1. The linked text of "Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister" in the Victorian Web is derived from Poems in English 1530-1940, ed. David Daiches. New York: Ronald, 1950. 460-62. Transcription for no. 267 checked against the following: Robert Browning The Poems, Volume One. Ed. John Pettigrew and Thomas J. Collins. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1981. 357-358.

2. Arian, l. 39: follower of the fourth-century heretic Arius who denied the doctrine of the trinity by denying the equiality of Christ and God; to some extent the Arians anticipated modern Unitarianism.

3. Manichee, l. 56: archaic for Manichean, a follower of a religion or philosophy that believes God and Satan have equal power. The Zoroastrians, an ancient Persian faith, are the best-known Manichean denomination; St. Augustine followed Manichineanism before converting to Christianity.

4. Clearly propinquity has led to the speaker's hatred of Brother Lawrence: what other causes are also suggested?

5. In 1842 the poem was called simply "II — Cloister (Spanish)" and grouped with "I — Camp (French)" according to Pettigrew (1981). Speculate as to why Browning changed the title to its present form in 1849.

6. What character in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet might have served as a model for Brother Lawrence?What differences between the Shakespearean and Browning versions do you detect?

7. What is the significance of the allusion in line 39 to "Arian," a follower of the heretic Arius who in the fourth century denied the doctrine of the trinity by denying the equality of Christ and God?

8. Browning had in mind not a text in "Galatians" but another in Deuteronomy (xxviii, 15-45), but elected not to correct his error. Why?

9. The words "Hy, Zy, Hine" have caused much controversy since they are nonsense, but may be an attempt to conjure demons. How does the persona intend to employ the magical incantation?

10. Why is the reference to "Vespers" (evening prayers) significant?

11. Ever since his early verse dramas and "Sordello," Browning acquired a reputation as a "difficult" poet because some of his allusions were obscure, if not utterly baffling: what difficult to decode pieces does one find in "Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister"? Which would have been genuinely "difficult" for relatively well-educated Victorian readers, and why?

12. Browning is noted as a writer of Dramatic Monologues, in which a single "actor" or persona (rather than the poet) speaks to an implied auditor and is, as it were, overheard by the reader (who has no authorial comment to shape his or her interpretation of the characters and their circumstances). However, this poem is entitled a "Soliloquy." What features of "Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister" render the poem a soliloquy rather than a dramatic monologue? In particular, who is the poem's "implied auditor"?


Victorian Overview R. Browning

Last modified 2 February 2005