3 The Practice of the Dramatic Monologue

The dramatic monologue, in particular, offers itself as an especially challenging genre on which anti-authorial arguments can be tested as—on the first level of approximation—the Author is usually regarded to be hidden in or absent from these artworks to an exceptional degree. I have selected the poems to be analysed from Robert Browning’s oeuvre as he authored a wide variety of dramatic monologues. Concentrating on a single Author also has the benefits of having to trace only one extratextual, biographical entity in the analyses.

Before proceeding to the readings, let me briefly consider some possible definitions of the genre of the dramatic monologue as they may well provide an insight into how the various Author-related entities are treated. Some suggestions in these arguments shall also be tested during the readings. Also, as I shall consider other readings, both contemporary and later, beside my analyses, let me also briefly summarize general reactions and approaches to dramatic monologues in the Victorian era.

3.1 The Dramatic Monologue

A. Defining the Dramatic Monologue

Glennis Byron’s book titled Dramatic Monologue offers a lengthy review of the history of the definition of the genre. Her review starts with Beth Sessions’ influential article published in 1947 (8), which, however, is based on a book of the same author published in 1933 (Langbaum 76). Sessions described seven required characteristics of dramatic monologues, and regards poems not meeting all of these requirements as imperfect examples of the genre (Byron 8–10). Unsurprisingly, the perfect dramatic monologue is Robert Browning’s My Last Duchess, which did indeed meet the established criteria. Notably, Sessions’ approach is vehemently criticised by Robert Langbaum, whose definition(s) of the dramatic monologue shall be considered in the next section in detail.

Continuing her review, Byron refers to Langbaum, but concludes that his approach, as it considers the way a dramatic monologue affects the Reader, is dependent on a fixed reader response (12). According to Byron, critical attention then turned to the text itself, concluding that while (as New Critics do) all poetic works can be considered to have dramatic features, in dramatic monologues, signals can be found that the Reader is not to equate the Speaker and the biographical Author (13). As my readings shall show, this might indeed be the case in Robert Browning’s dramatic monologues, the most accessible and apparent signals being the titles (and subtitles) of the poems.

Byron continues by citing Alan Sinfield, in whose view the dramatic monologue pretends to be a first-person lyric while being a third-person narrative. “[A]n invented speaker masquerades in the first person which customarily signifies the poet’s voice” (qtd. in Byron 14). It might be worth pointing out that this view is in apparent contradiction with that of New Criticism.

Recurring to Langbaum, Byron continues with arguments which see a split as the defining factor of the dramatic monologue. The resulting, supposedly different understanding of the Speaker and the Author / Reader, in her view, implies that two voices control one utterance in a dramatic monologue (15). Byron, however, quickly amends this suggestion by the observation that not every poem usually discussed as belonging to this genre is characterised by such a split. She refers to Loy D. Martin, who argues that the split between the voices is not on the level of argument, but on the level of character, that is, if “persons” are created around the voices, then they will be perceived as distinct even if they agree (Byron 16–17). Byron concludes the section “Poet and Speaker” of her review of the definitions with Isobel Armstrong, who sees a dramatic monologue as an utterance offering itself to both subjective and objective, both subject-centred and analytical readings (Byron 18–19).

It can be seen that attempts at defining the genre of the dramatic monologue and, particularly, determining the relationship between Author and Speaker in it resulted in a wide variety of standpoints. The problematic characteristics of the dramatic monologue may well make this genre, residing, in a sense, on the borderline between Romanticism and Modernism, a field on which anti-authorial arguments can be tested and challenged.

Let me, however, before proceeding, consider Robert Langbaum’s arguments on the nature and the features of the dramatic monologue.

B. The Paradoxes of Robert Langbaum

Perhaps one of the most often cited treatise on the genre of dramatic monologue is Robert Langbaum’s The Poetry of Experience: The Dramatic Monologue in Modern Literary Tradition. From this book originates the notion that a (successful) dramatic monologue achieves its effect via a split between the audience’s moral judgement on and sympathy for the speaker. In fact, however, this is not the only definition of the dramatic monologue found in Langbaum’s work. Let me therefore briefly summarize and contrast his definitions, also taking into consideration the suggestion on the internal characteristics of dramatic monologues derived from my representational framework.

According to Langbaum, the dramatic monologue, like the novel, “teach[es] us how to reinvalidate moral judgment in an empiricist and relativist age” (4), that is, in Romanticism. It is to this end that sympathy, a “sympathetic identification” is necessary with the speaker, which should be in contradiction with the (traditional) moral judgment on her or him. In Langbaum’s words, while the dramatic monologue “requires sympathy for the speaker as a condition of reading the poem” (86), “it is safe to say that most successful dramatic monologues deal with speakers who are in some way reprehensible or odd,” in other words, there is to be a “split between moral judgment and our actual feeling for him [the speaker]” (85). That the case is not always so straightforward, as sometimes, judgment may in fact be in line with sympathy (as, arguably, can be the case in Browning’s Andrea del Sarto), is shown by the fact that Langbaum is quick to add: “[the split] is also at work where sympathy is congruent with judgment although a step ahead of it” (105). This latter modification of his thesis problematizes the original suggestion to a point where it hardly states anything.

This is not the only way, however, in which Langbaum tries to grasp the differentia specifica of the dramatic monologue. In contrasting it to the soliloquy, Langbaum makes the observation that in a soliloquy, the meaning is also exposed, which presupposes the existence of a point of view outside the speaker which s/he in some cases may adopt (155). In a dramatic monologue, corresponding to the dialogue in dramatic form rather than to the soliloquy, the speaker “is absorbed in his own strategy” (155). It is not possible to leave the established point of view, to change the perspective or for the speaker to change his or her mind (152–157). Langbaum summarizes the differences in the following way:

The soliloquist is concerned with truth, he is trying to find the right point of view; while the speaker of the dramatic monologue starts with an established point of view, and is not concerned with its truth but with trying to impress it on the outside world. (146)

The difference is that the soliloquist’s subject is himself, while the speaker of the dramatic monologue directs his attention outward. […] It is not enough for [the soliloquist] to think his thoughts and feel his feelings, he must also describe them as an observer would. (146)

The notion that “the soliloquist’s subject is himself” may easily be related to my idea that in dramatic monologues, the lyrical I is identical with the imaged (while, naturally, subject and imaged are by no means refer to the same thing and are derived from two distinct frameworks). It still does not undermine my proposed ‘rule’ for dramatic monologues, partly because the listed differences, and partly because the soliloquy / dramatic monologue distinction is problematized by Langbaum himself. One may find, for example, that Langbaum’s suggestion that “it is a favourite device with Browning to have the speaker negate in the end his own argument” (184) clearly contradicts the prohibition for a speaker in dramatic monologues to leave her point of view. This contradiction can be explained away by suggesting that this negation is merely a recurrence to the real motives of the speaker which are unuttered but have been sensible throughout the monologue. But the notions that the speaker does not “expound” a meaning but merely pursues one (189), that the goal of the speaker in “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came” is self-understanding (198), that there is progress and self-revelation (199) stand in opposition with the idea that objectifying self-spection is characteristic of the soliloquy, while the speaker of the dramatic monologue is concerned with expressing his point of view and impressing it on the outside world. Langbaum even goes as far as suggesting that in “Childe Roland” the speaker becomes separate from his environment, just as a soliloquist would when taking an outer point of view: “the disparity in tense isolates from the dramatic business of the quest the knight’s pattern-making dialogue with himself” (198).

The problematizing of the soliloquy / dramatic monologue opposition, however, does not end here. It also appears to be contradicted by Langbaum’s suggestions regarding the role of the extratextual Author and Reader in dramatic monologues.

It is most notable that while Langbaum considers the true Authorial opinion on the Speakers usually unclear, even unknowable (106), he thinks it necessary that the Author be there behind the Speaker in dramatic monologues. Wordsworth’s The Complaint of a Forsaken Indian Woman and The Affliction of Margaret are not true dramatic monologues according to Langbaum, as

Since we are not aware of the poet inside them, there is no means of ingress for us either. There is nothing to apprehend through sympathy, no core of character that is beyond what the speaker says, and therefore no disequilibrium between the speaker’s utterance and the meaning of the poem. (72)

On Yeats’s dramatic monologues, he remarks:

It is because we sense in both speakers a consciousness beyond what Jane can intellectually and Ribh can historically lay claim to, because we sense the poet’s consciousness in them, that we sympathize with their points of view understanding them as experience. It can be said of the dramatic monologue generally that there is at work in it a consciousness, whether intellectual or historical, beyond what the speaker can lay claim to. This consciousness is the mark of the poet’s projection into the poem; and it is also the pole which attracts our projection, since we find in it the counterpart of our own consciousness. (94, emphasis added)

In other words, according to these excerpts, Langbaum clearly considers the Author as not dead in dramatic monologues; in fact, s/he must be alive if the dramatic monologue is to be a dramatic monologue at all.

It is worth noting that Langbaum, throughout the chapter titled “The Lyrical Element,” argues that the motive of a speaker of a dramatic monologue is insufficient for the amount of story told. The dramatic monologue thus becomes primarily lyrical and self-expressive. This is also a disequilibrium (a further one) that Langbaum considers characteristic of dramatic monologues (188). In his view, it is to shift the speaker to the centre, to make the situation merely a projection of him (196), in the end, it is “to establish the speaker’s existence” (200). Langbaum reaches the conclusion that this characteristic (along with other ones treated shortly) forces the reader to look for a resolution outside the poem, in the supposed ‘life’ of the speaker (201). It is notable that according to the excerpts quoted above, we are to look for the extended life of the speakers in the poet him- or herself.

