Byron's Plays: An interpretative study
This dissertation examines the eight dramas which Lord Byron wrote in Italy, to evaluate this motives in writing plays, and to trace his views on various fields. The plays are discussed individually in some detail. The Introductory Chapter indicates the status of the theatre in Byron's time, and distinguished "poetic" dramas from plays written with a view to the stage. Byron's idea of a "mental theatre" is indicated, together with his involvement in the production of dramas as a member of the Drury Lane Management Committee. Chapter Two: Manfred, Byron's first play, written in 1817, is seen as a development from Gothic drama; a closer examination suggests Byron described the world in dualistic terms. The eponymous protagonist defies the claims of the "evil Principle in propria persona." Promethean aspects of the hero are indicated, and auto-biographical elements in the play are considered. Chapter Three: Marino Faliero is seen as a "political" drama, in which the tragic protagonist identifies the State as the oppressor of individual rights. The Doge Faliero's "traditional" code of ethics is opposed by a revolutionist ethic which he adopts in order to crush the State. Byron suggests the Doge is used by both the State and his revolutionary allies as a figurehead; the Doge's character is investigated, and Byron's involvement in political affairs is briefly examined to show any political motive in his writing the play. Chapter Four: Sardanapalus explores the idea of a humane ruler condemned by his subjects as too "soft," and deposed by traditional elements in the army and state religion. Byron's skeptical and "liberal" views are indicated. Chapter Five: The Two Foscari shows the "suppressed passions" operating against a political current. Byron is seen to question assumptions concerning "duty" and patriotism, along lines explored in the two preceding neoclassical plays. Chapter Six: Cain. Byron's most controversial play is seen as an attempt to define man's relationships to God and nature. Byron takes up earlier suggestions in his plays of a dualist view of the universe, and expatiates on his sceptic views. A notion of the mind's self-sufficiency, outlined in Manfred, is further developed. Chapter Seven: Heaven and Earth provides further definition of man's place in an ostensibly hostile universe. Japhet, the "hero" of the drama, is confounded by the apparent indiscriminateness of God's punishment of man in the Flood. The notion of plural worlds, suggested in earlier works, and particularly in Cain is again utilised. Chapter Eight: Werner. In Byron's most "theatrical" work, an inheritance of guilt is reviewed to suggest the notion of a "damned world." Byron's deliberate melodramatic structuring of Werner, and his concern with psychological investigation of notive are examined. Chapter Nine: The Deformed Transformed. Byron's last, unfinished, play provides a recapitulation of themes of the earlier plays and looks forward to the style and concerns of Don Juan. Byron is most "inventive" and unrestrained in this drama that abrogates all the classical unities and appears to work toward an endorsement of the idea of salvation by act of will. The concluding chapter relates Byron's view of the universe that emerges form the dramas considered separately and together. The particular aims of each play, and the stylistic features of each, which defy general statements about an overall ambition, are recapitulated. Byron's reasons for choosing dramatic form are briefly sketched in light of the investigation of individual works. His concern to experiment, and to avoid prescription, is seen as indicating a possible mode of operation for a revival of the English drama in the Romantic era.