Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister
by Robert Browning
Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister Theme of Religion
"Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister" takes place in a cloister, or the central garden of a religious monastery, and the speaker and the other main character, Brother Lawrence, are both monks. So it makes sense that religion should be a major theme. But what makes a good monk, in the mind of the speaker? Is it the little things, the details like how you polish your plate and how you drink your orange juice? Is it strict adherence to the letter of the law? Or does religion require something more than an outward, formal show of piety?
Questions About Religion
- How would you define the speaker's religious priorities? Look especially at Stanza 5.
- What complaints does the speaker make about Brother Lawrence's religious practice?
- Why does the speaker continually compare Brother Lawrence to early Christian heretics (the "Arian" of line 39 and the "Manichee" of line 56)?
- Why does the speaker mix up his prayers at the end of the poem, juxtaposing a line from the Litany to the Virgin ("Ave Virgo") with the second line of the "Hail, Mary" prayer ("Plena gratia")? Based on what you know about his religious views, would you argue that he is mocking religion, or that his rage has confused him? Or do you have another interpretation?
Chew on This
The speaker's religious practice concentrates solely on the formal, visible aspects of monastic life; he obeys the letter, rather than the spirit, of the law.
The speaker's obsession with precise, dogmatic interpretation of monastic law accounts for his repeated references to heretics, whose disregard for accepted doctrine makes them, in his mind, the worst of sinners.