In Barthes’s essay, the elevation of the Reader is achieved via the debasement of the Author. In Langbaum, it seems, the reverse process is taking place. That the Reader adopts the speaker’s point of view and identifies with her (137) is not a surprising suggestion. To amend this statement with the idea that even the Author does so, in other words, that both extratextual agents are represented by the Speaker (52, see also 105) already in the poetry of experience, in Romantic poetry prior to the dramatic monologue, is not unprecedented, either, but is made significant in my argument as it echoes the suggestions made during the investigation of embedded communicative schemes. But Langbaum, it seems, goes even further. When he further describes the dichotomy between soliloquy and dramatic monologue, he raises the idea that dramatic monologues are not addressed to the audience directly (155). After an analysis of T. S. Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, Langbaum connects an extreme version of this train of thought to the superfluous, lyrical element in dramatic monologues:

In introducing the speaker’s other self as auditor, Eliot makes explicit what is implicit in all the dramatic monologues. All those inadequately motivated and ineffectual utterances are addressed ultimately across the dramatic situation and across the ostensible auditor to some projection of the speaker for whom the superfluous element of the utterance is intended. (190)

This statement is repeated: “[T]he utterance is in its ultimate effect a private dialogue of the speaker with himself” (196–197). With the suggestions of the ostensible auditor and that the Author and the Reader are both identified with the Speaker, these views echo, in some sense, the model of embedded communications which also renders addressees on the topmost levels rudimentary, or, alternatively, suggests that embedded addressers and addressees are identical. One should not forget, however, that Langbaum does furnish the communication with an intratextual addressee: the doppelgänger of the Speaker.

The self-addressedness, in any case, contradicts what Langbaum postulated when established the soliloquy–dramatic monologue opposition, namely, that the dramatic monologist tries to impress her point of view on the outside world, she is “concerned only to exert force on the scene around [her]” (155), while it is the soliloquist who reflects on his own position.

In conclusion, it can be said that all definitions of the dramatic monologue Langbaum puts forward is problematized nearly to the point where they become tautological assertions. We are, therefore, despite the extended critique of Langbaum of the attempted characterisation of the dramatic monologue before his work, still left without a usable definition of the genre. It has been apparent, however, that on the theoretical level, Langbaum considers the author to be prominent in dramatic monologues, a postulate problematized by his own readings of specific poems.

C. The Reception of the Dramatic Monologue

It is suggested widely that the interpretative strategy prevalent in Browning’s time did not accept too easily the assumption that a lyrical utterance is independent of its ultimate addresser, the extratextual Author, in the sense that the ‘I’ of the utterance cannot be identified with the poet, and thus, the poet appears to temporarily assume and discard personalities at his or her will (see, for example, Hesse 82–84). Elizabeth Barrett suggests that Browning’s masks be thrown away:

I do not think that, with all that music in you, only your personality should be dumb, nor that having thought so much & deeply on life & its ends, you should not teach what you have learnt, in the directest & most impressive way, the mask thrown away however moist with the breath. (qtd. in Hesse 83)

Frederick James Furnivall (1825–1910), in turn, appears to be downright irritated by the concept of the mask. He complains about these mediators “whose bodies I would fain kick out of the way, in order to get face to face with the poet himself, and hear his own voice speaking his own thoughts, man to man, soul to soul” (qtd. in Hesse 83).

However, these opinions appear to be extreme. As reactions collected in Browning: The Critical Heritage suggest, there arose, as expected, no special difficulties on the readers’ part in interpreting dramatic monologues employing characters similarly to the method of dramatic works. The interpretative strategy required for dramatic monologues by no means appears as unprecedented. Robert Langbaum goes as far as suggesting that the dramatic monologue evolved directly from the Romantic “poetry of experience,” and that its precursors are to be found among the works of Hopkins and Wordsworth (71–72). Here, naturally, ‘dramatic monologue’ means not only that the Speaker of a poem is not equal to its Author, but also the characteristics Langbaum strove to capture in his treatise.

It seems that the dramatic monologue introduced a partly new approach to the relationship to speakers in literary works. Regardless whether readers found it difficult to interpret a poem in the seeming absence of its Author, or did it easily, it is still to be seen to what extent did they read the Author ‘into’ the text; whether it was supposed that the Author was ‘hiding’ behind the Speaker, was totally missing from the text, or was present in it as the true addresser, or none of the above variants; whether the apparent lack of moral judgment on reprehensible speakers was seen as a fault on the Author’s part, or managed, as Langbaum thinks it the true goal of dramatic monologues, to regenerate morals and judgements in the Readers (4).

3.2 The Selection of Poems

I have tried to select some of Browning’s dramatic monologues for close scrutiny in a way that they span most of the types of dramatic monologues found in Browning’s oeuvre. Characteristics that I took into account were the following ones:

– Whether the poems selected represent a varied use of the Auditor, as the presence or absence of an intratextual addressee might influence greatly an interpretation based on the model of embedded communications.

– Whether there are portions of the poem which tempt an interpretation regarding them as—like the title and/or the subtitle—originating from the Author. The paragraphs enclosed in square brackets in Caliban or the epilogue segregated typographically from the rest of the text in Bishop Blougram’s Apology (line 971 and onwards) are examples of such portions.

– As I think that the grammatical tense of a monologue may significantly alter its internal structure, the situatedness of the Speaker and the relationship between the Speaker and the unfolding events, I included in the poems to be analysed “Childe Roland to the Dark tower Came” in which the tense, unlike in the majority of Browning’s monologues, is past. The poem, however, is not alone in this respect in Browning’s oeuvre: How They Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix or Porphyria’s Lover might be cited as further examples.

– I strove to include dramatic monologues from many of the collections published by Browning, so that the conclusions that can be drawn from the analyses would not be restricted to a narrow temporal window and thus, arguably, to a particular and specific creative strategy.

– The investigation of the treatment of sources by Browning may make it possible to assess the extent of Authorial control and pinpoint Authorial presence. This is why I analysed more poems with accessible and easily distinguishable sources, like Andrea del Sarto, “Childe Roland” or Caliban upon Setebos.

– It also turned out to be worthwhile investigating the placement of the Author in a poem which, although appears to conform to the formal requirements of the dramatic monologue, is widely held not to be one, in order to see whether a different relationship between its Speaker and Author as determined by my reading can account for the judgment passed on the poem by other readers. This is why I included Rabbi Ben Ezra.

– Another important factor was whether an appropriate number of relevant reviews, responses and readings could be found to a particular poem, both from Browning’s lifetime and after. For secondary sources contemporary with Browning, I primarily relied on Browning: The Critical Heritage edited by Boyd Litzinger and Donald Smalley, thus material reprinted in their collection also influenced my choice of poems.

Based on the above listed characteristics, I have selected My Last Duchess, The Bishop Orders His Tomb at Saint Praxed’s Church, Andrea del Sarto, “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came,” Caliban upon Setebos and Rabbi Ben Ezra for detailed analysis. I shall investigate the poems in chronological order.

I treat poems in isolation to be able to focus, as much as possible, on the texts themselves in my ‘intratextual’ closereadings; recurrent features, however, shall also be pointed out. During the closereadings, I shall attempt to determine the presence and the relationship between various addresser and addressee entities. I shall try to uncover structural properties that may account for the perceptible presence or absence of the Author. In reading the Author out of a poem, I, in a sense, will recur to and apply the measures used by critics calling for the death of the Author as a technique in writing. In other words, arguments for the methodological death of the Author are reversed in the ensuing analyses: rather than presupposing the absolute absence of the Author, it is attempted to point out its presence in the text.

The presence of the extratextual Author as suggested by my reading shall also be compared to the extent of metathesis in the particular poem, as this latter property was argued to signal Authorial presence on a general level. Moreover, I shall also investigate whether my suggestion regarding the Speaker (lyrical I) and the imaged holds for the selected poems or not. Whenever appropriate, the reading shall be amended by an ‘extratextual’ one in which I consider the sources of and intertextual allusions in the poems. My conclusions will be contrasted to other readings of the same poems. These readings (reviews or analyses) are considered as pieces of evidence regarding the treatment of the Author by audiences ranging from the Victorian to the (post)modern.

3.3 My Last Duchess

This relatively short poem was published first in 1842, in the collection titled Dramatic Lyrics, under the title of Italy and France: I. Italy. Then, My Last Duchess was paired with the poem later to be known as Count Gismond; the poem was given its new title in 1849. The monologue is uttered by an Italian Duke and relates the fate of his late wife, which, in turn, casts an unfavourable light on the Speaker.

A. Reading

A.1 Intratextual Reading

It is the new title that I begin my reading with. It is apparent that unlike in the case of many other dramatic monologues (Andrea del Sarto, Caliban upon Setebos, The Bishop Orders His Tomb at Saint Praxed’s Church to name a few) the title does not define the Speaker or an action of her or him taking course during the poem to follow. Instead, it only names an element that is talked about, like Setebos in the Caliban-monologue. This observation, and the fact that the Duchess indeed appears to be described in detail in the poem, foreshadows the possibility of regarding the Duchess as the imaged, which conclusion would contradict my assumption that in dramatic monologues in general, the Speaker occupies this position. As I shall attempt to show later, despite the title, the latter conclusion can be supported based on the text of the poem.

The (new) title, however, also proves to be worth of interest in another aspect. The possessive first person singular pronoun “My” suggests the interpretation that the title is uttered not by the Author (or the Inscriber), but by the Speaker, the Duke himself (especially retrospectively, after reading the poem). This is an exceptional case among Browning’s dramatic monologues, and might be due to the fact that the poem was re-titled after its composition. The Reader is not left, however, without a definition of the Speaker. It can be found in the subtitle, which cannot be uttered by the Speaker, hence in this textual element, the existence of an addresser above the Speaker—an (intratextual) Author—is secured.

Apart from the Speaker and the Author, My Last Duchess is also furnished with a silent Auditor. His passive role is similar to that of Lucrezia in Andrea del Sarto, and, like in that poem, the passivity might be regarded a consequence of the genre, of the fact that it is the Speaker’s words which must constitute the text of the poem. This way, other characters are either speechless or their words need to be repeated by the Speaker. This solution, however, would, in my view, appear unnatural.

The situation here, however, is further complicated by the hierarchy between Speaker and Auditor. The passivity of the latter is further emphasized by the Speaker’s (verbal) power over the Auditor, and by the fact that the Duke appears to ask questions instead of him: “for never read / Strangers like you that pictured countenance, […] But to myself they turned […] And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst, / How such a glance came there” (ll. 6–13).[7] Please note that in Andrea del Sarto, the Speaker appears to react to real gestures or questions of the Auditor. Here, the question was not asked. The Duke reacts to a situation he has created. It is also worth pointing out that for the Reader, the Auditor in My Last Duchess is defined at the very end, starting at line 49. This situation, which is so unlike the set-up in Andrea del Sarto, will be of special importance in situating the Author in a reading focusing on the text.

