Robert Browning: Poems

Where Are the Women?

The dramatic monologue form used by both Robert Browning and Matthew Arnold in their poems My Last Duchess and The Forsaken Merman, respectively, serves to comment upon the condition of a woman without physically introducing a female into the scene. Despite both poems taking place in domestic situations, inside a house and during childcare, no woman is physically present. This may represent a Victorian increase in male domesticity. Yet the dramatic monologue has further purpose: It allows the poets to access traditionally feminine situations through male eyes, without the accompaniment of a female. Such an absence demonstrates the male-dominated attitudes of Victorian writers.

Browning's poem My Last Duchess is a classic example of the dramatic monologue. The speaker, presumably modeled after Alfonso II, Duke of Ferrara, speaks of a portrait on the wall to a presumed listener whom he urges to "sit and look at her" (Broadview, pg. 280-281). Arnold's The Forsaken Merman places the speaker as a merman longing for a mortal woman. Although other voices are quoted throughout the poem, they are quoted by the speaker. In both poems, it is the male voice that is heard by the reader.

Furthermore, that male voice is...

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