The Function of Illusion

  • E. Warwick Slinn


It is a main tenet of my approach to Browning that his monologues do not propagate a philosophy, but dramatise a shaping activity, that in particular they formalise the way men use language as a self-reflexive process. Since to dramatise the self is obviously to manipulate an illusion, the poems inevitably raise questions about the fictional dimension of human experience. Whether in terms of the display of a social pose, the emotional necessities of self-deception, the outline of belief or simply the consequences of using language which is metaphoric, illusion is a natural concomitant to the use of a drama metaphor for human existence. At the same time dramatic artifice is itself a reality, and in Browning’s hands the monologue becomes a form which implies a basic epistemological question. A feature of his portrayal of ‘action in character’, for instance, is the ambiguous and usually ironic relationship between the reality which is transformed through the formulations of speech and the reality which is created by the transformation. It is not that this ambiguity renders the speaker’s reality a merely distorting illusion; the speaker’s vision is a truth nonetheless, but it is a histrionic truth, inseparable from its reflexiveness and from the ironies of its construction.


Natural Theology Rhetorical Question Emotional Security Mere Image Natural Concomitant 
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  1. 2.
    Arnold Shapiro, ‘Browning’s psalm of hate: “Caliban Upon Setebos”, Psalm 50, and The Tempest’, Papers on Language and Literature, 8 (1972) pp. 56, 58, 62.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© E. Warwick Slinn 1982

Authors and Affiliations

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

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