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Soliloquy to a Spanish Cloister Summary

This highly entertaining poem portrays the grumblings of a jealous monk who finds his pleasures more in the flesh than in the spirit. Presenting himself as the model of righteousness, the speaker condemns a fellow monk, Brother Lawrence, for his immorality; but we soon recognize that the faults he assigns to Lawrence are in fact his own. Unlike many of Brownings monologues, this one has no real historical specificity: we have no clues as to when the speaker might have lived, and the Spanish cloister is simply an anonymous monastery.

The poem comprises nine eight-line stanzas, each rhyming ABABCDCD. The lines fall roughly into tetrameter, although with some irregularities. Browning makes ample use of the conventions of spoken language, including nonverb al sounds (Gr-r-r-) and colloquial language (Hell dry you up with its flames!). Many of the later dramatic monologues dispense with rhyme altogether, but this poem retains it, perhaps to suggest the speakers self-righteousness and careful adherence to tradition and formal convention. Because the speaker here is talking to himself, the poem is not technically a dramatic monologue as so many of Brownings poems are; rather, it is, as its title suggests, a soliloquy (even though it is a freestanding poem, and not a speech from a play). Nevertheless it shares many of the features of the dramatic monologues: an interest in sketching out a character, an attention to aestheticizing detail, and an implied commentary on morality.

Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister explores moral hypocrisy. On the surface, the poem may seem to be a light historical piece, the utterings of a grumpy but interesting monk however, it repeatedly approaches a tone similar to that used by the more strident of Victorian essayists and religious figures. Browning portrays this mans interior commentary to show that behind righteousness often lurks self-righteousness and corruption. The speaker levels some rather malevolent curses at Brother Lawrence, accusing his fellow monk of gluttony and lechery, when it is obvious, based on the examples he gives, that it is the speaker himself who is guilty of these sins (for example, when describing the supposed focus of Lawrences lecherous attentions, the speaker indulges in fairly abundant detail; clearly he has been looking for himself.) Moreover, the speakers fantasies about trapping Lawrence into damnation suggest that Lawrence is in fact a good man who will receive

salvation. Thus Browning implies that the most vehement moralists invent their own opposition in order to elevate themselves. Perhaps most importantly, the speaker describes a bargain he would make with Satan to hurt Lawrence. The speaker claims he could make such a bargain that Satan would believe he was getting the speakers soul when in fact a loophole would let the speaker escape. The paradox here is that making any sort of bargain with the devil to the disadvantage of another, whether one tricks Satan in the end or not, must necessarily involve the loss of ones soul: t he very act of making such a treacherous bargain constitutes a mortal sin. No one could admire this speakers moral dissolution; yet he represents a merely thinly veiled version of people whose public characters are very much admiredthe moralists and preachers of Brownings day. Browning exposes such peoples hypocrisy and essential immorality.