First Published 1845, in Dramatic Romances and Lyrics.

The Bishop Orders His Tomb at St. Praxed’s Church, poem considered to be the first blank verse dramatic monologue in English, by Robert Browning, published in the collection Dramatic Romances and Lyrics (1845). The poem is a character study of a powerful, worldly prince of the Roman Catholic Church at the time of the Renaissance. The dying bishop is surrounded by his “nephews,” who are really his illegitimate sons. The prelate asks especially that his funeral be more elaborate than that of his rival in life and love, Fra Gandolf.

Ideas about the poetry:

- The blank verse of the poem is used to reflect speech - the speaker, a Bishop, is dying and therefore his speech often is repetitive, unstructured and rambling.
-Browning, at this stage in his life, was not religious and therefore parodies, or attacks, the Catholic Church and a Religious figure. Later on in his life, Browning became more understanding of faith and we see a greater reflection in his work.
-The speaker has committed many sins (despite his holy appearance); he has stolen items from the Church and buried them, he has fathered illegitimate sons (whom he calls his nephews) and he is more concerned about the material wealth of his tomb than his natural reward of Heaven. - Throughout we are left to question the moral hypocrisy of the speaker. - The speaker is only concerned with beating his rival in life and love, Gandalf. - The irony of the poem is that the speaker, whilst concerned about his material possessions, will ultimately never live to see his tomb - this is something he comes to realise and adds to his rambling speech. - Browning is experimenting with poetic form and structure - something we see less of in his later works.

A useful site:

George Monteiro has pointed out, "in ordering his tomb -- and the entire poem is organized around this piece of business -- the Bishop in effect parodies the Lord's command to Moses to build him a sanctuary: "According to all that I show thee, after the pattern of the tabernacle" (Exodus xxv.9)"

Iambic Pentameter but how regular? It starts off-kilter!

Mosaic of Pope Paschal I (possible inspiration for the Bishop in the poem)

Interior of Basillica of St. Praxedes, in Rome.