Prometheus Unbound

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A lyrical drama in four acts by P. B. Shelley, published 1820.

A work that orchestrates all Shelley's aspirations, and contradictions, as a poet and radical, it is partly mythical drama (or ‘psychodrama’) and partly political allegory. Shelley began with the idea of completing the Aeschylean story of Prometheus the firebringer and champion of mankind, who is bound to his rock for all eternity by a jealous Jupiter. He combined this with his view of Satan as the hero of Paradise Lost, and of God as the Oppressor. He presents a Prometheus–Lucifer figure of moral perfection and ‘truest motives’, who is liberated by ‘alternative’ and benign forces in the universe and triumphs over Tyranny in the name of all mankind. The work is executed in a bewildering variety of verse forms, some more successful than others: rhetorical soliloquies, dramatic dialogues, love‐songs, dream visions, lyric choruses, and prophecies.

The sexual, scientific, and political symbolism of the drama have been variously interpreted: but the concept of liberation is central. Act II sc. iv in which Asia (the Spirit of Love) confronts and questions Demogorgon (Fate, Historical Necessity, or perhaps ‘the People‐Monster’) must count among Shelley's poetic masterpieces. The work has an important Preface on the role of poetry in reforming society, which links with the Defence of Poetry.

Subjects: Literature.

Reference entries

Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792—1822) poet

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