Dramatic Monologue

Definition of Dramatic Monologue

Dramatic monologue means self-conversation, speech, or talks which include an interlocutor presented dramatically. It means a person, who is speaking to himself or someone else speaks to reveal specific intentions of his actions. However, in literature, it is a poetic form or a poem that presents the speech or conversation of a person in a dramatic manner.

Features of a Dramatic Monologue

A dramatic monologue has these common features in them.

  1. A single person delivering a speech on one aspect of his life
  2. The audience may or may not be present
  3. Speaker reveals his temperament and character only through his speech

Types of Dramatic Monologue

There are three major types of dramatic monologues such as:

  1. Romantic monologue
  2. Philosophical and psychological monologue
  3. Conversational monologue

Characteristics/Elements of Dramatic Monologue

Dramatic monologues have distinct features and characteristics of their own to make them eligible to be called a separate genre. It, however, is a literary device that poets can use in their poetry. Its important elements are as given below.

  1. Implied audience / Interlocutor
  2. No conversation
  3. Fictional persona
  4. Argumentative tone

Tips for Writing Dramatic Monologues

When writing a dramatic monologue, the following points must be kept in mind.

  1. A dramatic monologue must have a context in a play or drama or poetic piece.
  2. It must start with a striking hook that should attract the readers.
  3. It must be a long thought such as a rumination over some past event.
  4. It must express strong feelings of either love or hate.
  5. It must have a good storyline and a good ending.

History of Dramatic Monologue

Although some ruminations and expressions of thoughts are founded in Greek plays and Roman literature, they cannot be categorized as dramatic monologues and have some constraints. Victorians, especially Robert Browning is stated to have created this literary genre. For example, ‘My Last Duchess’ and ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ are his best dramatic monologues. Alfred Tennyson and Dante Rossetti are two famous authors, known as their contemporaries who wrote amazing dramatic monologues in their work. Hence, it could be termed a distinct Victorian genre.

Dramatic Monologue Examples from Literature

Example #1

My Last Duchess by Robert Browning

“That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall,
Looking as if she were alive. I call
That piece a wonder, now; Fra Pandolf’s hands
Worked busily a day, and there she stands.
Will’t please you sit and look at her? I said
“Fra Pandolf” by design, for never read
Strangers like you that pictured countenance,
The depth and passion of its earnest glance,
But to myself they turned (since none puts by
The curtain I have drawn for you, but I)
And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst,
How such a glance came there; so, not the first
Are you to turn and ask thus.”

This extract is from the famous monologue of a duke. He tells his audience, possibly the father of his new bride, about his last duchess who could not survive his severity. It is a type of psychological monologue which tells the psychological state of mind of the speaker. Browning has exposed the duke’s cruel state of mind through the poem “My Last Duchess.”

Example #2

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T. S. Eliot

 “Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question …
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit.”

This extract is from the poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T. S. Eliot, a famous and popular modern poet. He has highlighted the thoughts of a modern young man who is madly in love but still hesitates from expressing it. Therefore, he faces an existential dilemma. The poem highlights his psychological state of mind through this contemporary monologue. This extract highlights this dilemma of hesitation in the very first line and then is repeated in the last line.

 Example #3

Lady Lazarus by Sylvia Plath

 I have done it again.
One year in every ten
I manage it—
A sort of walking miracle, my skin
Bright as a Nazi lampshade,
My right foot
A paperweight,
My face a featureless, fine
Jew linen.

This extract is from the famous monologue of Sylvia Plath’s “Lady Lazarus.” It also highlights her psychological state of mind about her act of committing suicide and subsequent failure. She has likened this act to the Holocaust to create her own powerful monologue.

Example #4

Dover Beach by Matthew Arnold

“The sea is calm tonight.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!”

Dover Beach” is another example of such an autobiographical monologue by Matthew Arnold. He has highlighted his own situation and his reaction to the sorrow that he is experiencing. This monologue expressed his thoughts about his bride when they were on honeymoon on the same breach. He recalls the past and writes about the sea again.

Example #5

 Hawk’s Monologue by Ted Hughes

 “I sit in the top of the wood, my eyes closed.
Inaction, no falsifying dream
Between my hooked head and hooked feet:
Or in sleep rehearse perfect kills and eat.

The convenience of the high trees!
The air’s buoyancy and the sun’s ray
Are of advantage to me;
And the earth’s face upward for my inspection.”

These are the first two stanzas of the famous monologue of Ted Hughes. This poem presents a hawk perching high on a tree, thinking about his power and dreams. It presents a psychological state of mind of personified megalomaniac bird and how he thinks when he holds power over the lives of other weak birds. This dramatic monologue is an example of how powerful people think when they have control over others.

