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The most marked feature in Browning’s poetry is his interest in character.

He is a great
master in the art of representing the inner side of human beings, their mental and moral
qualities. His message to the world is that of an interpreter of life, but his art is, from first
to last, a faithful reflection of human nature, the human nature of hundreds of different
characters. But he was interested not in the mass of humanity but different individual
characters.

Browning’s treatment of human character is unique in this respect that he concentrates on


the “soul” of man. He peers into all the nooks and chambers of the soul with
inexhaustible enterprise.” His range of character-study is wonderful and various. He does
not give us only noble type of characters; very often he paints the ugly side of human
nature. In fact, the dark characters predominate in his poetry. In short, his characters had
to be of the earth, and like its inhabitants. But they are distinct from one another for their
peculiar bent of mind, their special likes and dislikes, their passions and their
idiosyncrasies. If we examine some of his major poems we will notice how deep and
wide his knowledge of human mind/soul is.

The dramatic lyrics of Browning reveal character not through external action, but through the
clash/conflict of motives in the soul of the speaker. Thus the poet chooses a moment of crisis in
the speaker’s life. While the situation need not necessarily be dramatic, it is significant enough to
create a crisis in the character’s soul so as to lead him on to reflect and reveal. Thus, in “Andrea
del Sarto”, the poem opens at a moment when Andrea and his wife have been quarrelling. Andrea
has reached a point when he cannot help reflecting on his work. Tired and frustrated, he requests
the company of his wife for the evening, and goes on to talk of his career as a painter, his hopes
and failures-how the painter who at one time seemed as if he might have competed with Raphael,
was ruined, as artist and as a man, by his beautiful soulless wife, the fatall Lucrezia del Fede; and
how, led and lured by her, he outraged his conscience, lowered his ideal, and , losing all heart and
hope, sank into the old correctness, the unerring fluency, the uniform melancholy repetition of a
single type- his wife’s –which distinguish his later works. Although he has achieved a technical
skill but his art lacks divine passion and artistic glory which is available in Rafael’s art. He
suggests that if he had the right kind of wife to inspire him they would together have scaled the
heights of artistic glory and towered over other artists. Thus, we get through his revelation the
crisis of his soul- the conflict between his realizations of what he ought to have been and what he,
unfortunately, is.

In “Fra Lippo Lippi”, we have the characters’ self revelation coming as a reaction to a dramatic
situation. Lippo has been seized by the night guards as he makes his way back to the palace of the
Medici after an amorous escapade. The situation causes him to reflect on the problem of
reconciling two clashing forces in religious art- the flesh and the spirit. Lippo is quite satisfied
with his sensualism, but he is also aware of higher things. The speaker’s words reveal the crisis of
the soul of a man wanting to escape the rigid restrictions of monastic life so as to indulge his
natural instincts as a man, for that alone he feels can help him realize his artistic impulse.

In “My Last Duchess”, the very first line, “That’s my last Duchess, painted on the wall”, is
dramatic in tone. From that moment onwards, the poem presents a remarkable character-study of
the Duke and an analysis of the intricate psychological motivations of human nature. We are not
only given a vivid picture of the Duke’s temperament, but through his words, we realize the true
nature of his last Duchess as well. The irony is that, while the Duke’s words give his personal
opinion of the Duchess, we form quite a different opinion from those very words. The Duke’s
own narrow-mindedness, stupendous arrogance, supercilious dignity, cruelty, greed and
unscrupulousness are revealed in his attempt to present his dead wife in a derogatory light.

The arrogance and pride of a nine-hundred years old name has bred inhumanity and callousness
in the Duke. Too jealous of this name, he interprets every act of his wife’s innocence, simplicity
and amiability as calculated insult to himself. Holding her as a part of his property, he cannot
tolerate her smiling at or thanking anyone except himself that implied an infringement of the
rights of property which this dealer in human souls could not stand.

Although "Porphyria's Lover" is a short poem written in straightforward language,


interpretations have been many and various. Most readers, however, tend to focus on the
insane persona and to define the poem as a portrait of abnormal psychology. Browning in
this poem describes a man who responds to the love of a beautiful woman by killing her.
The monologue offers the speakers reasons for transforming the desired woman from
subject to object: the way in "My Last Duchess", the Duke jealously murders his wife but
keeps a portrait of her behind a curtain so that none can look upon her smile without his
permission; in "Porphyria's Lover", the persona wishes to stop time at a single perfect
moment and so kills his lover and sits all night embracing her carefully arranged body.

In fine, we may say that practically all of Browning’s dramatic lyrics reflect the working of a
mind in reaction to a situation. Browning takes either a characteristic incident or a critical
moment in the life of a person, and through the person’s words and implied actions gives the
reader an insight into the making of his soul, and sometimes into the souls of associated
characters. In fact, it is through the “soul-dissection”; Browning comes into contact with various
other factors in the outer world. In embodying these various factors/elements in analyzing an
individual’s psyche, Browning shows his range of knowledge and theme.

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