingly reveal their faults, this will often be done through irony so that faults are unintentionally exposed.

The dramatic monologue is particularly associated with Victorian era, the poets Tennyson and Browning developing it independently of each other. It enabled them to present complex perspectives in a dramatic way.


Tennyson's Ulysses gave us one of the best known examples of this form. The ageing Ulysses (Odysseus) addresses an unnamed audience who could be his courtiers, his mariners or posterity. He expresses his sense of restlessness and longing to continue to fulfill his hopes and ideals, but also reveals a sense of egoism and an unwillingness to face up to responsibility. This leaves readers to judge for themselves how far Ulysses is a heroic character.

Browning used the form extensively. Particularly well known are My Last Duchess and Porphyria's Lover. In both of these he evokes an imaginary situation in a realistic historical context, in which the murders of the women in the titles are revealed to an implied audience. Readers are able to infer the motives for these acts by looking beyond the subjectivity of the justifications.

T.S. Eliot's The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock is a more modern example, as are the monologues in Carol Ann Duffy's The World's Wife.

Scan and go

Scan on your mobile for direct link.