As a particular genre in poetry, the dramatic monologue is closely associated with the major figures of Victorian poetry. Typically representing a speaker’s thoughts and/or self-expression both in a particular fictional situation and in response to the changing parameters of this situation, the dramatic monologue not only crucially foregrounds the pragmasemiotic dimension of poetry. While belonging to late Romanticism, the genre’s focus on the situatedness of (poetic) utterances also problematizes a number of basic assumptions concerning self-expression. Because of that it can even be understood as a reaction to Romanticism and its poetics. Thus, the dramatic monologue not only highlights the fundamental split between the speaker and the author of a poem, but also enforces an active role on the part of the reader who is drawn into a game of identification with and distantiation from the speaker’s views and character. At the same time, this constant re-evaluation necessitates a corresponding self-reflection on the reader’s own position and views as well as a questioning of the workings of poetry. On this basis, the dramatic monologue serves as a very fruitful medium for investigating central 19th-century issues ranging from notions of subjectivity, desire, sexuality and madness, to questions of social and political problems of class and gender differentiation, the conceptualisation and implications of historicity or the workings and performative effectiveness of language and its affective potentials.
The seminar will tackle these issue through close readings of paradigmatic poetic texts while complementing these with a range of theoretical and historical approaches to the semiology, politics and culture of the Victorian era.