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Robert Browning: Soul Dissection

Brownings main aim in his poetry is to throw light upon the realms of
consciousness. Hence, the poetic form of the dramatic monologue suits him to
perfection in which he wants to investigate the whole province of the soul and the
interplay of its reactions to the influence of environment. His monologues are all
soul studies as he chooses those dramatic situations which solve the confusion of
motive or complication of thoughts.

Robert Browning aspired to be a dramatist. He wrote eight dramas and all of


them failed on the stage. Brownings genius was contemplating than dramatic.
Browning made a practical compromise and decided to write the drama of the soul
dramatic monologue. This drama is acted within the mind of the character. It is
not projected on the stage of a theatre. So, Browning interiorized the drama.

Victorianism was an age of renaissance. It was an age when British colonies


were being forced. British Empire was reducing to England. So people were
very much disturbed. The whole of the England was in a state of crisis. There
was also a restriction of the people that they could not discuss this issue with
others in public places. So there was a conflict in the minds of the people and
they were thinking in their minds of the people. They were thinking and talking
only to themselves.

Browning wanted to present all this on the stage but in this period of
gloominess it was not possible for him to stage a drama. Browning thought a very
clever device and decided to write dramatic monologue. This was exactly
the situation of the people that they had a drama in their minds but they could
not express it. So they were only talking to themselves. Browning did not
directly write about England rather he picked up the same situation of Italian
Renaissance, some 200 years earlier, in Italy.

In this period every Englishman was suffering from a critical situation. Every
individual was thinking about the past glory of the England, there was
a conflict in his mind. He was thinking about his present and past. His soul was
in confusion, he was thinking about the causes of this failure, he tried to give
some justifications and everyone had a sense of optimism in his mind though
that might not be a false one.

Brownings monologue deals with the subject of failure. He takes a character who
has been failed in his life. He is caught up in crisis and now tells his story of crisis
and bores out his soul before us. The last rider, Fra Lippo Lippi, Bishop at his
death bed and Andrea are the typical example of this kind. Fra Lippo Lippi has
been caught up in an area of prostitutes:

I am poor brother Lippo, by your leave!


You need not clap your torches to my face.

The last rider has been rejected by his beloved:


I said Then, dearest, since tis so,
Since now at length my fate I know,

Bishop is on his bed:

Vanity, saith the preacher, vanity!


Draw round my bed: is Anselm keeping back?

And Andrea's wife does not care for him.

But do not let us quarrel any more,


No, my Lucrezia; bear with me for once:

So, we see that Brownings characters are in a conflict, they are in a critical
situation and they now try to cope up with their situation.

Browning could examine a character through a few psychoanalytical touches. His


real interest lay in the incidents leading to the development of soul. As soul
dissection was his favourite subject of study, so he does not even define the
physical charms of his female characters. We know of their beauty only by the
passion which they excite. He was interested in the study of the soul, in making a
psychological analysis, in probing deeper into the mental processes of his
characters, in analyzing their motives and in laying bare their souls before his
readers. He was interested in exposing the inner man by painting the inner
landscape of his soul. It was merely for the purpose of soul dissection that he
used and perfected the dramatic monologue, the poetic form suited best for
depicting the soul or psyche of his characters.

To deal out with the critical situation Browning presents the whole of his case.
Browning shows us the past and present of his character and how this character
gets involved in this critical situation. So Browning unfolds the whole of the life of
his character to make it possible to analyze the history of the character. This is
Brownings technique of case-making. The stronger is the case, the interesting will
be the poem.

Through the technique of case-making, browning dissects the soul of his


character and this technique of soul dissection helps the reader to understand the
character and clearly see why his character reaches to this critical juncture.
We know that Fra was poor in his childhood and the guardian church was
very strict with him. He had been suppressed adversely in his life.

And Ive been three weeks shut within my mew,


A painting for the great man, saints and saints
And saints again. I could not paint all night

The last rider could not express his love to his beloved and won her.
And this beside, if you will not blame,
Your leave for one more last ride with me.

The bishop had been a worldly man and jealous of Gandolf.

And so, abut his tomb of mine. I fought


With tooth and nail to save my niche, ye known:

Andrea deceived the French King, who was very kind to him.

God is just.
King Francis may forgive me:

To conclude, Brownings business is to render the soul or psyche of his


protagonists and so he follows the same technique as the modern impressionist.
With the help of the technique of soul dissection, we clearly see the soul of the
character. In his monologues, Browning constantly strikes a curiously modern
note.

What Browning believes is that success or failure lies between a mans soul or God.
He only wants to see how mans soul conceives of itself. Thus he presents a drama
of the tragedy or comedy of a man soul through his peculiar style of soul
dissection by grouping those events which exert a noticeable influence of a mans
soul.