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Essay/Term paper: Un-victorian tenets of browning in karshish

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Position Papers

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Browning"s Karshish

Robert Browning"s "An Epistle Containing the Strange Medical Experience of Karshish,

the Arab Physician" is a dramatic monologue in which Karshish writes to Abib about his

experiencing the miracle of Jesus, when he raises Lazarus from the dead. "Karshish" is a dramatic

monologue containing most of the tenets of Browning.

Although "Karshish" is in the form of a letter, it is still an excellent example of a dramatic

monologue. There is a speaker, Karshish, who is not the poet. There is a silent audience, Abib

the reader of the letter. There is a mental exchange between the speaker and the audience:

Karshish writes as if Abib were right in front of him listening to everything. This can be seen in

the hang between "here I end" and "yet stay;" it is as if Abib were getting up to leave (61-2).

There is a distinct critical moment, when Karshish decides to write about his original concern:

"Yet stay. . . I half resolve to tell thee, yet I blush/ What set me off a-writing first of all" (62,

65-6). "Karshish" has all the basics to a dramatic monologue.

It also contains a character study in which the speaker speaks from an extraordinary

perspective. Karshish is a humble doctor from one of the most civilized nations of the time, he

has seen most of the civilized world, and he is still amazed by the miracle that he witnessed. His

amazement after having seen many great things in the world proves to the audience that this event

was indeed spectacular and significant. In the non-Christian world, the most common response is

to doubt and to reject, but because of the conviction of the speaker the audience believe that the

miracle did happen. This contrast between doubt and believe creates the dramatic tension of the

work. Thus, "Karshish" contains the character study and dramatic tension which make the work a

dramatic monologue.

"Karshish" contains many of the tenets of Browning. One of first tenets noticed is the idea

that physical success in this life does not correspond to success in the next. This can be seen in

the peaceful "carelessness" seen in Lazarus after being raised from the dead despite the

knowledge of the Roman troops coming to conquer his people, the Jews. Another obvious tenet

is the belief that feeling is superior to reason:

Browning also shows that power, glory, and pride are insignificant in comparison with love,

because love is for "both old and young, able and weak, affects the very brutes and birds" (227-

9). Another tenet of Browning is the intuitive belief in Christianity and that sufferings are for the

education of the soul. This is present in Karshish in that he suffers much but does expound upon

them because he accepts them as the education of his soul:

I have shed sweat enough, left flesh and bone

on many a flinty furlong of this land.

…Twice have the robbers stripped and beaten me

and once in town declared me for a spy

But at the end, I reach Jerusalem. (24-34)

This also contains the tenet: need of perseverance. This shown in his willingness to undergo all of

these pains for his final goal. Browning portrayed a sense of infinite moment in which life is

measured by the intensity of one"s existence. This is seen in the way that Karshish admires

Lazarus"s composure after being raised from the dead:

Whence has the man the balm that brightens all?

This grown man eyes the world now like a child. (116-7)

Despite how Karshish is "curious in God"s handiwork," truth is difficult to obtain because of its

elusive nature. Truth"s elusiveness is seen in Karshish"s inability to determine scientifically what

happened in the miracle brought about by Jesus. In turn, Karshish"s inability causes him


"Tis but a case of mania—subinduced

by epilepsy, at the turning-point

of trance prolonged unduly some three days:

When, by the exhibition of some drug

Or spell, excorization, stroke of art

Unknown to me and which "twere well to know,

The evil thing out-breaking all at once. (79-84)

Many of Browning"s poems create a sense of obscurity. This sense is caused and

developed through many methods. One such method is using allusions which require vast

knowledge to recognize: "Also, the country-side is all on fire with rumors of a marching

hitherward: Some say Vespasian cometh, some his son" (26-8). Abrupt transitions are also used

to create obscurity: in lines 24-34, Karshish jumps from his sufferings to rumors of war to his

sufferings which are totally unrelated ideas because he will not be involved in the war. Obscurity

is also established by attempting to reflect the movement of the mind through abnormally involved

or elliptical syntax. One such example:

The reason why—""tis but a word," object—

"A gesture"—he regards the as our lord. (166-7)

Obscurity is created in Browning"s poetry using allusions, abrupt transitions, and abnormal

involved syntax.

Another tenet of Browning is to have a colloquial, discordant, dramatic style. Browning

creates this style using several techniques. On such technique is prolepsis, or the anticipation of

the audience"s thoughts by the speaker: ""such cases are diurnal," thou wilt cry" (102).

Browning also uses aposipesis when Karshish keeps wanting to talk about Lazarus but stopping

short, because he unsure of its reality. "Karshish" also contains enjambment and shifting caesurae

throughout the work. Browning constantly uses parenthetical qualifiers such as "(in fact they

barried him)" (98).



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