The entities established so far appear to be all which are more or less straightforwardly defined in this poem. Similarly to other dramatic monologues of Browning, not even direct quotations introduce, beyond doubt, further addressers. Words attributed to Frà Pandolf in lines 16–18 are introduced by the Duke by “perhaps / Frà Pandolf chanced to say” (ll. 15–16, emphasis added). The doubly emphasized hypothetical nature of this assertion problematizes the interpretation of the addresser and the addressee of the quoted sentences: they can well be interpreted as originating from the Duke in an attempt to support his judgment on the Duchess with an example. As Michael G. Miller points out, different interpretations of the addressee of these sentences may even lead to diametrically opposed interpretations of the nature of the Duchess herself. The direct quotation in lines 37–39, in turn, consists of hypothetical words of the Duke himself.

Taking up the problem of the imaged, let me now turn to investigating whether the suggestion that in dramatic monologues the Speaker occupies the place of the imaged, as derived from my representational framework, holds for this poem, which is often regarded to be the archetypal dramatic monologue. I shall argue that despite first impressions, the real imaged of the poem is the Duke.

While the middle part of the poem (ll. 13–35) is indeed about the Duchess, no visual image of her emerges from the text. Her actions are described instead, which are selected and rendered by the Duke. Addresses (“Sir” in line 13 and 25) and interjections (“how shall I say?” [l. 22] and “I know not how” [l. 32]) do not allow the Auditor (and thus, the Reader) forget that it is the Duke who controls the description. The Duchess’s actions are also often directed toward the Duke (see “My favor” [l. 25] and “My gift” [l. 33]). These frequent linguistic signs, in my reading, direct attention from the Duchess herself to the attitude of the Duke. In other words, the Reader appears to be urged to read the Duke instead of the Duchess.

While it would be hard to visualize the Duchess or her portrait, one can find a number of visual elements in the section about her: cheek, wrist, throat, heart, breast; dropping daylight, bough of cherries, orchard, white mule, terrace. The first group of elements are body parts (similar elements dominate Andrea del Sarto), which describe the Duchess strictly from the point of view of, and in relation to the Duke. The latter elements, similarly to the linguistic signs listed above, focus not on the Duchess, but her surroundings—the estate of the Duke. Based on these observations, the suggestion might be risked that even the middle section of My Last Duchess, apparently about the Duchess, describes the Duke instead.

The central, most described position of the Duke can also be argued for on other bases. Of the characters of the narrative layer of this poem, the Duke, the Duchess, the envoy, the Count, his daughter and Frà Pandolf, he is the one of whom the most information is conveyed. I have argued above that the Duchess is hardly described at all; as for the envoy and Pandolf, we only know about their existence or presence and their reason for it. What the Reader is let to know about the Count and his daughter is conveyed in a few words only, intermingled with an assertion by the Duke about his own goals and motives.

Furthermore, if one takes into consideration the two temporal layers of the poem, the present of the Duke and the envoy and the past of the Duchess, then the Duchess, the only rival of the Duke for the position of the imaged, recedes further into the background. The present of the poem, controlled exclusively by the Speaker, frames the past, thus making it a subordinated episode. The episode of the Duchess merely describes the Duke; it is used to further illuminate his figure.

It can be seen, therefore, that the Speaker of My Last Duchess indeed can be regarded to be the imaged of the poem.

Having determined the imaged of the text, let me turn to investigating the extent of metathesis in My Last Duchess in order to determine, based on the postulates of the representational framework, whether the presence of an extratextual Author should be supposed to be felt by readers. If the theme of the poem is regarded to be power, more specifically, misused power, then, on a theoretical level, its representation centred around a historical figure from the 16th century who, in his self-assurance, transfers absolute social power to the domestic sphere, thus misusing it,[8] can be regarded as a metathesis wide enough to generally obscure layer III, the original experience along with the extratextual Author. Please note that this interpretation of the theme is in accordance with the view of Langbaum, who considers the Duke’s power and freedom the main attractions for readers (83), and that of “Mr. Browning and the Edinburgh Review” which suggests that Browning’s aim was to present a socially secure tyrannical figure exercising his power (264).

Despite the wide metathesis which, in my view, renders the extratextual Author generally untraceable in the poem (the Speaker appears to usurp even the title), there can be found some specific points where Authorial presence may still be perceived. One such point, unsurprisingly, is the form of the poem (let me set aside the problems presented by the mere fact that the poem is in English). My Last Duchess consists of rhyming couplets of iambic pentameters. The rhymes are always perfect, that is, both the nuclei and the codas of the last syllables are identical. Similarly, apart from occasional trochaic inversions at the beginning of lines, extremely few deviances can be found from the iambic rhythmic pattern (with the exception of line 30). While the heavy use of enjambment renders the flow of speech more natural, overall, the form of the poem is highly artificial and therefore appears to originate outside the situation depicted in its narration; it originates from the Author. The hierarchy of addressers suggested by the theory of embedded communications is easily applicable to the present situation: the ‘form’ originates from the Author while the ‘content’ of the speech from the subordinated Speaker. It also explains why, if one interprets Pandolf’s words as quoted and not invented by the Duke, they conform perfectly to the rhythmic and rhyme pattern and the language of the poem.

The Author, however, may also be felt to be present in the structure of the poem in the sense that the Author is the entity that controls the order of the pieces of information reaching the Reader. That we are informed of the Auditor’s real identity—in the situation of the Speaker, well-known from the beginning—only at the end of the poem can be seen as a design originating from outside the narration. This ‘punch-line’ set-up, in my reading, also secures a perceivable presence for the Author.

And lastly, similarly to the case of Andrea del Sarto, a hinted interpretation can be traced in My Last Duchess to a certain extent. Based on the observation that the Duke’s behaviour in both temporal layers—the present of the envoy and the past of the Duchess—is similarly and expressedly aggressive, the suggestion might be risked that the Reader seems to be pushed toward the interpretation which condemns the Duke and exalts the Duchess. The aggressiveness of the Duke, in my reading, is over-expressed. Not only he has total control over the envoy’s physical state (making him sitting down and standing up) and over his words, posing questions instead of him, but he also has total control over the Duchess, over his people (he “gave commands” [l. 45]), and, it appears, in his view, over morality. This over-expressedness, in my reading, turns the Reader’s attention from the embedded narration to an external addresser, the Author, and may even render the narrated situation less probable.

A.2 Extratextual Reading

I shall continue my reading with considering historical and literary sources to Browning’s poem. My Last Duchess, it appears, relies less directly on one or a few sources like Andrea del Sarto does on Vasari’s text and other biographies of the painter. It might be for this reason that critics list a number of works that might have influenced Browning, even if the parallel that can be established between the texts spans a few lines only.

Lou Thompson calls attention to the fact that lines 21–24 of My Last Duchess bear a resemblance to lines 873–75 of Chaucer’s Book of the Duchess (23). In both excerpts the speakers describe wives passed away (in Chaucer’s case, Blanche of Lancaster, former wife to John of Gaunt); both excerpts deal with the gladness and the looks of the woman, and even the word ‘glad’ appears in both excerpts in a line-final position. The descriptions, however, are diametrically opposed as Chaucer’s poem praises the wife:

for were she never so glad,

Hyr lokynge was not foly sprad,

Ne wildely, thogh that she pleyde. (qtd. in Thompson 24)

Browning’s Duke does the exact opposite: “She had / A heart […] too soon made glad, / […] she liked whate’er / She looked on, and her looks went everywhere” (ll. 21–24).

This intertextual relation—and the irony it entails—appears to further support the perceivability of the Author in My Last Duchess—unless, naturally, we suppose that the Duke himself is alluding to Chaucer.

Joseph A. Dupras, in his “Browning’s ‘My Last Duchess’: Paragon and Parergon,” points out that the elements of painting and curtain recall the tale of Zeuxis and Parrhasius (7); paired with the countenance of the Duchess, they recall Olivia’s line from Twelfth Night, or What You Will, when she unveils: “But we will draw the curtain and show you the picture” (Act I, Scene v, qtd. in Dupras 7). Similarly to alluding to Chaucer, these connections, if read by the Reader, may further enhance the presence of the Author.

The most important extratextual source of My Last Duchess, however, is the one uncovered by Louis S. Friedland (quoted both by Dupras and Ian Lancashire). According to Friedland, Browning based his poem on the story of Alfonso II (1533–1598), fifth duke of Ferrara (1559–1597), whose first wife, Lucrezia de’ Medici, died aged 17, three years after their marriage (Lancashire n. 1). “Alfonso contrived to meet his second to-be spouse, Barbara of Austria, in Innsbruck in July 1565. Nikolaus Marduz, who took orders from Ferdinand II, count of Tyrol, led Barbara’s entourage then” (Lancashire n. 1).

Neither Dupras, nor Lancashire, however, refer to a painting or other representation of Lucrezia. The painting (or fresco) is most probably Browning’s invention, introduced to bring almost to life and confront the Duke with his now doubly framed last Duchess.


In my reading, while the Author may be seen as sufficiently dead in My Last Duchess, which conclusion is supported by the theoretical consideration regarding its theme and metathesis, certain points could be found in the text where the Author might be perceived as surviving. Let me now consider other interpretations to see whether the Author is indeed seen as still present to a certain extent, and in order to test whether this presence is centred around the points I have collected.

B. Reading Reading

B.1 My Last Duchess and Browning’s Audience

Litzinger and Smalley reprint a number of reviews of My Last Duchess. As the following overview of the more detailed ones shows, while many of these responses deal with the problem how the utterance of the Duke could have taken place, they are often contradictory, and sometimes diametrically opposed to each other.

