Histrionic Action in The Ring and the Book

  • E. Warwick Slinn


The histrionic action in psychological experience which recurs in Browning’s monologues means that the qualities of aesthetic illusion in his poetry do not merely provide an analogy or model for life, but are also characteristic of its nature. Browning consequently has shifted the focus for the drama metaphor that ‘all the world’s a stage’ from external behaviour into internal psychological action. Nowhere is this more clear than in The Ring and the Book where we are confronted with an image of society based on the juxtaposed subjectivities of its members rather than a series of interrelated events which merge into a unified whole. Such a shift represents a seriously altered view of human experience. Whereas the image of the world as stage tends to emphasise the individual’s part in some larger plot, his action as a contribution to some externally conceived design, in The Ring and the Book the unifying story of external events is made so obvious as to be virtually superfluous, and what is emphasised is the individual’s powers of conception, his ability to retell the story according to need and predilection.


Histrionic Action Authentic Identity Moral Conflict Moral Challenge Social Determinism 
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  1. 2.
    J. Hillis Miller, The Form of Victorian Fiction (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1968), pp. 2, 5.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    Charles Edwin Nelson, ‘Role-playing in The Ring and the Book’, Victorian Poetry; 4 (1966) 94.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    Mary Rose Sullivan, Browning’s Voices in ‘The Ring and the Book’ (University of Toronto Press, 1969) p. 206n.Google Scholar
  4. 6.
    See, e.g., Robert Langbaum, ‘Browning and the question of myth’, in The Modern Spirit (New York: Oxford University Press, 1970).Google Scholar
  5. 7.
    For the poet’s acknowledgements of his own subjectivity, see also Morse Peckham, ‘Historiography and The Ring and the Book’, Victorian Poetry, 6 (1968) 243–57.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© E. Warwick Slinn 1982

Authors and Affiliations

  • E. Warwick Slinn
    • 1
  1. 1.Massey UniversityNew Zealand

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