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00231--Examine 'Ulysses' as a dramatic monologue.[Alfred Lord Tennyson] [English Literature free notes]




            The character of Ulysses is vividly revealed through his words addressed to his mariners exhorting them to prepare for a final, desperate voyage.  The first five lines give us an insight into Ulysses' character by telling us what he despises.  His scorn for his people and his contempt for his wife are revealed both in words and in the very tone.  He calls his country 'barren crags' and his wife 'aged' and his people 'a savage race'.  He is disgusted with the animal-like existence of his people and loaths to remain there.  He instead longs for a life of adventure and new experiences.  He reveals himself a hard, self-contained individual, scornful of his people and a stranger to softer affections.  The next twenty seven lines serve the same purpose by telling us of his enthusiasms.  He yearns for a life of adventure.  He passionately longs for newer experiences and knowledge.  He wants to 'drink life to the lees' before death intervenes.  He has seen different countries, people and governments and have absorbed in himself all he has seen.  The more the experiences, the more he thirsts for them.  He wants to devote every hour saved from death for fresh experiences.  We find him rhetorical and a little proud of himself.
            The dramatic monologue also reveals the character of Telemachus, Ulysses' son.  Ulysses speaks of his son in glowing terms.  He is prudent and without blemish.  He knows how to civilize the 'rugged people' by slow prudence.  He is efficient and more fitted than his father to perform common duties.  He has tenderness and is fond of worshiping his household gods.  But we cannot ignore the underlying irony.  Ulysses in fact praises Telemachus for the very same qualities he himself despises in the first part of the poem.
            We also get a glimpse of the nature of his comrades.  He has full of love and admiration for his old mariners.  They have shared joys sorrows with him readily.  They have fought with him valiantly.  They have given him implicit obedience.  True, they have all become old.  But they still have the heroic spirit in them.  He, therefore, exhorts them to accompany him in his last voyage to the unknown.  There is no certainty as to what is in store for them,  perhaps they may all drown in the seas.   Perhaps they may be able to meet their departed leader Achilles in Elysium.    At any rate, it is the seeking that matters.  The poem ends with the exalted lines that though they are made weak by time and fate, still they have the will and determination "to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield."
  
Ulysses also talks of the setting vividly.  He gives a beautiful picture of darkness falling on the waters of the sea.  The long day comes to a close and the moon climbs slowly.  The sea is getting dark and it makes manful sounds.  It is against this melancholy twilight that Ulysses appropriately sets out his last, desperate voyage.


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