It is of the improbability of the Duke’s utterance that William Stigand complains about. In a review of Browning’s career, he writes:

[S]o artificial a production, where the whole of the speaker’s life or character is to be derived from his own words, must always retain something of an air of improbability. […] [I]n the piece called ‘My Last Duchess’, it is very unnatural that the Duke should betray himself so entirely to the envoy who comes to negotiate a new marriage as to let him have the same opportunity of knowing as we have ourselves that his cold austerity and pride had been the death of his late wife. (253)

While he does not explain what feature of the poem made him feel the narrated story improbable, it can be assumed that if one interprets a work in a way that it lacks the probability necessary to create and sustain a layer in which and against which characters can be satisfactorily explained, then this fault, and even the message itself, is attributed to the extratextual Author—simply because in an interpretation which finds a ‘story’ improbable, most probably, no characters are ‘real’ enough to be considered as addressers of the message.

The unsigned review “Mr. Browning and the Edinburgh Review” was written to refute Stigand’s article:

Thus, in the Last Duchess […] Mr. Browning’s main aim or idea was to set forth an historical fact, the security of insolence and lust reached by one of the Italian tyrants of the Sforza breed. That the Duke should speak in accordance with such a nature is precisely what the Reviewer picks out as ‘very unnatural’. (264)

While this argument can be seen as supporting the idea that the Duke’s speech is probable enough, and that, therefore,—continuing my previous argument—the character of the Duke is strong enough to overshadow the Author as addresser, this article does recur to an explanation of Authorial intention, whereas for the mere assertion that the Duke’s speech is natural, citing Authorial intention would not have been necessary. In my view, this is because the monologue is felt to be unnatural even by this reviewer, but it is attempted to determine the probability of such an utterance in the historical context the poem sets it in.

It can be seen that the improbability I established in my reading based on the overstated power of the Duke extending to both temporal layers of the poem does surface in other readings, too. The careful alignment of the structure of the poem I referred to may also contribute to the surprise of the Reader about the identity of the Auditor and consequently to a feeling that the Duke’s speech could not have happened.

A third review from Browning’s lifetime can also be argued to deal with the same problems from the point of view of the questionable consciousness of the utterance. Richard Henry Stoddard suggests that

He [Browning] excels Shakespeare, I think, in the art—if it be art—with which he makes his characters betray what they really are. They may deceive themselves, but they cannot deceive us. ‘My Last Duchess’ is a fine instance of this art […]. (372)

It is worth pointing out that reading the Duke’s utterance as an unconscious betrayal of himself is in opposition with the previous reading which considers it in accordance with the Duke’s “security of insolence and lust”—which social security, I think, would have been rather consciously felt and used by the Duke.

The three controversial readings of My Last Duchess quoted above (out of the four references to this poem in Litzinger and Smalley) show that while the Speaker is attempted to be analysed separately from the Author, and, in accordance with what I have suggested, no direct recurring to the Author or to his biography can be found during the poem’s interpretation, the Author is still sought when the readers are faced with the problem of the probability of the Speaker’s utterance.

B.2 Readings Since

The debate about the probability of the Duke’s speech, about the conscious nature of it and, in a wider sense, about whether the Author or the Speaker controls the poem appears to have continued since the reactions quoted above.

Dorothy M. Mermin, in an essay analysing the role of the Auditor, remarks that the Duke has “extraordinary freedom to speak” and is characterized by “extreme self-consciousness about his own words” (140). This view, like that of “Mr. Browning and the Edinburgh Review,” is in diametrical opposition with Stoddard’s reading.

Langbaum and Dupras also appear to hold different views on the identity of the entity controlling the structural set-up of the poem. One of Langbaum’s analyses of My Last Duchess includes this sentence, which is neither preceded nor followed by other remarks on the same issue: “It is because the duke determines the arrangement and relative subordination of the parts that the poem means what it does” (83, emphasis added). Dupras appears to suggest the very opposite: “Browning structures ‘My Last Duchess’ by deferring information about a prospective marriage […]” (9, emphasis added). While the difference in the method of reading might be a consequence of the almost forty years between the publications of these works,[9] the controversy suggests that it is not at all too easy to leave the Author rest in peace gained with his alleged death while reading My Last Duchess.

It is worth pointing out that if the improbability of the speech of the Duke can be linked to Langbaum’s idea that motives for speaking in a dramatic monologue are never adequate, then another of Langbaum’s remarks on My Last Duchess can be seen as explaining from another point of view why readers recur to extratextual sources; in the cases quoted from Browning’s lifetime, to the Author himself:

In My Last Duchess, it is because the duke’s motive for telling the story is inadequate, and because the situation is never resolved in that the utterance is not quite directed to the auditor and does not accomplish anything, that we look for a resolution in the duke’s life outside the poem. (201, emphasis added)

Here Langbaum talks of the duke’s life as reaching beyond the frames of the poem, but this argument can be easily linked to the phenomena discussed above.

Michael G. Miller’s reading, or, rather, metareading, is of special importance here as it shows the consequences of regarding an extratextual entity the direct addresser of the text of the poem instead of the Speaker. Miller analyses “a common undergraduate assessment of the Duchess as at best a flirt, at worst a faithless wife” (32). According to Miller, this (mis)interpretation is based on the (mis)assessment of the addressee of Frà Pandolf’s words. If they are directed to the Duchess, then they would transgress social limits unless they are (were) encouraged by the Duchess—hence the unfavourable conclusion about the Duchess’ nature. Miller argues that during the course of the original event, the sitting for the painting, these remarks were addressed to the Duke as a compliment. Miller suggests that this is a misreading which is supported by the text, by the Duke’s merge of direct quotation with paraphrase so that the Reader does not know whether Pandolf used the first or the third person when referring to the Duchess. However, Miller continues, these sentences are to be seen through both by the envoy and the Reader. He is quick to add that this device is not a conscious trick on the Duke’s part, but an unconscious betrayal of his unexpressed thoughts (another contribution to the consciousness–debate).

Setting the question of consciousness aside, let me add that the above described situation is further complicated by the fact that it is not at all sure whether Frà Pandolf in reality said anything the Duke quotes. It can also be supposed that by quoting the remarks, the Duke (consciously or not) aims at further debasing the Duchess—what is sure that these quotations are used to further illustrate her alleged nature. If so, then it becomes of special importance which entity is regarded as the direct addresser of these sentences. If the Duke, then they are interpreted along with the Duke’s other arguments for the rightful decision to stop all smiles together. If, however, an extratextual entity is supposed as the speaker of these lines (a Frà Pandolf existing outside the narration, or even, in an indirect nature, the Author if these quoted sentences are read as if not filtered through the Speaker), then it is easier to interpret these sentences as referring directly to an episode which has happened in, but before the reality of the poem, thus supporting the interpretation Miller seeks to refute.

The probability, consciousness and reliability of the Speaker’s speech in My Last Duchess can all be seen as interpreted in opposing ways by different readers. In my view, these differences are the results of the different perceptions about the embedded addressers of the poem—in the end, of the different perceptions about whether an extratextual authority, the Author can be perceived behind the whole or behind specific parts of the monologue.

C. Conclusion

It can be seen that my reading predicted quite successfully whether and at what points the Author is looked for by other readings of My Last Duchess. Especially the points of the structural set-up of the poem and the questionable probability of the Duke’s speech appear to have surfaced in most of the readings. On the general level, however, as the investigation of metathesis suggested, the Author can be regarded to be sufficiently absent from the poem (unlike, for example, in “Childe Roland,” in which poem a general presence can be perceived); indeed, the poem appears to have been read in almost every possible ways except what a general Authorial presence would have suggested: as a direct or allegorical statement. Moreover, the poem also appears to conform to the description of the internal structure of dramatic monologues I have suggested.

The Author in My Last Duchess, therefore, can hardly be regarded absolutely dead in the Barthesian sense. While the entity is generally missing from the poem, it can be read ‘out of’ the text and is recurred to when the Reader is faced with a problematic point in the interpretation. Stigand and the article refuting his arguments directly refer to Authorial intention; at the other end of the scale Miller can be found, who can be seen recurring to the Author not directly but via the question who addresses to whom portions of the text.

The Author has a continued existence here not in the way Potter means, as Browning is unlikely to participate in on-line chat, and not necessarily in the way Barthes sees it, in a way which closes and narrows the potential of a text. Instead, the Author seems to be referred to as a complex of the generator and a generated Author, as an addresser entity linked to the extratextual Author. In this sense, traces are left behind of the Author even after its death and after its loss via metathesis: the earthly remains of an entity buried in the text of the poem.

3.4 The Bishop Orders His Tomb at Saint Praxed’s Church

The Bishop Orders His Tomb was published in Dramatic Romances and Lyrics in 1845 under the title The Tomb at St. Praxed’s. It was retitled in 1849 (Cervo 204). It is supposedly spoken by a dying Bishop who describes in detail a sepulchre to be built for him, and offers riches to his Auditors so that they should follow his instructions.

A. Reading

A.1 Reading the Text

As in many other dramatic monologues, in this poem, the title and the subtitle provide a refuge for the Author. While nothing in the title and the subtitle goes against an interpretation regarding the Speaker as their addresser, in my view, the somewhat ironic wording of the title suggests that it originates from the Author, or another entity outside the communicative scheme of the Speaker.

As the two direct quotations (“Do I live, am I dead?” in lines 13 and 113, both uttered by the Speaker) do not introduce further entities, there are no more addressers in the poem. However, there are more addressees—the group of “[n]ephews—sons” (l. 3) the Bishop is talking to. The fact that only one of them is named, Anselm, who, in my reading, is unmisinterpretably presented as the Speaker’s son (see “Child of my bowels” in line 64), draws attention to the fact that the Bishop has disregarded the requirement of celibacy—precisely, it must be added, in the century when Reformation questioned this discipline (see also Wikipedia s.v. “Clerical celibacy”). While the special attention to Anselm might be interpreted as a result of the Speaker’s paternal feelings or of his (unconscious) shame at the fruit of his ‘sin,’ I think it more signals a technique employed by the Author to emphasize and illuminate the way of live of the Bishop. Several other such hints, in my reading, are traceable in the poem.

The first line of the poem, unlike other Biblical allusions (see lines 51 and 101) is not integrated into the monologue; the Speaker addresses the Auditors only in the second line:

Vanity, saith the preacher, vanity!

