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Fra Leppo Lippo

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Fra Lippo Lippi


Fra Lippo Lippi " is probably one of the " lyrics with more music and painting " mentioned by Robert Browning in a letter to Milsand of February, 1853. In April of the same year, Elizabeth Barrett describes him engaged in " digging at Vasari ", whose Le Vite de' Pittori was probably the main source for the poem and many others about Italian painting.

" Fra Lippo Lippi " has always been one of the best known and most famous poems of Browning, for several reasons. It is arguably a paradigm of dramatic monologue, with a speaker identified in the title, and an interlocutor identified in his social relationship to the speaker.

The poem contains some of Browning's favourite motifs : Renaissance Italy and Italian painters, love, and, above all, the conditions of the artistic creation. " Fra Lippo Lippi " also stages one of the most loquacious characters of Men and Women. An exuberant monk slightly inebriated by the crisp air which " turns / the unaccustomed head like Chianti wine ", Fra Lippo Lippi presents us in nuce his world-view, his aspirations and his frustrations, in a tone of voice ranging from the mocking to the melancholy and from the bragging to the lyrical.

A brief biography

Filippo Lippi (Filippo di Tommaso di Lippo), Florentine painter, was brought up as an unwanted child in the Carmelite friary of the Carmine, where he took his vows in 1421. Unlike the Dominican Fra Angelico, however, Lippi was a reluctant friar and had a scandalous love affair with a nun, Lucrezia Buti, who bore his son Filippino and a daughter Alessandra.

His biography (romantically embroidered to include capture by pirates) is one of the most colourful in Vasari's Lives and has given rise to the picture of a worldly Renaissance artist, rebelling against the discipline of the Church.

Dramatic monologue and explanation

Robert browning is perhaps the greatest master of dramatics in poetry in English literature.

"Fra Lippo Lippi": an oxymoron can be heard between the character's title indicative of his social background (a brother, a member of a religious order), which confers dignity and spirituality, and the following proper name, with bouncing consonants. The paronomasia "Lippo Lippi " sounds like the carefree refrain of a little song. The first six lines are enough to discern what is going on:

I am poor brother Lippo, by your leave!

You need not clasp your torches to my face.

Zoos, what's to blame? You think you see a monk!

What, 'tis past midnight, and you go the rounds,

And here you catch me at an alley's end

Where sportive ladies leave their doors ajar?

"Fra Lippo Lippi" begins spectacularly in medias res, and no anteriority is to be inferred here. The character introduces himself in the first line, and he acknowledges his submission towards his interlocutor with a tinge of obsequiousness (" poor "). But he puts forward his social status (" brother ") and all the information which can allow him to have his life spared by the multiple assailants in arousing the latter's mercy.

The struggle at the outset is shown in the first two lines through the chiasmus of the personal pronouns, along with the vivid phrase "clap to ". The aggressor can quickly be identified by inference (" you go the rounds "): the watch.

The first two lines are in themselves symbolic of the dramatic monologue as a genre.

Within this poem, light will be thrown on a persona's whole set of principles and values. Moreover, theatrically speaking, the violent, glaring light combined with Lippo's fright, is in a way the stage fright of an actor appearing on stage and dazzled by the spotlights in the theatre of cruelty. Indeed, ironically enough, one can note the realistic quality of this incipit, which shows police methods still extant: the suspect is arrested and is made to state his full name and occupation. If necessary, he may be bullied (13) and blinded by a vivid light!

Lippo agrees to confess all the required information at once, which allows Browning to reveal in a nutshell not only the identities of the characters, but also the place and the time of the action: the monk is erring in a red-light district in the small hours of the morning.

After the surprise, Lippo pulls himself together by swearing energetically and railing at the soldiers (7-8). He then gives orders, initiates his own interrogation and deflects the questions that might have been asked by asking "What's to blame? "instead of "Who's to blame? "? He really gets the upper hand when he reveals the name of his patron, having the cheek first of all to pretend that he has forgotten it.

After having derided the soldier who held him, he chooses the head of the watch as his interlocutor: " But you, sir, it concerns you that your knaves [...] ". Then the monk's show begins.


Brother Lippo's monologue is actually a monopolylogue, that is to say a one man show. He impersonates in turn the voices - as well as the faces, we are led to believe - of a series of characters from the convent: a fat monk, the Prior, various other monks amazed at his talent (106, 233, 326), the head of the watch (296-299) and even himself (163-164).

At some points, the limits between the voices are blurred. When Lippo impersonates the Prior, lines 184-185: " it's a fire, smoke... no, it's not... / It's vapour done up like a new-born babe - ", who hesitates about the definition of the soul? Is it the hesitation of an actor who extemporises and endeavours to catch the right tone of his character and in doing so hesitates himself, or does Lippo here demonstrate more powerfully still his skills of impersonation as he succeeds in rendering the wavering tones of the Prior's speech?

Dramatic monologues usually integrate the props and the setting in the speaker's words. Thus in "Fra Lippo Lippi ", we come to know that the place is a narrow, almost closed space: "an alley's end ".

The name of



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