Percy Bysshe Shelley: vengeance as a vehicle for presenting his moral principles

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

More than any other English Romantic poet, with the possible exception of Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley has been attacked by critics who argue that in both his personal life and in his poetry and prose writings, he was immoral. Regardless of what may be said against Shelley's personal life, as a writer he is profoundly moralistic in almost all of his literary works. This thesis shows, using several of his longer poetic works, selected religious and philosophical essays, and various letters, that Shelley deliberately used the theme of vengeance against tyrannical oppression as an agent for presenting his moral principles.

The first chapter introduces Shelley's didactic moral code concerning revenge against tyrannical despotism as revealed in certain philosophical and religious essays, Prometheus Unbound, The Cenci, and The Mask of Anarchy. Chapter II examines the following three philosophical and religious essays by Shelley which illustrate his moral concept of vengeance as this concept relates to tyrannical oppression: "Essay on Christianity," An Address to the Irish People, and A Philosophical View of Reform. The third chapter discusses the moral precepts involved in Prometheus Unbound as they relate to revenge and despotic domination. Chapter IV explains how Shelley, even though sympathizing with Beatrice Cenci, criticized her for not persevering in love, forgiveness, and forbearance as she avenged the incestuous assault committed against her by her tyrannical father. Chapter V explores the moral principles found in The Mask of Anarchy as they relate to revenge and tyrannical oppression. The conclusion reemphasizes Shelley's use of vengeance against tyrannical oppression as a means of presenting his moral principles.

Shelley, Percy Bysshe