For Robert Browning, the dramatic monologue is a way of exploring forbidden themes and problems of contemporary life. This form offers self-protection, because the poet's innermost ideas are often projected into someone else living in the past. His dramatic monologue, "The Bishop Orders His Tomb at St. Praxed's Church," reveals Browning's disillusionment with the Church's ostentatious display of luxury and ornamentation. Browning offers insight into the dying Bishop's soul by juxtaposing his conscious thoughts with his unconscious, confused ramblings. The poem is ironic throughout, beginning with the Bishop's sermonizing on the dangers of vanity and ending with his final request for an expensive, showy tomb. The Bishop is so immersed in worldly and sensuous desire that he fails to realize the contradiction between his word and deed.
And thence ye may perceive the world's a dream.
Life, how and what is it? As here I lie
In this state-chamber, dying by degrees,
Hours and long hours in the dead night, I ask
"Do I live, am I dead?" Peace, peace seems all.
Saint Praxed's ever was the church for peace;
And so, about this tomb of mine. I fought
With tooth and nail to save my niche, ye know.
How does the Bishop's mental state change throughout this passage?
What are the implications of his question, "Do I live, am I dead?"
Modified 22 September 2003
Last modified 8 June 2007