Draw round my bed: is Anselm keeping back? (ll. 1–2)

The first line echoes Ecclesiastes 1:2, and appears to pass judgment on the Bishop’s goal to get a more magnificent tomb than that of his predecessor. As the lines do not cohere, in my reading, the addresser of the first line is more the Author than the Speaker—at this point, therefore, my reading suggests a perceivable authorial presence.

An interpretation suggested by an entity above the Speaker, the Author, may also be hinted by the distribution of the interjection “Ah God.” Line 3 contains “ah God, I know not!” at the point when the Bishop addresses the Auditors flocking around him as “sons” and begins to describe she, who is usually referred to as his child’s (or children’s) mother (see lines 4, 96, 105). In line 39, one finds “Ah God, I know not, I!” when the Speaker reveals the location of a large lump of lapis lazuli he had saved for his sepulchre—and, immediately before uttering the name of the stone, the Bishop utters the same interjection again: “Some lump, ah God, of lapis lazuli” (l. 42, underline added). From this list it seems that the interjection signals a hesitation before relating or alluding to an action usually considered not righteous or appropriate for a bishop—pursuing earthly love and treasures.

Based on this observation, their distribution might be deduced from a psychological reading of the character of the Bishop. However, two observations problematize such an approach. The first one is that a similar (or any kind of) interjection is not present elsewhere, at points when the Speaker mixes earthly and divine elements, bordering on blasphemy: when the blueness of the lapis lazuli is described “as a vein o’er the Madonna’s breast” (l. 44); when church ceremony is described as “God made and eaten all day long” (l. 82; the “all they long” adverbial, in my reading, further pushes the interpretation toward the very action as opposed to its significance), or when the Bishop is willing to pray to Saint Praxed for “brown Greek manuscripts, / And mistresses with great smooth marbly limbs” (ll. 74–75) for his Auditors. The second observation is that the Bishop’s relation to she is, most probably, well-known to the Auditors from the beginning. His admitting having fathered a child (or children) is a surprise (or a shock) to the Reader only. The use of the interjection at that point, therefore, in the reality of the narrative layer, is not justified. Because of these observations, I read these interjections as originating more from the Author. These elements, like the naming of Anselm only, may serve to emphasize the fallible nature of the Bishop by calling attention to the (past) actions related.

Body parts, which also appear to be important in this poem, although to a lesser degree than in, for example, Andrea del Sarto, may also hint an unfavourable judgment on the Bishop. In the monologue, only his extremities are referred to, and of the four references, three are to the lower ones. The Speaker arranges his body and bedclothes to create the stone effigy that—he appears to fear—will never be realised:

I fold my arms as if they clasped a crook,

And stretch my feet forth straight as stone can point,

And let the bedclothes, for a mortcloth, drop

Into great laps and folds of sculptor’s-work

(ll. 87–90, emphasis added)

He also describes the tomb to be built in relation to his legs: “The odd one [of the nine columns] at my feet where Anselm stands” (l. 28, emphasis added); “So, let the blue lump poise between my knees” (l. 47, emphasis added). In my reading, the references to the (lower) extremities evoke a sense of materiality. The Bishop’s torso, heart or head—parts, in my view, more associated with the ‘divine spark,’ the soul—are not described and are never referred to. Moreover, the last two references (lines 28 and 47), the first of which associates the son with a column placed at the legs, the second of which refers to a bulge at the same place, may even be read as phallic allusions, further supporting a sense of earthliness.

In my reading, an interpretation of these give-aways as originating from the Bishop’s guilty conscience is problematic, as no such sign of guilt surfaces when the Bishop describes, in a surprisingly easy tone, the mother and Old Gandolf’s (imagined or real) envy: “Old Gandolf envied me, so fair she was!” (l. 5), “Your tall pale mother with her talking eyes” (l. 96), “They [your eyes] glitter like your mother’s for my soul” (l. 105), “As still he [Old Gandolf] envied me, so fair she was!” (l. 125). Thus, I regard the focus on these signs of materiality as originating more from the Author; in other words, even if to a small degree, but this technique may also signal Authorial control, presence.

The reaction of the Auditors—it is apparent from line 113 and onwards that, despite the fact that the Bishop continues talking, they leave—may also provide a hint as to how the poem and the Speaker is to be interpreted. Their leaving cannot be justified based on the information the Reader is provided with during the monologue. The fact that the Bishop promises them a villa in a wealthy suburb of Rome among other riches (see lines 45–46, 64–66, 70, 102–103 and Abrams et al. 2:1360 n. 2)—which is emphasized often enough and from many different points of view that it, most probably, is not taken as a fancy of the Speaker—makes their leaving surprising, if not suspicious. In my reading, it also signals an ultimate judgment passed on the condemnable nature of the Speaker, which is in line with all other hints at a judgment deduced from other layers of the poem. Because of the inconsistency described above, I read this hint, too, as originating from the Author.

So far, I have suggested that at many points in The Bishop Orders His Tomb the Author is present to a certain degree, mostly via elements which appear to suggest an interpretation to be accepted by the Reader. Let me now attempt to determine the extent of the metathesis in general in this poem, as it, according to the postulates of the representational framework, may signal the removedness, the deadness of the Author from the poem on a general level.

The many concrete elements, in my reading, construct detailed structures—images—on layer II in The Bishop Orders His Tomb. The many visualizable elements (corner, carrion, pulpit, choir, seats, aery dome, angels, sunbeam, to list the nouns which, according to my reading, create a visual model of the view from the Bishop’s future grave in lines 18–24) enrich layer II with images centred around the future tomb of the Bishop, which, in turn, is used to describe the Bishop himself. Unlike the Speaker in Rabbi Ben Ezra, the Bishop is also defined in relation to characters ‘real’ on the level of narration: she, Old Gandolf, Anselm, the other Auditors, even the Pope. All these elements appear to describe to Bishop, who thus occupies the position of the imaged on layer II. It can be concluded, therefore, that this poem conforms to my suggested rule regarding the Speaker and the imaged in dramatic monologues.

Detailed structures on layer II, according to my experience, in most cases entail in themselves a relatively wide metathesis, as they constitute a detailed model the original problem, the theme is represented by. If one regards the abstract notion vanity as the theme of The Bishop Orders His Tomb (it being a notion which cannot be easily abstracted further), then the metathesis between this theme and its representation set in Italy during the late Renaissance, centred around a figure rarely associated with vanity, a bishop, is, in my reading, wide enough to make layer III (the original ‘problem’ of the Author and Authorial intention) difficult or impossible to access. As it can be seen, the abundance of images and the ‘distance’ between theme and imaged (according to my interpretation) both suggest that metathesis has taken place in this poem.

The fact that the metathesis is wide in The Bishop Orders His Tomb merely suggests that the Author is irrecoverable, or dead, on a general level. At specific points, Authorial intention, a hinted judgment is traceable in the poem. In other words, while the Author can be seen sufficiently absent from this dramatic monologue, it still cannot be stated that he is wholly dead. Not only the very form of the poem, an artificial blank verse, and the use of the English language make it necessary to assume the existence of an addresser entity above the Speaker; even Authorial intention, to a certain extent, appears to be traceable in the text.

A.2 Reading Outside the Text

The original contexts of the Biblical allusions are also worth taking into consideration. While both the allusion in line 51 (“Swift as a weaver’s shuttle fleet our years”) to Job 7.6 (“My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle, and are spent without hope” [Authorized Version]) and the one in line 101 (“Evil and brief hath been my pilgrimage”) to Genesis 47.9:

And Jacob said unto Pharaoh, The days of the years of my pilgrimage are an hundred and thirty years: few and evil have the days of the years of my life been, and have not attained unto the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their pilgrimage. (Authorized Version Gen 47.9)

express, on the surface, grief over the shortness and hopelessness of life—in themselves surprising as they are uttered by a bishop—their original contexts appear to provide extra twists. Job utters the quoted sentence in an answer to Eliphaz (Authorized Version Job 4–5); his argument is to be answered by Bildad (Authorized Version Job 8). Against the arguments of Eliphaz and Bildad suggesting that God is righteous, therefore Job must have sinned thus deserving his misfortunes, Job claims that he does not understand the causes of the tragedies that befell him. While his belief is unfaltering, his speech may be read as questioning, to a certain extent, God’s actions, expecting him to help: “Then thou scarest me with dreams, and terrifiest me through visions: / So that my soul choseth strangling, and death rather than life” (Authorized Version Job 7.14–15); “And why dost thou not pardon my transgression, and take away mine iniquity? for now shall I sleep in the dust; and thou shalt seek me in the morning, but I shall not be” (Authorized Version Job 7.21). A sentence taken from this argument may well portray the Bishop as identifying himself with Job’s position at this point in his narrative—as a person at odds with God. The second half of Jacob’s speech to Pharaoh also appears to condemn the Bishop: it is, via his temporary identification with Jacob, himself, who appears to say—had he finished the quotation—that in ways he is less than his forefathers, that is, his predecessors.

In my reading, these subtle ironies—if they were indeed intended and it is not only in my reading that they surfaced—also hint an unfavourable judgment on the Bishop, and increase a perceivable Authorial presence in the poem.

B. Reading Reading

William Stigand’s reading of the poem is particularly interesting as he considers the monologue a manifestation of the opinion of the Author:

[I]n the ‘Bishop ordering his Tomb’ on his death-bed we never lose the peculiar accents of Mr. Browning’s quaintness for a moment. It is, for example, Mr. Browning who is speaking through the Bishop’s mouth when he says—

And then how I shall lie through centuries,

And hear the blessed mutter of the mass,

And see God made and eaten all day long,

And feel the steady candle-flame, and taste

Good strong thick stupifying [sic] incense smoke! [ll. 80–84]

These lines have a characteristic aptness about them, but no bishop would describe Church ceremonies in this way. (253)

Stigand sees the Author surface at a point which I have also listed in my reading. However, my reading of the poem suggested that Authorial presence in general is not so perceivable as Stigand claims.

Nathan A. Cervo’s reading is also worth citing, as he appears to point out another point of Authorial presence. His reading is based on contrasting Browning’s poem to some passages from Saint Anselm’s (1033/34–1109) works suggesting that the name ‘Anselm’ in Browning’s poem alludes to the historical person. He suggests that the dramatic monologue presents a parody, in a sense, of the teachings of Saint Anselm. By this extratextual source, like by the contexts of Biblical allusions, the Speaker appears to be judged; he is regarded as a “grotesque parody” (205). While Cervo does not attribute this possible interplay between the cited texts to the Author, I think it again slightly enhances a feeling of Authorial control traceable throughout the poem.

