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TENNYSON'S CLASSICAL DRAMATIC MONOLOGUES AND THE APPROXIMATION OF GREEK AND LATIN POETRY A. A. MARKLEY Penn State University, Delaware County Alfred, Lord Tennyson's exceptionaUy rich background in die study of die classical languages and literatures provided him witii a rich source of thematic material for his poetry throughout his long career. From his earliest published poems in die late 1820s, to the title poems of his final two coUections, "Demeter and Persephone" and "The Death of Œnone," Tennyson consistently returned to the classical dramatic monologue — a monologue with a speaker from classical antiquity or mythology. It is clear that Tennyson's unusuaUy thorough knowledge of classical poetry strongly affected die development of his style as he trained himself as a poet in the 1820s and 30s. At times, Tennyson attempted to compose EngUsh poems in actual meters used by the ancient Greek and Roman poets; but more often, he experimented with the idea of approximating the aesthetic beauty of classical verse in his own poetry in an attempt not merely to imitate, but to produce EngUsh poetry of die same caUber as die Greek and Latin poetry he so admired. In composing his classical dramatic monologues, Tennyson continuaUy returned to a particular experiment to approximate in EngUsh verse the experience of reading classical poetry in die original languages. Over die years, he perfected two methods of heightening the sense of familiarity tiiat a classically educated reader would experience in reading his classical monologues. First, he attempted to provide the speaker of each monologue with an idiom appropriate to his or her context in die world of classical myth or history, chiefly by incorporating his own adaptations of classical phrasing and his own translations of actual passages of Greek and Latin poetry into the texture of his verses. Secondly, he learned to use mythological aUusion in die manner tiiat many ancient poets did — weaving together a subtle but highly complex system of interrelated aUusions to a variety of Greek Victorian Review 25.1 (Summer 1999) 36Victorian Review myths in order to underscore die experience of his speaker. This article will explore these two methods of approximating Greek and Latin poetry, with a particular focus on two of Tennyson's finest, yet infrequently discussed monologues, "Œnone" and "Tiresias." In two of his earliest dramatic monologues, "Antony to Cleopatra" and "Mithridates Presenting Berenice with the Cup of Poison," both of which were published in die Poems By Two Brothers volume of 1827, Tennyson chose to work witii highly dramatic moments in classical history. In these early experiments, the poet seems to have been concerned chiefly witii the dramatic monologue's great potential for irony. Tennyson's Antony, for example, bids a sorrowful fareweU to his lover Cleopatra at Actium, just after he realizes they are defeated. As he does so, however, he takes the opportunity to remind her of die sacrifices he has made for their relationship, and subtly demands Cleopatra's continued devotion to him. Similarly, at the brink of his defeat by Pompey, Mithridates insists tiiat his lover Berenice follow him to the grave by drinking poison. Readers familiar witii classical history, however, would recaU that Mithridates managed to survive this defeat; and, according to legend, that he had made himself immune to poison by means of a homeopathic diet These two poems illustrate Tennyson's first experiments witii adapting a few famiUar classical phrases into his own verse. Antony, for example, tells Cleopatra that "I sought I saw, I heard but thee" (Une 29), ironically echoing her former lover's famous "I came, I saw, I conquered."1 Similarly, Mithridates proclaims to Berenice, "FiU high die bowl! die draught is thine!" (33), echoing several of Horace's caUs for wine in such of his carpe diem odes as Odes 1.9 and 1.1 1, poems witii which Tennyson was intimately familiar from childhood. WhUe they do indicate what were perhaps Tennyson's first attempts to develop a classical idiom for his speakers, these early poems do not represent a sustained effort in that regard. Tennyson's first great success in sustaining this project throughout a dramatic monologue came with the publication of "(Œnone" in his 1832 Poems...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 35-49
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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