Robert Browning's "Saul" is a poem that speaks to religious extremes in the way of "Bishop Brougham's Apology" and "The Bishop Orders his Tomb at St. Praxed's", (especially the former) in which something goes terribly wrong within the relationship between humility and vanity. "Saul" is an interesting poem in that, instead of using a high church official as the vehicle for this sort of moral-ridden exposition of religious hierarchy and values, he uses David, one of the figures in the Bible most-readily seen as a type of Christ.

What might be the implications of such a decision, from a literary standpoint: does this dilute or reinforce Browning's argument, (if this poem should be thought of as having a clear message, or intended argument) in light of what else we know about David and Saul and the rest of their biblical story? How do you think this poem should be situated in its historical context? Should we take this poem seriously, or ironically?

I think the aspect of this poem that fits most easily under the category of the dramatic monologue begins at section XVII. Why do you think the beginning of the poem is included (i.e.: the songs, and the soldier's introduction)? Can one make an argument both ways regarding the importance of these sections to the poem? Does the part of the poem before XVII conflict with, or give clues towards the later sections (or both)?

The last section, XIX, helps the reader to understand a possible reason for such heavy biblical typology in the beginning of the poem. The first few lines are as follows:

I know not too well how I found my way home in the night.
There were witnesses, cohorts about me, to left and to right,
Angels, powers, the unuttered, unseen, the alive, the aware:
I repressed, I got through them as hardly, as strugglingly there,
As a runner beset by the populace famished for news —
Life or death. The whole earth was awakened, hell loosed with her crews;
And the stars of night beat with emotion, and tingled and shot
Out in fire the strong pain of pent knowledge; but I fainted not,

What important scene in the Bible is this reminiscent of? Is there a point being made throught this reference?

As I read most of the last section of the poem, I thought David has lost it. One way in which his insanity manifests itself is in the multiplicity of voices at various points in the poem. David seems to be talking to many people while in Saul's presence: himself, Saul, God, and some other unspecified person or persons. Why might this section make one rethink any confusion about the objects of David's speeches and songs, or carry it further?


Victorian Overview R. Browning Leading Questions

Modified 29 September 2003