C. Conclusion

In The Bishop Orders His Tomb, therefore, the pattern of Authorial presence is similar to that in My Last Duchess. While generally the extratextual Author remains inaccessible, it, nevertheless, proved to be possible to read the (an) Author out of the poem and pinpoint the structural characteristics which, it seems, may have contributed to the Authorial control felt by, for example, William Stigand as expressed in his reading. Despite the fact that the portions of the text I pointed out in my reading appear to secure the existence of the Author, it, as suggested by the fact that the metathesis was found to be wide, remains in the background throughout.

Unlike My Last Duchess, the interpretation of this poem appears not to cause or have caused special problems. A (re)constructed Authorial intention needs not to be cited as it seemed it was needed in the case of the previous poem to deal with the dubious probability and consciousness of the utterance. That the interpretation of the Bishop is seemingly so straightforward, however, raises the suspicion whether it is not the result of an interpretation successfully hinted for the Readers by an Author behind the Speaker. In my view, the interpretation of this poem is made not so complicated by the choice of its imaged and the fact that knowledge about values and lifestyles related to the Christian religion is shared by 21st-century and Victorian audiences. In this respect, these audiences appear to belong to one interpretative community. As the choice of the imaged and the Speaker is under Authorial control, this suggestion, along with the other points of Authorial presence, makes the Author an entity which cannot be, in my reading, circumvented in this poem.

3.5 Andrea del Sarto

Andrea del Sarto was first published in 1855 in Browning’s collection titled Men and Women. Based primarily on Giorgio Vasari’s account of the Florentine painter, the poem illuminates Andrea’s failure in his art, the bad influence of his wife and his own weakness to alter his situation.

A. Reading

A.1 An Intratextual Reading

As in the previous analyses, the proposed theory based on embedded communicative schemes provides a way of establishing the addressers of various portions of the poem. The title defines the Speaker, who is the (an) addresser of the whole poem, with two exceptions: the title and the subtitle. The addresser of these portions, as I have suggested earlier, cannot be the Speaker or the Narrator: it is either the Author or the Inscriber; in either case, they provide intratextual evidence for the existence of communicative layers above that of the Speaker. Most probably, the form of the poem, blank verse, also signals that there is an entity, and addresser beyond the Speaker. The sophisticated, artful format of the Speaker’s utterance, contradicting the sincerity and incidentality signalled by its contents, renders, in my view, an interpretation regarding the Speaker as an ultimate and therefore real-life, extratextual addresser impossible.

Direct quotations can also be investigated in the poem as they might introduce further speakers mediated through the Speaker. As it turns out, in only one direct quotation it is absolutely clear that a new, subordinate speaker is being introduced. The first instance is a vain sigh (ll. 102–103) uttered by Andrea himself. The second one consists of words Lucrezia could have said (ll. 128–131), thus the speaker is Andrea again. The third case quotes what men will say (ll. 177–179), so the speaker must be Andrea; and the fourth relates the words of Agnolo (Michelangelo) in an anecdote (ll. 189–193). Agnolo can be regarded as a distinct speaker, however, his point blends so completely with that of Andrea that his distinctness is hardly perceivable.

As for addressees, or auditors, the poem presents Lucrezia as one, although it is questionable whether she is listening to the Speaker’s words at all. Later on, I shall attempt to demonstrate that the Auditor’s existence is so dependent on the Speaker, that it may not be able to serve as an independent addressee. The situation one is presented with this way echoes, on the one hand, the (problematic) set-up suggested by Langbaum, that the Speaker addresses himself across the Auditor, and, on the other hand, the model of embedded communications which postulates that embedded addressees (Auditors) are necessarily rudimentary.

Having established the existence of the Speaker and an entity above it, the Author (let me refer to this entity as the ‘Author,’ while bearing it in mind that this entity can be regarded as derived from the text and therefore, in a sense, intratextual. For this reason it might be also referred to as the ‘Inscriber’), let me investigate whether at some points it can be argued that the Author ‘speaks over’ the Speaker, where the message is not retransmitted via Andrea, where the direct addresser, arguably, is Browning himself. This inquiry is in line, in a sense, with Langbaum’s suggestion that the poet should be felt behind the speaker, while is in opposition with his assertion that the true opinion (judgment) of the author on the speaker usually cannot be known from intratextual evidence only (106).

If a contradiction is found between two statements in the poem verbalised approximately to the same degree, then it can be supposed that they originate from distinct sources. As Andrea del Sarto does have distinct sources (the texts of Giorgio Vasari and Filippo Baldinucci [see Hogg 68], and Browning), if one statement originates more or less directly from Browning’s sources and the other from Browning himself, this fact might be signalled by an intratextual contradiction. One such contradiction can indeed be found in the poem. While Andrea states that he is “unmoved by men’s blame / Or their praise either” (ll. 91–92), he fears what the Paris lords might be saying about him: “I dared not, do you know, leave home all day, / For fear of chancing on the Paris lords. / The best is when they pass and look aside, / But they speak sometimes; I must bear it all” (ll. 145–148), he is constantly worried about men’s opinion (ll. 56, 64–66, 76–77, 180), quotes Michelangelo’s praise (ll. 189–193) and would like to see himself as the fourth in the Michelangelo–Raphael–Leonardo triad. Please note that this instance of contradiction cannot be easily explained away as a give-away or unintentional self-revelation by the Speaker, as the two sides of the contradiction are expressed equally directly (compare especially lines 91–92 with lines 145–148, quoted above). It can, therefore, be supposed that one of the sides of this contradiction originates from Browning more or less directly. As shall be seen, this conclusion can indeed be justified by extratextual evidence.

Contradictions are not the only points where authorial presence might be traced. If the Reader finds that emotionally or with other techniques it is hinted that s/he is to trust the Speaker’s words and accept them as true, then the Speaker becomes not independent of the perceived authorial viewpoint; in the extreme case, the Speaker is interpreted as the Author’s mouthpiece.

Several such techniques can be found in Andrea del Sarto. The setting, autumn, dusk to evening, reflects well the depressed mood of the Speaker, and creates an emotional atmosphere in which this depressedness is most probably accepted without questioning its basis.

Commonplace-like morals, the majority of which transfers responsibility to God (“At the end, / God, I conclude, compensates, punishes” [ll. 140–141], “God is just” [ll. 213], etc.), and one of which actually provides the Reader with an interpretation of Andrea’s situation (“In this world, who can do a thing, will not; / And who would do it, cannot, I perceive” [ll. 137–138]) are not contradicted by facts of Andrea’s life as presented. The Reader most probably finds that based on the related episodes of Andrea’s life, he failed in several respects, and that based on the morals he utters, he is aware of his unsuccessfulness. The one question the poem most probably leaves unanswered is whether Lucrezia is to blame for Andrea’s fate. Otherwise, by the morals, a complete interpretation is hinted.

This set-up is unlike that of the dramatic monologues in which Browning explores possible psychological bases of abhorred acts. In Porphyria’s Lover, the Speaker’s judgment that the strangled girl’s head is “So glad it has its utmost will” (l. 53) is contradicted by the fact that its owner is no longer alive. In My Last Duchess, the object of the whole monologue is thwarted by the related murder. In Andrea del Sarto, not the judgments or the morals of Andrea can be interpreted as instances of strong authorial presence, but the fact that everything is in line with these morals, and thus the Reader appears to be pushed toward the hinted interpretation.

Let me point out at this point, that this structural set-up contradicts the rule set up by Langbaum, namely, that good dramatic monologues are based on a split between sympathy and moral judgment, in other words, between a subjective scale of values of the Speaker the Reader adopts in the process of identification and an objective scale represented by the Victorian (and, arguably, present-day) society. No such tension is to be found in Andrea del Sarto; which may account for why Langbaum misses to mention this poem in the chapter he introduces this rule, but treats it at length in another.


Let me now turn to investigate the proposal regarding the lyrical I (the Speaker) and the imaged derived from the representational framework. As has been suggested, the imaged of a work of art occupies a central position. If it can be shown that the Speaker indeed does so, and that other elements in the poem are arranged around it in a way that they describe it, then it can be inferred that the Speaker serves as the imaged.

First, let me investigate the building blocks of images, the elements, with special attention on visual ones. Notably, all visual elements appear to originate from a level extremely close to the Speaker. They seem to be restricted mainly to body parts (which have also been abundant in My Last Duchess and The Bishop Orders His Tomb) and, in a few cases, personal tools of the painter (see chalk, line 196). With the exception of occasional landscapes (see lines 41–44 for a description of a chapel and around line 90 for a vague description of a mountain), body parts dominate the visual layer of the poem. Lucrezia is visualized via her face (x 2), heart, hand (x 3), breast, hair,[10] ears (ll. 1–34); even in the contemplative part, counting is done on fingers (l. 72), other painters’ personality is described via their brains and hearts (l. 80); what Andrea criticises in Raphael’s painting is an arm (l. 111); in the description of King Francis one finds finger, beard, mouth, smile, arm, breath related to the Speaker’s shoulder, neck and ears; the court has eyes and hearts (ll. 154–161). The list could be continued.

While this apparent focus on body could be paralleled with Andrea’s judgment on his own abilities that he is able to paint a body, but without a soul (see line 113, for example), it also makes the visual layer of the poem highly personal, which puts the Lyrical I (the entity from whose point of view the body parts of others can be seen) into the centre (as body parts can be argued to be perceived as very ‘close’ to the observer in both senses), that is, puts the Lyrical I into the position of the imaged.

It can be also attempted to group elements of the poem not visually (spatially), but following a temporal logic. It seems that parts of Andrea’s contemplation fall into one of the following categories: past, present or future.

