« PreviousContinue »
ception--Manfred as the type and representative of one part of the spirit of Byron's age. Jeffrey, the earliest of the critics of • Manfred,' was quite right when he said that “it is Manfred only that we are required to fear, to pity, to admire. If we can once conceive of him as a real existence and enter into the depth and the height of his pride and his sorrows, we may deal as we please with the means that have been used to furnish us with this impression, or to enable us to attain to this conception. We may regard them but as types, or metaphors, or allegories; but he is the thing to be expressed, and the feeling and the intellect, of which all these are but shadows.” Jeffrey, too, is right in his interpretation of the author's design (and Byron approved of Jeffrey's criticism): “If we were to consider it as a proper drama, or even as a finished poem, we should be obliged to add that it is far too indistinct and unsatisfactory. But this we take to be according to the design and conception of the author. He contemplated but a dim and magnificent sketch of a subject which did not admit of more accurate drawing or more brilliant colouring. Its obscurity is a part of its grandeur; and the darkness that rests upon it, and the smoky distance in which it is lost, are all devices to increase its majesty, to stimulate our curiosity, and to impress us with deeper awe.”
Manfred is not Byron, except in the sense that Hamlet is Shakspere. There is much of Byron's mind in Manfred; more of that subtle and indefinable quality, his genius; very little indeed of the outward things of Byron's life.
In addition to Æschylus' • Prometheus,' to Marlowe's · Faustus,' and to Goethe's • Faust,’ Shelley's 'Prometheus Unbound' may be studied to advantage in connection with Manfred.'* It is likely also that Byron had Milton's Satan in mind while compos.. ing this drama.
What are the qualities of Byron's blank verse in Manfred ? Does the verse generally lack continuity of thought and of rhythmical flow? Where are the prevailing pauses ?
What substitutions and inversions are most frequently used ? Does it lack in resonance and richness of tone-color? Is it better in dialogue or in
*0. Lohmann an article on ‘Manfred'in ‘Anglia,' V, 291) suggests for further comparison, as a type of revolt, Molière's ‘Don Juan.'
soliloquies and descriptive passages ? Is the poet more successful in rhymed passages ? Where is rhyme used ? Has Byron's verse the merit of being a transparent instrument, so that the poetic idea and emotion are transmitted without intercepting the attention in the process ?
What stylistic devices are prominent in this poem? Is metaphor or is simile more frequent ? Do the tropes used rather present pictures or express energy and passion? What devices of repetition are used and what is the effect? (See, e.g., I, ii, 1–3; II, iv, 136, 143-149.) Is the poet's use of personification vivid and effective? Byron's use of poetical epithet (qualifying adjectives) throughout Manfred' should be studied, noting the peculiar effect and appropriateness of each epithet in its place. See, e.g., “the answer'd owls”; • cloud-cleaving minister"; " serpent smile"; "shut soul”; “clankless chain”; “liberal air"; tering herd”; “toppling crags”; “salt-surf weeds of bitterness”; “difficult air” (of mountains); “crackling skies”; “hush'd boughs"; "snow-shining mountains"; "angry clouds." But does Byron habitually make much use of adjectives? If not, what is it that chiefly gives his style its poetical quality?
163 : The Motto, from “Hamlet' I, v, put in connection with Byron's “ dramatic poem,” apparently is intended to suggest (but merely to suggest) several ideas : (1) the justification of the use of the supernatural in "Manfred;' (2) that the poem is philosophical, with a difference,-or at least that it is symbolic; (3) and so a poetic-dramatic vindication of Byron's peculiar personal philosophy, rather than that of any accepted creeds (or Horatio's); and (4) that the hero's state of soul is perhaps fundamentally that of Hamlet; whereupon we are at liberty to recall by way of explanation other key-notes in Hamlet' which are echoed in • Manfred,' as, for example :
“ But I have that within which passeth show." and,
“ How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable
Seem to me all the uses of this world!." and,
“ To be, or not to be: that is the question." But note the essential difference (doubtless both temperamental
and designed) between Byron's ideal of resolution and defiance in Manfred and Hamlet's will-lessness.
PLACE OF THE ACTION : Manfred's castle is imagined as situated among the Swiss Alps within sight of the Eiger (cf. III, iii, 37). Other scenes are in the vicinity, in the Bernese Oberland, or near the Jungfrau.
THE TIME is nowhere definitely indicated, although all the accessories mark it out as being in the Mediæval period.
THE NAME “MANFRED' Byron may have taken from Italian literature. There have been three Italian poets named Manfredi. Possibly he may have had in mind the Manfredi mentioned in canto III of Dante's 'Purgatorio,'-a son of the Emperor Frederick II, born 1231. It is more probable, however, that the name was suggested to him from Walpole's Castle of Otranto,' whose chief character bears this name.
