Although Browning is considered a quintessentially Victorian author, many of his poems are set in earlier historical periods or foreign locations, especially Italy, where he spent most of the fifteen years of his marriage. This chapter presents criticism that assesses the implications of Browning’s choices to use historical and geographical distancing. The first section considers historical poems of a particular type: those about biblical characters which engage with a new school of biblical criticism, the so-called Higher Criticism. William O. Raymond’s assertion that Browning completely rejected the methods and findings of Higher Criticism is contrasted with Elinor Shaffer’s demonstration of how Browning accepted the Higher Critics’ contentions but still managed to maintain his belief. The second section focuses on discussions of Browning’s concept of historical poetry. Mary Ellis Gibson defines him as a contextual historian, whereas Morse Peckham and Hilary Fraser consider him as responding to developments in nineteenth-century historiography, relating his historical poetry to different theoretical schools. Like Fraser, Stefan Hawlin discusses the political and religious motives for Browning’s celebration of the Italian Renaissance. Hawlin’s essay links up with the chapter’s other section about Browning’s Italian poems, which give an insight not only into his view of the Italians but also into his conceptualisation of English national identity.
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