Examples of Dramatic Monologue from Movies

  1. “… What’d you say a minute ago? They had to wait and save their money before they even ought to think of a decent home. Wait? Wait for what? Until their children grow up and leave them? Until they’re so old and broken down that they … Do you know how long it takes a working man to save $5,000? Just remember this, Mr. Potter, that this rabble you’re talking about … they do most of the working and paying and living and dying in this community. Well, is it too much to have them work and pay and live and die in a couple of decent rooms and a bath? Anyway, my father didn’t think so. People were human beings to him. But to you, a warped, frustrated old man, they’re cattle. Well in my book, my father died a much richer man than you’ll ever be!” – It’s a wonderful life
  2. Good day, gentlemen. This is a prerecorded briefing made prior to your departure and which for security reasons of the highest importance has been known on board during the mission only by your H-A-L 9000 computer. Now that you are in Jupiter’s space and the entire crew is revived it can be told to you. Eighteen months ago the first evidence of intelligent life off the Earth was discovered. It was buried 40 feet below the lunar surface near the crater Tycho. Except for a single very powerful radio emission aimed at Jupiter the four-million year old black monolith has remained completely inert. Its origin and purpose are still a total mystery. – 2001: A Space Odyssey
  3. I’m sorry, but I don’t want to be an emperor. That’s not my business. I don’t want to rule or conquer anyone. I should like to help everyone if possible; Jew, Gentile, black man, white. We all want to help one another. Human beings are like that. We want to live by each other’s happiness, not by each other’s misery. We don’t want to hate and despise one another. In this world, there is room for everyone, and the good earth is rich and can provide for everyone. The way of life can be free and beautiful, but we have lost the way. Greed has poisoned men’s souls, has barricaded the world with hate, has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed. We have developed speed, but we have shut ourselves in. Machinery that gives abundance has left us in want. Our knowledge has made us cynical; our cleverness, hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery, we need humanity. More than cleverness, we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost. The airplane and the radio have brought us closer together. The very nature of these inventions cries out for the goodness in men; cries out for universal brotherhood; for the unity of us all. Even now my voice is reaching millions throughout the world, millions of despairing men, women, and little children, victims of a system that makes men torture and imprison innocent people. To those who can hear me, I say, do not despair. The misery that is now upon us is but the passing of greed, the bitterness of men who fear the way of human progress. The hate of men will pass, and dictators die, and the power they took from the people will return to the people. And so long as men die, liberty will never perish. Soldiers! Don’t give yourselves to brutes, men who despise you, enslave you; who regiment your lives, tell you what to do, what to think and what to feel! Who drill you, diet you, treat you like cattle, use you as cannon fodder. Don’t give yourselves to these unnatural men – machine men with machine minds and machine hearts! You are not machines, you are not cattle, you are men! You have the love of humanity in your hearts! You don’t hate! Only the unloved hate; the unloved and the unnatural. Soldiers! Don’t fight for slavery! Fight for liberty! In the seventeenth chapter of St. Luke, it is written that the kingdom of God is within man, not one man nor a group of men, but in all men! In you! You, the people, have the power, the power to create machines, the power to create happiness! You, the people, have the power to make this life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure. Then in the name of democracy, let us use that power. Let us all unite. Let us fight for a new world, a decent world that will give men a chance to work, that will give youth a future and old age a security. By the promise of these things, brutes have risen to power. But they lie! They do not fulfill that promise. They never will! Dictators free themselves but they enslave the people. Now let us fight to fulfill that promise. Let us fight to free the world! To do away with national barriers! To do away with greed, with hate and intolerance! Let us fight for a world of reason, a world where science and progress will lead to all men’s happiness. Soldiers, in the name of democracy, let us all unite! Hannah, can you hear me? Wherever you are, look up Hannah! The clouds are lifting! The sun is breaking through! We are coming out of the darkness into the light! We are coming into a new world; a kindlier world, where men will rise above their hate, their greed, and brutality. Look up, Hannah! The soul of man has been given wings and at last he is beginning to fly. He is flying into the rainbow! Into the light of hope, into the future! The glorious future, that belongs to you, to me and to all of us. Look up, Hannah. Look up! – The Great Dictator

Dramatic Monologue Function

A monologue functions as a tool to give vent to one’s thoughts. It provides an opportunity for the poets to use powerful words spoken through their characters. So, the characters can express themselves or their ideas without an obstacle or hindrance. A dramatic monologue is also a convenient device to present different characters and their inner thoughts through verses.

Synonyms of Dramatic Monologue

Although Dramatic Monologue doesn’t have the exact replaceable words, the following synonyms come very close to it in meanings. They are discourse, lecture, harangue, soliloquy, speech, descant, and harangue. It, however, must be kept in mind that almost all of them are literary devices in their own right.