PB Shelly

Prometheus Unbound



Shelley’s unconventional life and uncompromising idealism, combined with his strong disapproving voice, made him an authoritative and much-denigrated figure during his life and afterward. Composing in the context of the French revolution Shelly was repulsed that a whole generation of mankind ought to consign themselves to a hopeless inheritance of ignorance and misery because a nation of men who had been dupes and slaves for centuries were incapable of conducting themselves with the wisdom of freedom so soon as some of their fetters were partially loosened. Shelly revelling in his freedom to write subversive and liberating poetry in a land that was not capable of reading it; dived into homer, Aeschylus and Dante. In his Prometheus, Shelley seeks to create a perfect revolutionary. For the purposes of this paper I wish to concentrate on Act 1.

Introduction of Poem;

In the opening lines Prometheus he occupies a place with no change, no pause and no hope, yet he is certain of the advent of the revolutionary hour yet to come. However it remains unclear, whose name is this future revolution to take place in? The origins of this story took place thousands of years earlier, and it would seem now as of then that Prometheus’s strength lay in his voice. Unlike Aeschylus’s, Shelly’s hero has not acted in defiance but has spoken it. Therefore Prometheus’s voice has ever since been valued as a repository of power. There is an obvious motivation for Shelly to delve back into Greek mythology, as Greece is the home of democracy; Shelly is contemplating the nature of revolution in order to re-call democracy.

Realization of power:

The Prometheus of the first 60 lines suffered for himself, endured personal agony for the sake of personal revenge. The new Prometheus is going out of himself. He is putting himself in the place of another and of many others’ what afflicts him is not a limited, physical anguish but a universal moral perversion. The veil is symbolic, with its tearing aside Prometheus penetrates to the contorted essence of a system where, in the words of the Furies, ‘the wise want love; and those who love want wisdom’, and it is then in this moment that Prometheus realizes his power.

The figure of Prometheus had appealed powerfully to other idealists of the revolutionary age and it is no mere coincidence that Shelly chooses such a figure.


Prometheus wishes to repent and thereby prove the power of his words, to reaffirm his own identity or even to become conscious of his past errors in order to transcend them. Prometheus overcomes his tyrant, Jupiter; Prometheus conquers Jupiter by “recalling” a curse Prometheus had made against Jupiter in a period before the play begins. The word “recall” in this sense means both to remember and to retract, and Prometheus, by forgiving Jupiter, removes Jupiter’s power, which all along seems to have stemmed from his opponents’ anger and will to violence. So what is the significance of ‘recall’ in terms of revolution? If we examine the word itself; it means to remember, revoke or re-utter. Shelly was repulsed by the atrocities of the revolutionaries and the re establishment or re-utterance of successive tyrannies in France. For Shelly the problem with revolution is exactly that, it revolves. In Act one, we are caught in a state of stagnancy awaiting a future promised revolution. The stalemate between Prometheus and Jupiter continued for three thousand years, by which time suffering has taught Prometheus wisdom. He is learning not to hate and even to pity. But his new found sympathy continues to be haunted by the language of revenge.


One is reading a poem about revolution and the transformation of a society by a great poet whose radical social and political views meant that for him Prometheus unbound was a vital subject. It would be wrong to make sense of the poem by alluding chiefly to its chief characters, or by interoperating it only in terms of revolution or of apocalypse in a known historical or philosophical tradition. Shelly by no means conceived himself bound to adhere to the common interpretation, or to imitate the story of his title rivals and predecessors. Such a system would have amounted to mere re-call. Something he is determined to avoid. Prometheus is Shelley’s answer to the mistakes of the French Revolution and its cycle of replacing one tyrant with another. Shelley wished to show how a revolution could be conceived which would avoid doing just that, and in the end of this play, there is no power in charge at all; it is an anarchist’s paradise. For Shelly an inner revolution in Prometheus (or of the society) is required to bring about a transformation of the outer realm.


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