Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


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Degree Name





Felicia Bonaparte

Subject Categories



Browning; Drama; Embodiment; Irony; Schlegel; Symbolism


Browning's famous distinction between the subjective and the objective poet, Shelley and Shakespeare, as well as his own abandonment of the lyric in favour of dramatic poetry, has been commonly interpreted as an epistemological demarcation that separates Browning, as a Victorian poet, from his Romantic predecessors. Defining Shelley as the subjective poet who looks through the individual soul toward "not what man sees, but what God sees--the Ideas of Plato" (283), and Shakespeare as the objective poet who looks, not to his own soul, but upon the material world, choosing "to produce things external" and to "deal with the doings of men" (284), Browning delineates the work of Shelley as the poetry of idealism and the dramatic work of Shakespeare as the poetry of realism; therefore, as idealism and realism are commonly viewed as diametric opposites, Browning's concept of objectivity has been seen as antithetical to the philosophical idealism of the subjective poet.

Although the recent critical consensus has been that Browning rejects idealism, this study will argue that it is actually in idealism, where the ideal is seen to embody itself in the material forms of empirical reality, that Browning develops his poetics of objective realism. I look at the influence of German idealism on Browning's objective poetics and how he utilizes the famous distinction made by August and Friedrich Schlegel between classical and romantic epistemology to explore the origins of Christian, romantic art and to trace its modern correlative in philosophical idealism. In doing this Browning presents his own dramatic poetry as the next objective stage in the historical development of romantic idealism. I focus on Browning's neglected early verse dramas, because it is my contention that Browning's theory of dramatic form and its culmination in the dramatic monologue cannot be considered in isolation from his plays. Indeed, these verse dramas are not only key to understanding Browning's development of the monologue form, but also to the very epistemological grounds of his objective poetics.

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