Prometheus Unbound: A Lyrical Drama in Four Acts (Paperback)
|Author: Percy Bysshe Shelley|
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Shelley, the eldest of six children in an aristocratic family, was a rebel all his life. He studied Latin and Greek at Eton, and was mercilessly bullied for his tall, delicate frame and indifference to athletics, becoming cruelly aware of injustice, which he pledged his life to fighting. After six months at Oxford, he collaborated with a friend on a pamphlet justifying atheism and was promptly expelled. In London, he met 16-year-old Harriet Westbrook, who he decided needed to be liberated from her tyrannical father; the two eloped, traveling around Europe on the small allowance they grudgingly received from their appalled families. (At one point Shelley, registering at a Mont Blanc hotel, gave his occupation as "Democrat and Atheist" and his destination as "L'Enfer.") In 1812 he worked on behalf of the oppressed Catholics in Dublin and, back in London, came under the influence of the radical William Godwin. He fell in love with her daughter Mary, and fled to France with her--this time alienating most of his friends, including Mary's liberal father. When Harriet drowned herself shortly thereafter, he was denied custody of their two children. He and Mary moved to Italy, for part of the time in Pisa with a group of friends that included Byron--an intensely productive period for all. It was there that two of their three children died in infancy--scars that permanently damaged the Shelleys and their marriage. Despite the chaos of his personal life, however, Shelley wrote his best poetry in Italy, including "Prometheus Unbound" and his great odes. In 1821, Shelley wrote "Adonais", on the death of Keats, as well as his classic essay, "A Defence of Poetry". Shelley drowned in July, 1822 when his boat was swamped in a storm in the Gulf of Spezia. A year before his death, in the last prophetic verse of "Adonais", he wrote: "...my spirit's bark is driven,/Far from the shore, far from the trembling throng.../I am borne darkly, fearfully afar..." In his 30 years, Shelley lived a life of personal turmoil and artistic brilliance, and he was venerated for his warm heart and his insistence on living his principles. As Byron wrote after Shelley's death, "[He was] the best and least selfish man I ever knew. I never knew one who was not a beast in comparison."