Prometheus Unbound: A Romantic Rewriting of a Classical Myth/PROMETHEUS UNBOUND: UNE REECRITURE ROMANTIQUE D'UN MYTHE CLASSIQUE

Article excerpt

Abstract

This paper examines Shelley's merit in recreating a wellknown myth, which is adapted to fit his philosophical and Romantic outlook. Inspired by the French Revolution, the revolutionary fervor of Shelley's age should determine the interpretation of Prometheus Unbound as an advocacy of rebellion against all forms of tyrannical authority enslaving humans' souls and minds and limiting their imagination and potential. In dramatizing Prometheus's suffering and moral regeneration, Shelley suggests that rebellion is first and foremost an internal act, in which an individual must take the full responsibility of reforming the self by rejecting submission to all forms of evil. In other words, Shelley seems to stress the autonomy of the individual's will and its power in changing society. The ending of the play expresses Shelley's apocalyptic vision of the world yet his belief in the promise of a new order initiated by man.

Key Words: Shelley; Prometheus Unbound; Romanticism; Myth; Drama; Criticism

Résumé

Cet article examine le mérite de Shelley à recréer un mythe bien connu, qui est conçu pour s'adapter son point de vue philosophique et romantique. Inspiré par la Révolution française, la ferveur révolutionnaire de l'âge de Shelley doit déterminer l'interprétation de Prometheus Unbound comme un plaidoyer de rébellion contre toutes les formes de l'autorité tyrannique asservissement âmes des humains et les esprits et de limiter leur imagination et leur potentiel. En dramatisant les souffrances de Prométhée et de la régénération morale, Shelley suggère que la rébellion est d'abord et avant tout un acte interne, dans laquelle une personne doit prendre l'entière responsabilité de la réforme de l'auto en rejetant la soumission à toutes les formes du mal. En d'autres termes, Shelley semble souligner l'autonomie de la volonté de l'individu et son pouvoir de changer la société. La fin de la pièce exprime la vision apocalyptique de Shelley du monde encore sa croyance en la promesse d'un nouvel ordre lancé par l'homme.

Mots clés: Shelley; Prometheus Unbound; Le romantisme; Mythe; Drame; Critique

The advent of the French Revolution, with its ideals of liberty, is considered a milestone in the history of Romantic English literature. The faith in the possibility of change which the revolution promised marks much of the Romantic poetry. Therefore, the impulse to challenge long-established hierarchies, validated by authority and maintained by custom, is exhibited in a great number of Romantic poems. Percy Bysshe Shelley, who belongs to the younger generation of Romantic English poets, espouses the necessity of freeing Man from the darkness of inherited beliefs and values. Prometheus Unbound (1820) is an exemplary work of Shelley's deep conviction that moral regeneration is a form of revolt and an agent of social and political change.

Shelley chose Aeschylus's Prometheus Bound as a framework for his lyrical drama, in which he managed to rewrite creatively a well-known Greek myth by investing it with the Romantic fervor of his age. In the classical myth, Prometheus is chained to a rock and an eagle repeatedly tears at his ever-growing liver, a punishment imposed by Zeus on Prometheus for stealing fire and arts from gods and giving them to man. In the "Preface" to the play, Shelley justifies his imitation of Aeschylus as follows:

Poetry is a mimetic art. It creates, but it creates by combination and representation. Poetical abstractions are beautiful and new... because the whole produced by their combination has some intelligible and beautiful analogy with those sourees of emotion and thought and with the contemporary condition of them. (p.777)

Shelley's adherence to the principle of imagination in writing poetry is greatly manifest in this passage. It is wrong to say that Shelley intends poetry to be a mere reproduction of previous great works; by contrast, he contends that poetry is a recreation of old patterns, symbols and themes which are given new significance if they are creatively combined and re-presented in new works of art. …