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The Art of William Wordsworth’s Dramatic Poetics

YAO, SHENG (2024) The Art of William Wordsworth’s Dramatic Poetics. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

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Author-imposed embargo until 03 June 2027.


Taking Robert Langbaum’s assessment of William Wordsworth’s poetics for its critical point of departure, this thesis discusses Wordsworth’s dramatic poetics and its artistry from the lyrical interior to the dramatic exterior. When handling the question of Wordsworth’s experimentations with dramatic poetics, there is a tendency for critics to jump directly from the dramatic poetic voices in Lyrical Ballads to The Excursion, and overlook the interaction of the dramatic and the lyric elements already embedded within Wordsworth’s only verse-play, The Borderers. This thesis investigates those poets who engaged in, often failed, dramatic experimentation in early careers, but continue to engage in the art of dramatization in their later poetic achievements. I place Wordsworth alongside Joanna Baillie and Robert Browning to explore his works as enacting what has been critically constructed as a kind of fruitful Romantic ‘failure’, as exemplified in his transition from drama to poetry.

Through close readings combined with attention to contextual matters, chapter 1 starts with the dramatization of passions in Joanna Baillie’s and Wordsworth’s eloquent prefaces and other related paratextual materials. The theatrical effects of the owl’s hooting in both poets’ development of dramatic characterisation suggest an ambition to establish a new taste. Chapter 2 argues there is still much unsaid about the word ‘transition’ as a dramatic technique both in Wordsworth’s play, The Borderers, and, more generally, in his poetry. Three kinds of dramatic transitions come to the fore: the faltering transition in The Borderers, a quick transition in Book X of The Prelude, and a more tender and sacred transition in The White Doe of Rylstone. Since The Prelude sets many crucial episodes of the poet’s life not in daytime, but at night-time, chapter 3 explores a visual effect called ‘chiaroscuro of nature’ in The Prelude. The empowering spatiality of chiaroscuro can express something far more than the mere opposition between light and shade – more can be seen when a poet sees less. Chapter 4 focuses on the more unexpected dramatic ventriloquism that appears in Lyrical Ballads. Wordsworth’s ventriloquistic throwing off of the poet-narrator’s voice opens a series of interactions between self-consciousness and empathy, between the second self and the no self-state, which goes beyond Coleridge’s negative gauge of Wordsworth’s ventriloquistic tendencies. Chapter 5 addresses the curious phrase ‘dramatic propriety’ in The Excursion. Through the ‘mind’s excursive power’, the frequently evoked sense of ‘pageantry’ in Home at Grasmere creates an emblem of how to commune with nature’s ‘inarticulate language’. The Coda explores the dramatic legacies of Wordsworthian pageant and voice in Robert Browning’s original play, Pippa Passes (1841), in anticipation of his later dramatic monologues.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:William Wordsworth, Romantic Poetry, Closet Drama, Joanna Baillie,Dramatic Monologue, Robert Browning, Influence
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Arts and Humanities > English Studies, Department of
Thesis Date:2024
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:04 Jun 2024 12:50

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