The episode in France, where there was no Lucrezia, is in the past, as the possibilities available to Andrea at that time are already lost. Michelangelo, Raphael and Leonardo might be argued to form a kind of present for Andrea, as he is constantly comparing himself to them. In this sense, other painters in whom “there burns a truer light of God” (l. 79) also belong to the present. In the present, unlike in the past episode in France, there is Lucrezia. And finally, the scene in “New Jerusalem” (ll. 261–266) refers to a future hoped for. What is apparent in this threefold structure is that it may be said to span a whole world, as it incorporates all three stages of time, and that this world is divided from the viewpoint of, or, in other words, is centred around the Lyrical I, Andrea. Based on this analysis, the conclusion that the Lyrical I occupies a central position could again be reached.

And finally, it can be shown that even the figure of the Auditor, Lucrezia appears to be dependent on the Speaker. In the middle part of the poem, all references to her (including the word you, the address Love) gradually disappear, hand in hand with the physical existence of Lucrezia. No clues are given as to what happened between their holding hands (ll. 21–22) with Andrea sitting by the window (ll. 13–15), and her being at the window at a distance from Andrea who is now inside (l. 211). In fact, the physical existence of both characters is swept away by Andrea’s contemplation in the middle part.

Lucrezia’s disappearance might support an interpretation according to which the limitations of Andrea are in reality internal, and he only projects them onto Lucrezia, or Lucrezia serves as an embodiment of these limitations.

The dependence of the figure of Lucrezia on the Speaker is also emphasized by the fact that apparently no verbal communication takes place on Lucrezia’s part. Andrea’s questions: “You turn your face, but does it bring your heart?” (l. 4) “Must you go? / That Cousin here again?” (ll. 219–220) refer more to gestures than to verbal messages. The only exception to this might be Andrea’s explaining whom he is quoting in lines 199–200: “(What he? why, who but Michel Agnolo? / Do you forget already words like those?)”, which might be a reaction to a question of Lucrezia. Still, on the whole, Lucrezia is presented as dumb, which fact may support the feeling that she is portrayed as absolutely dependent.

That said, it is worth noting that, like in My Last Duchess, such portrayal may be a consequence of the genre. However, the apparent dependence of Lucrezia can still be argued to be perceived by the Reader regardless of its true reason.

It is also worth mentioning that Lucrezia gains an existence independent of Andrea only when the Cousin appears or is referred to. That is, pushing this statement to the extreme, Lucrezia exists only in relation to either Andrea or the Cousin—in other words, in relation to men.

The fact that Lucrezia, for the most part, appears to be defined only from the point of view of the Lyrical I, and that she can be argued to describe the Lyrical I in the sense that she represents the limited nature of his artistic abilities, again puts the Lyrical I in the position of the central, most described element, the imaged.

All of the above outlined three arguments support the conclusion that in Andrea del Sarto, the Lyrical I is indeed the imaged of the poem at the same time.

Having determined the imaged of Andrea del Sarto, the extent of its metathesis may be determined by comparing it to the theme. In my view, the problem that appears to be central in this poem can be abstracted to the notion ‘failure,’ both in relation to the personal and the artistic. If this interpretation can be accepted, then the metathesis rendering the theme of failure into an representation centred around an artist who failed does not appear to be surprisingly wide. Let me, however, attempt to determine the extent of metathesis from other points of view.

My list of visual elements above shows that the poem does contain elements that are able to create and enrich images, structures on layer II. Theoretically, in their total absence, no distinct layer II is generated, making the metathesis nonexistent. The visual elements, however, appear to be one-sided. While in My Last Duchess body parts are complemented by elements from the estate of the Duke, here, no such other salient elements can be found. While in My Last Duchess, images centred around the sitting-scene, the habits of the Duchess, etc.; and in The Bishop Orders His Tomb, a series of images of his future sepulchre can be found, in Andrea del Sarto, the elements, in my reading, do not appear to structure themselves into a series of images. There are, naturally, exceptions to this suggestion, like the view of Fiesole (ll. 41–45), the micro-image of the loving hands (ll. 21–22) or the somewhat less coherent image of the French court (ll. 153–164). Compared to the length of the poem, however, these images appear to be too scarce to dominate layer II, which fact might be a result of the more contemplative, of the more emotive than the somewhat conative tone of the previous poems. The scarcity of images, in any case, implies the same conclusion, that the metathesis, although wide enough as the original experiencer is transliterated into a person from the previous centuries, is somewhat narrower than in, for example, the previous dramatic monologues. This suggestion is also supported by the presence of commonplace-like phrases, at which points, in my reading, layer II is nonexistent. In these cases, assertions are rendered directly via general concepts, that is, layer III is rendered directly into layer I.

From investigating the internal structure of the poem and possible points where strong authorial presence can be supposed, let me now turn to contrasting the text to extratextual sources.

A.2 An Extratextual Reading

Andrea’s portrayal by Browning shall be compared to Giorgio Vasari’s account in order to see whether authorial presence suggested by my intratextual reading is accompanied by a traceable deviation from Vasari’s text.

James Hogg asserts that Browning based the poem not only on Vasari’s Le Vite de’ più eccellenti Architetti, Pittori et Scultori, but also on Filippo Baldinucci’s text (67–68); however, I shall focus on Vasari’s text only. He also suggests that Browning probably used the 1550, first edition of Vasari, in which “Lucrezia del Fede is depicted in the darkest colours” (68). (For a brief comparison of the two editions, see Vayer 19–22.) I used three sources of Vasari’s biography. Excerpts from Mrs Jonathan Foster’s translation of the 1550 account are reprinted in Browning: Men and Women and Other Poems (henceforth cited as Vasari F). It is the second, 1568 edition that Zoltán Zsámboki’s Hungarian translation is based on in A legkiválóbb festők, szobrászok és építészek élete (henceforth cited as Vasari Z). It is chiefly used to refer to incidents related in parts of the biography omitted from Vasari F. And finally, an online portion of Andrea’s biography is accessible in the Medieval Sourcebook (cited as Vasari A). Its translator and source have not been established. However, based on the fact that its portrayal of Lucrezia resembles very much that of Vasari F, and even contains passages missing from Vasari Z,[11] it is highly probable that it is based on the 1550 version, but is the work of a different translator. Its importance is in the fact that in this excerpt, the relation of an incident missing from Vasari F but present in Vasari Z can be found. The main points of difference between Browning’s poem and Vasari’s description of Andrea are the following:

Browning appears to have invented the figure of the Cousin. (Hogg suggests the same [70].) Jealousy is indeed mentioned by all three versions (Vasari F 44; Vasari Z 517; Vasari A par. 3), but it is never made clear whether Andrea had practical reasons for this feeling. Moreover, Andrea did paint to order before his marriage (attested to by all three sources), so the idea in the poem that because of Lucrezia, he must now paint to please customers can be considered to be an exaggeration. This difference, it seems, could be traced based on intratextual analysis, where it was argued that the interpretation hinted by the Author puts Andrea’s failure and Lucrezia’s part in it into the focus.

Vasari Z also makes it clear that Andrea drew and painted studies often before embarking on the task of a larger work (passim). The poem states the opposite: “No sketches first, no studies, that’s long past” (l. 68). This approach might well reflect Browning’s technique of writing. Unlike the previous difference, this one could not be detected based on the text itself.

The last point of difference, however, is clearly signalled by intratextual evidence. Vasari relates an episode in which a friar, Fra Mariano dal Canto alle Macine lures Andrea into a competition with his friend and fellow painter, Francia, so that he could pay less for his work. His argument was that Andrea could achieve fame by painting a beautiful fresco (Vasari Z 513; Vasari A par 2). This episode, along with other suggestions of Vasari, proves that Andrea was far from being unmoved by men’s praise or blame, as suggested in the poem in line 91. As it has been pointed out, this statement is in contradiction with other elements of the poem itself, too. (It should also be noted that it is not hinted by Vasari that Andrea was a man of independence, in fact, he states that he was timid [Vasari F 41; Vasari Z 537]. To complicate the matter of Andrea’s personality further, the note accompanying Vasari Z suggests that Vasari overstates Andrea’s timidity based on his paintings [Vasari Z 509].)

This instance of authorial presence is further supported by considering Browning’s own position. In a letter to Elizabeth Barrett postmarked on 11 February 1845, he describes in a lengthy paragraph his relationship with his audience and the critics. “Not being listened to by one human creature would, I hope, in nowise affect me” (Letters 18), he writes, and, after likening his poems to cabbages grown in his garden, and considering what positive effects people think favourable reception might have on his life, exclaims: “[B]ut you see! Indeed I force myself to say ever and anon, in the interest of the market-gardeners regular, and Keatses proper, ‘It’s nothing to you, critics, hucksters, all of you, if I have this garden and this conscience’ ” (Letters 18–19). “He is, he insists, and intends to remain, quite independent of his critics, and of the public as well” (Litzinger and Smalley 1), summarizes this paragraph the “Introduction” to Browning: The Critical Heritage. In this respect and at this point in Andrea del Sarto, Browning appears to have projected his own ideal status, despite Vasari’s account, into the text.

A.3 Conclusion

In my reading of Andrea del Sarto, the Author is far from being totally absent from the poem. This suggestion appears to hold for various functions of the Author. The presence of a generated methodological Author can be felt in the form of the poem, in the text surrounding it, and in the occasional discrepancies in the poem itself. This presence, in turn, could be related to the process of composition of the poem, to the usage of sources and to elements from the biography of its Author—in other words, to a presence of the generator extratextual, biographical Author. That is, if to a limited degree only, but the Author could be traced in a genre in which it is supposed to be dead to an exceptional degree, where a clearly indicated mask is placed in front of the Author. This conclusion is also attested to by the slightly narrower metathesis.

However, as this presence is still quite limited, Andrea del Sarto cannot be said to contradict, by its existence and the artistic value attributed to it, the tenets which call for the death of the Author in artistic writing. This is also because the arguments for this technique of writing can be read in a way that they do not call for the total effacement of the Author, only “surrendering” its personality. Moreover, the example of this poem, precisely because I strove to maintain the distinction between the various functions of the Author, can hardly be used against arguments set out to do away with the transcendental Author.

It does show, however, that the Author easily surfaces even in readings confined to the text (as much as I was able to), and that despite the fact that their presence is often connected, it can be fruitful to separate the intratextual and extratextual, the generated and biographical Authors. It shows the problematic nature of anti-authorial arguments at points where, probably based on their opposition to biographical positivism enlarged into a transcendental anti-authorialism, they project the death of the Author to the extratextual, real-life Author and to the intratextual addresser constructed by the act of reading.

