What is a dramatic monologue?

Dramatic monologue refers to a type of poetry. These poems are dramatic in the sense that they have a theatrical quality; that is, the poem is meant to be read to an audience. To say that the poem is a monologue means that these are the words of one solitary speaker with no dialogue coming from any other characters. Think of one person standing alone on a stage speaking to an audience. Certainly, you are part of that audience, but the poem usually implies that the speaker is mainly talking to a specific person(s).

The reason poets choose to write poems like this is to express a point of view through the words of a character. However, the tricky part is that often the opinions stated by that character are not the same as the views of the poet. Most of the time, the speaker is trying to convince someone of something, and may or may not be telling the whole truth. Sometimes what the speaker doesn't say is just as revealing and interesting as what he or she does say in the poem.

Here's an excerpt from the dramatic monologue, "My Last Duchess," by Robert Browning (who is often considered the master of this type of poetry):

Even had you skill
In speech—(which I have not)—to make your will
Quite clear to such an one, and say, 'Just this
Or that in you disgusts me; here you miss,
Or there exceed the mark' — and if she let
Herself be lessoned so, nor plainly set
Her wits to yours, forsooth, and made excuse,
—E'en then would be some stooping...

When trying to understand a dramatic monologue, ask yourself these questions:

  • What is the situation?
  • Who is the speaker talking to and why?
  • What tactics is the speaker using to make his case?
  • Does the speaker seem to change his mind during the poem?
  • What do you think about this character and what he has to say?