Un-Victorian Tenets Of Browning In Karshish

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
frustration:
‘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