My reading of Andrea del Sarto also suggests that its internal structure, as investigated by the tools of the representational framework, conforms to the supposed set-up of dramatic monologues. In my reading, sympathy with and judgment over Andrea, however, was not compatible with Langbaum’s definition of the dramatic monologue (shown to be in itself problematic).

Let me now turn to other readings of Andrea del Sarto to see to what degree the Author is / was perceived to be dead in it, and whether authorial presence is / was perceived at the points mentioned in my reading.

B. Reading Reading

B.1 Reception in Browning’s Time

Let me relate four relevant reactions to Andrea del Sarto that could be found in Litzinger and Smalley. The first reactions attest to the fact that a mask indeed could be interpreted and dealt with, as expected, without any difficulty or reservation. The third and the fourth one, conversely, present a way of reading that supposes a closer connection between Speaker and Author thus securing the Author’s presence in this dramatic monologue.

David Masson writes the following about the poem:

In the piece entitled ‘Andrea Del Sarto’, we have a companion-portrait, equally vivid, of a painter of graver and more melancholy nature. These two poems [Andrea del Sarto and Fra Lippo Lippi] are, in fact, biographies in miniature, and, probably, give a more perfect idea of the two men as they lived, and of the principles on which they painted, than many more extensive accounts of them. (182)

In Masson’s reading, the Speaker, because of the historical faithfulness, is independent of the Author; apparently nothing remains of the Author in the text, the Author is really dead.

Margaret Oliphant’s comment might be interpreted in the light of the observation that Andrea del Sarto is one of the few dramatic monologues in which the Speaker’s disposition is most probably compatible with judgment, with, as far as I see it, the then accepted morals of the society. Oliphant remarks, “Only very few of his Men and Women is it possible to make out: indeed, we fear that Andrea and the Bishop Blougram are about the only intelligible sketches, to our poor apprehension, in the volumes” (188). Other dramatic monologues (and poems in general) of Browning’s were generally held to be obscure, even unintelligible. That none of the reactions to Andrea del Sarto considers it obscure, and Oliphant goes as far as judging it intelligible, might be a consequence of its morals being compatible with those of the Readers and thus of the lack of a tension, a split in Langbaum’s sense; of the lack of uncertainty. From this fact, however, it would be hard to determine whether readers like Oliphant regarded the Author transparent or missing (by attributing all ideas, morals to the Speaker) or strongly present (by suggesting that Andrea was chosen because his suggestions, ideas or situation is similar to that of the Author). The statement could be risked, however, that since the interpretation of this poem is not hindered by strong tensions, judgements on the Speaker by himself are also attributed, to a certain extent, to the Author.

An unsigned review in The Dublin University Magazine presents a closer relationship between Author and poem: “Still, the words of a man [Browning] who thinks are always worth reading. ‘Andrea del Sarto’ will repay a careful perusal” (190). For this reader, the Author is felt at work ‘behind the lines’; he is the one ultimately responsible for the text. This type of reading is in opposition to Masson’s approach, who regards Andrea’s portrayal faithful to the historical figure. Moreover, a reaction that praises the thinking of the Author regarding this poem makes it possible to imagine reactions that might have praised or criticized the style of Andrea del Sarto. Indeed, as it has been pointed out, the textual level can be considered to be under the total control of the Author, not the Speaker.

The last remark on this poem makes it apparent that the Author indeed is felt to be there behind the figure of Andrea. Richard Henry Stoddard suggests that “Nothing in literature is more masterly than the faultless painter’s unconscious betrayal of his unknown shame” (372). As if the shame is really unknown to Andrea, he simply cannot betray it, this situation can occur only if the Speaker utters things that originate not from him, but from behind (or above), from the Author. One might even argue (even if unknown above means suppressed or unacknowledged) that what makes this betrayal apparent for the Reader is the Author’s hinted judgment on him, which can be traced in the hints pointed out in my reading that facilitate this interpretation.

This can well be an instance of authorial presence to which Langbaum refers when he considers the presence of the Author ‘behind’ the Speaker necessary for a tension between meaning and utterance (72).

Reactions to Andrea del Sarto contemporary with the poem posited various relationships between its Author and Speaker. The majority of the readings, however, could be interpreted as regarding the Author present in the poem and contributing to its interpretation. While this might be regarded as a consequence of the influence of an interpretative strategy at odds with so direct a notion of a mask in front of an Author, I regard them as pieces of evidence that the Author (at this point, it is unclear whether the intratextual or the extratextual one) is not entirely dead for the Readers, that the Author, even after its necessary transcendental death in discourse, leaves traces, its textual remains, its tomb in the poem.

B.2 Reading Readings of Later Days

In considering some readings of Andrea del Sarto well after Browning’s, let me proceed, at start, in an approximately chronological order.

It appears that many of the readings that appeared after or during the 1950s focus almost exclusively on the character of Andrea. Langbaum (the 1st edition of his work appeared in 1957) relates the actions of Andrea at length: “But Andrea is using his account to make love to Lucrezia, to persuade her […] He is trying to impress her” (148–149), then goes on describing what Andrea does not see or realize but what he still expresses (149). This psychological reading is extended as far as internalising the environment of Andrea into his psyche. It seems as if Andrea was creating time, light and weather: “But he does not see that he is a voluptuary creating the ideal conditions for his pleasure—that the hour, as he sees it, washes away with an enchanting vagueness all moral issues, while both season and hour stimulate soft regret and self-pity” (150, emphasis added). While selecting a dramatic monologue’s setting could be regarded as one of the last refuges where the Author still survives, Langbaum appears to vest Andrea with the power to control layers of the reality presented by his monologue traditionally regarded as being outside his jurisdiction. In this sense, Langbaum, in his reading of the poem, appears to consider the Author as dead as possible—contradicting his own assumption that in a dramatic monologue something is to be felt behind the Speaker.

Richard D. Altick’s reading (1968) also concentrates on the feelings and actions of the Speaker. His reading, centred around the question of the inadequateness of self-deception in Andrea’s case, appears to gradually turn into a prose paraphrase. Still, he does not go as far as Langbaum in nullifying the Author. He too notices the “close relationship in this poem between technique and content” (226), but attributes this effect to the Author: “In ‘Andrea del Sarto’ Browning’s artistry intensifies the ultimate psychological revealment” (226, emphasis added). The tone and the mood of the poem are likewise not attributed to the Speaker (227). Altick, in other words, appears to maintain that certain levels of a text fall under authorial control. The almost exclusive focus on the Speaker in the rest of his reading, however, renders the Author more dead than in some contemporary reactions to the poem.

James Hogg (2000) presents no exception to this line. His reading, interrupting and intermingled with a review of readings of Andrea del Sarto, hardly exceeds a prose paraphrase (70–71), and, as in the previous readings, its focus is on the actions and probable feelings of the Speaker. Many of the readings he cites also analyse the poem (or, rather, Andrea) in a psychological manner, including William Lyon Phelps, who argues that “[i]t is natural that he, whose paintings show perfection of form without spirit, should have married a woman of physical beauty devoid of soul” ([1912], qtd. in Hogg 72, emphasis added); Mark Roberts, according to whom Andrea “chose Lucrezia and the life that went with her, because that was the kind of man he was” ([1966], qtd. in Hogg 73, underline added); and Norton B Crowell, who wonders whether Andrea and Lucrezia can decide whose fault the whole situation is ([1972]. qtd. in Hogg 73). However, Hogg cites three authors who appear to discover the extratextual Author in the poem. Thomas Collins regards the poem a statement expressing Browning’s idea that “flesh and soul” are to be integrated in order to achieve meaning ([1967], Hogg 72); Betty Miller, according to Hogg, sees a parallel between Lucrezia and Elizabeth Barrett thus establishing a biographical link ([1952], Hogg 73), and David Shaw argues for an artistic parallel between Andrea and Browning ([1968], Hogg 73–74).

C. Conclusion

The Author appears to be more alive in Andrea del Sarto than in the poems previously analysed. What is, I think, even more important, is that here, ties could be established to the pretextual, biographical Author, while such connections could not be discovered by my readings in the cases of My Last Duchess or in that of The Bishop Orders His Tomb.

Other readings of Andrea del Sarto, as my brief overview suggests, see the Author as present to varying degrees. What is notable, however, is that whenever the Author is excluded from a reading, the reading almost always considers the psychology of the Speaker—as if one addresser entity, the Author has been abandoned merely to focus on a rounded-off, psychologized, and therefore, in the strict sense, extratextual version of the Speaker. In this sense, most of the cited readings look ‘outside’ the poem for an interpretation, and for such an action, arguably, an entity outside the narrative level of the poem need to be presupposed. This fact, in my view, shows the difficulty of reading a text criss-crossed with the traces of the Author without recurring to an extratextual entity.

[7] All references to poems are given using line numbers only.

[8] Please note that this misuse is most probably not a misuse in the historical context of the poem, or in the historical context presented by Browning. It appears to be a misuse in my reading; other readings and interpretations from Browning’s time shall be considered in the next section.

[9] Langbaum’s book was first published in 1957. It is the third, 1985 edition that I am quoting. Dupras’ article was published in 1996. Langbaum, despite his argument against character-based reading in Shakespeare (ch. 5), can be seen as recurring to the same method here. Dupras appears to distinguish between Speaker and Author.

[10] See line 26 and footnote 3 in Abrams et al. 2:1385.

[11] Compare “His disciples still remained with him, it is true, in the hope of learning something useful, yet there was not one of them, great or small, who was not maltreated by his wife, both by evil words and despiteful actions: none could escape her blows, but although Andrea lived in the midst of all that torment, he yet accounted it a high pleasure” (Andrea F 45) and “For though his pupils stayed with him, hoping to learn something from him, there was not one, great or small, who did not suffer by her evil words or blows during the time he was there. // Nevertheless, this torment seemed to him [Andrea] the highest pleasure” (Vasari A, par. 3–4). The ideas expressed in these excerpts are wholly missing from Vasari Z.