ACT I, SCENE I 168: The Scene : a Gothic Gallery. Similarly in Goethe's • Faust' the opening scene is in a “Gothic Room.” So, in a letter to Moore, June, 1820, Byron admits that “the first scene ... and that of [Goethe's] Faustus are very similar.” The first scene introduces us to Manfred's peculiar outlook on the world; varied with the “ business” of the supernatural element, and elaborate lyrical passages in the incantations of the spirits; indicating to us finally Manfred's quest, self-forgetfulness, with a first hint of the mysterious Astarte. Here, as throughout, however, the important thing in the poetic intention of the composition is not the story but what the Germans call the Stimmung or mood of the piece.
168: 5. For the idea, compare the opening lines of “The Dream' (above, p. 213): “Sleep hath its own world,” etc.
169: 10. On this passage Keats, in a letter to Reynolds (May 3, 1818), comments (slightly misquoting) :
“ Byron says, “Knowledge is sorrow'; and I go on to say that Sorrow is wisdom '; and further, for aught we know for certainty, Wisdom is folly.'” The phrase quoted by Keats is more nearly given by Byron in Act II, sc. iv, l. 61. 169: 12.
Genesis' ii, 9 : 66 And out of the ground made the Lord God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food ; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.”
The line suggests the gist of the Faust-motive (Marlowe, Goethe, Byron).
169 : 13-15 suggest at once, and were perhaps suggested by, the opening lines of Goethe's · Faust.'
“ Habe nun, ach! Philosophie,
Juristerei und Medezin,
The more general conceptions of philosophy and scierce Byron had “essayed ”; the “springs of wonder,”—the imagination-in travel and in poetry he knew; and his life had brought him sufficiently in contact with the wisdom of the world,” such as it is. So far Manfred is Byron. Other touches are simply invented to give variety to the figure.
169: 24. that all-nameless hour. A vague phrase, given out to heighten the sense of mystery and gloom which Byron likes to impart to Manfred as to most of his other heroes. Where later in the poem is that “hour” perhaps again referred to ? See note to II, iv, 83, below.
169: 33. mountains inaccessible. The collocation of long words and the resultant rhythm of the line reinforces the sense. Read as prose there are only three strong stresses in the line. Read as verse the two secondary stresses in inaccessible' are given greater force than in prose, and the syllables on which they fall consequently have a greater metrical or time value : five feet are thus plainly felt in the line. Does Byron often introduce long words into his verse ? What English poets not infrequently do so ?
169 : 35. written charm. The sorcerer made use of various forms of written charms, sometimes the beginning of the Gospel of St. John, or the Ave Maria, or the word “Abacadabara,' or the like; sometimes some spell of special potency was invented by the necromancer, as perhaps we are to infer in this case.
169: 38. the first among you. Probably here Arimanes. See Act II, sc. iv. So in ll. 39–40.
170: 42-49. In this fine poetical climax Byron converts the mere magic lore and mystification of the two preceding conjura. 172: 106-107. For the introduction into this nature-picture of the human interest associated with The fleet,” cf. Byron's · Letter on Bowles's Strictures on Pope' (Byron's Works, Lond. 1834, VI, 355 ff).
tions of the written charm' and the "sign’ into an impressive piece of symbolism. Spirits of evil appear only to those on whom the curse is laid of evil thoughts, imposed by destiny (“ its birthplace in a star condemn’d ”). Fatalism, the sense of sin, imperious will, -all of these elements in the conception of Manfred are here at once suggested.
170 : 44. a star condemn'd. The idea is expanded below in 11. 110-131. 170 : 50 ff.
The Spirits (named though not in order in l. 132 : “ Earth, ocean, air, night, mountains, winds, thy star''),– treated in part in the manner of Shelley, in part in the manner of Goethe. But the Titanic sympathy with elemental forces is all Byronic. The whole passage, as so much else that is latent in the poem, is meant to enforce the feeling of man's littleness face to face with elemental Nature.
Note the changes of metre and rhythm in these Spirit-songs : The first in four-foot, trochaic catalectic lines, couplet rhyme ; the second, alternate four-foot and three-foot lines in iambic movement, with frequent anapæstic substitutions, the rhyme following the shorter lines in the first half (with some internal rhyme), but interlinked in the second ; the third, two-foot anapæstic lines with alternate hypermetrical syllables (feminine endings)—perhaps to be read as three-foot catalectic, alternating with two-foot lines, e.g.:
Where the wind | is a strangera |
And the seal-snake hath life.!
-the rhyme as in the first half of the second; the fourth, ditto; the fifth like the second; the sixth a five-foot iambic couplet im. pressive, by contrast, through its brevity; the seventh in fourfoot iambic couplets. Is there any artistic appropriateness felt in these changes of rhythm (especially in the third)?
the shadow of the night. Σκία νυκτός. • The Shadow of Night' is the title of a poem by George Chapman (1594).
172 : 108.