One of the main characteristic attitudes of the Romanticism period is the use of emotion over reason in daily life. This is in part because of the extreme opposition that the people of this time period had to the Enlightenment attitudes. The writers of the Enlightenment believed that all knowledge was attainable through human reason. There are two works from this era that are excellent example of the use of emotion instead of reason. When examining Ulysses and My Last Duchess it can be seen that they are major illustrations on how a character would let emotion overturn reason in daily life.
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In Browning’s My Last Duchess the protagonist is telling the story of the last Duchess that he had, while admiring his painting of her. At first he seems to be commemorating her memory by telling the story of his last wife, but as the story progresses he reveals the truth about why she is in a painting and not standing beside him. He says: “I gave commands;/ Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands/ As if alive”. This is the major turning point in the story when it is revealed what happened to the too happy Duchess. He has had her sent away or probably had killed indicated when he says that she is alive through the painting. He has abandoned all reason by having her killed, and let emotion completely take over his decisions. Also the reason that he gives his “commands” for the Duchess is absolutely emotional without regarding reason at all. Earlier in his monologue he said,
A heart-how shall I say? too soon made glad,
To easily impressed; she liked whate’er
She looked on, and her looks went everywhere.
This is based purely on emotional thinking that she should value him more than everyone else. Being an easily pleased and an overall happy person is not a bad thing and should not make someone so jealous as to end a life. The protagonist does not have a rational or reasonable thought throughout the entire dramatic monologue. Even in the start of his speech he refers to the painting of his Duchess as, “if she were alive”. Looking upon the painting should not make him feel the same as standing beside her in person, yet his emotions make him feel as if they equal. If he could have used reason over his emotions he would see that none of his decisions were rational.
Tennyson does a great job of revealing true romantic attitude characteristics in Ulysses. The story is basically a time line of Ulysses’ life as told by him. He describes himself as “an idle king”. This is the idea that since his life was filled with such adventure and voyages he is not content with being bored while being a king. That should be a refreshing feeling that the kingdom that you have been in charge of is doing so well and not engaged in war that you have time to be bored. Rationally that should be a pleasant feeling to a king, but Ulysses lets his personal emotions of yearning for more excitement get into the way of his role in society.
Ulysses is cursed because his is never satisfied with what he was doing or where he was. He was not happy if he was not traveling or fighting, “For always roaming with a hungry heart”. This means he could never fuel his need to be doing something besides what he was doing. If you can never be happy where you are, rationally, it could be assumed that you will never be happy, but that was one of the key characteristics of Romanticism. He would be considered a true hero, because he left everything in pursuit of happiness. Emotions lead him to believe that he would be happy always pursuing happiness.
Ulysses put his own emotions in front of his son’s. In the middle of his monologue he blurts out, “This is my son, mine own Telemachus,/ To whom I leave the scepter and the isle”. He did not care about Telemachus’ feelings about running a kingdom or if he was even capable of handling the task. He is leaving out on his own quests and just telling everyone that his son will be a better ruler. He actually has no idea how his son will do, or probably does not care, because that would conflict with his feelings about the chase of his travels. He then says that he loves his Ithaca, well rationally if you loved some place enough you would not be bored and leave off in search of something that will complete him.
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One of the major topics of reasoning and emotionally evaluating a situation is death. To a reasonable person death is equal for everyone. In at least the idea that everyone is on longer alive and they are buried in the same dirt even if they were a king or peasant during their life. In Ulysses’ dramatic monologue he says,
Old age hath yet his honor and his toil;
Death closes all. But something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done.
He contradicts reason here. If he knows death closes all and is an end to life, then why would it matter if there is noble work left to be done? He thinks that it is noble work because of the emotions he attaches to the work, but in reality he is abandoning his social roles in the search for self-assertion and to break the conformity of doing what is socially acceptable. This is because what was socially acceptable at this time was using reason to make decsions.
The Romanticism era had many attitude characteristics that were directly opposite to the Enlightenment period. The romantics believed that using emotion over reason was the more valiant choice. They presented this idea throughout the period in many of the works of the time. The Last Duchess and Ulysses both have great example of the characters using their emotions to dictate important situations and emotion was always triumphant over reason.
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