Renovated Spirits: Character and the Modern Dramatic Monologue

Martello, Matthew, English - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Ramazani, Jahan, English, University of Virginia
Tucker, Herbert, English, University of Virginia
McGann, Jerome, English, University of Virginia
Puri, Michael, Music, University of Virginia


*Renovated Spirits: Character and the Modern Dramatic Monologue* has two interrelated objectives. The first is to track the development of the dramatic monologue (the genre of poem spoken by or impersonating someone other than the poet) across the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. The second is to theorize how the representation of character changes under the discursive conditions (meter and rhyme and segmentation and so on) peculiar to poetry.

Generally associated with its Victorian founders Robert Browning and Alfred Tennyson, the dramatic monologue actually remains a vital resource for modern and contemporary poets, albeit one whose terms they modify to suit the changing world around them. I argue that twentieth- and twenty-first-century monologues differ from nineteenth-century ones in the degree to which they foreground the textual mediation of character. The driving force behind this generic evolution is, I posit, a post-Victorian cultural shift in conceptualizing human selfhood or identity, a shift that trades notions of ineffable essence for models of discursive or symbolic process. In order to make that historical transition legible as an aspect of particular monologues, I outline three strategies for reading character not beside or despite (as other theorists have done) but on and through the surface of the poetic medium.

Chapter one examines how the British-Nigerian poet Patience Agbabi employs *prosodic characterization* to align the personalities of her character-speakers with the various verse forms in which they appear. Chapter two considers how the Black American poet Langston Hughes designs his monologues as scripts for performance, and how *recitational characterization*—where the reader play-acts (if only vocally) as the character-speaker—functions for him as an opportunity both to preserve and to revise inherited depictions of his race. Chapter three centers on the conjunction of dramatic monologues with pictorial figurations, which (as perpetrated by an array of modernist poets) results in *bifocal characterization*: a simultaneous absorption in and estrangement from the perspective of the represented character. A coda to close anticipates future research by locating in contemporary monologues several forms of *intertextual characterization*: adaptation, interpolation, collage.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
dramatic monologue, character, prosody
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