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Un-Victorian Tenets of Browning in Karshish

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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



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