History: E457_Byron

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"Written after Swimming from Sestos to Abydos" (555-56)

1. What attitude does this poem take towards earlier literary retellings of the Hero and Leander story — specifically, to Marlowe’s Elizabethan version and to the ancient recountings by Musaeus Grammaticus and Ovid? There’s no need to go over these earlier versions in detail; the point is to discuss briefly how Byron connects himself to and distinguishes himself from “literary tradition.” Internet sources: Hero and Leander (on the ancient version) and Marlowe's version.

"She Walks in Beauty" (556-57)

2. What accounts for the remarkable beauty of the “She” in this poem (Mrs. Wilmot, Byron’s cousin)? Consider how the speaker deals with what Coleridge would call “opposite and discordant qualities” (disparate phenomena, that is) in his description of the lady, and how he connects her physical beauty to moral qualities.

"Darkness" (559-60)

3. When the sun is extinguished in the speaker’s dream, what natural processes follow the same path to destruction? How does this path correspond to the speaker’s recounting of the human race’s final days?

4. If you are familiar with the Bible’s book Revelation (in which John of Patmos describes his vision of the Apocalypse), how does Byron’s end-of-the-world scenario differ in its tone and assumptions from that work?

"January 22nd. Missolonghi" (562-63)

5. Byron died of a fever in Missolonghi not long after this poem was composed – he was there to help organize Greece’s fight for independence from the Turkish Ottoman Empire. How does he arrive at his resolution to stay and “Seek out . . . / A Soldier’s Grave” (37-38)?

6. Compare the attitude struck up in this poem with the one in the earlier, shorter poem “When a man hath no freedom to fight for at home” (page 561). Together, how do they suggest the complexity of Byron’s understanding of his own actions and the claims used to justify them?

Manfred (588-621)

Act 1, Scene 1

7. From 1.1.21-25, Manfred refers to some primal scene and curse that have caused his unhappiness. The Norton editors point out that this vague reference may have to do with an incestuous relationship between Manfred and Astarte. Aside from the obvious taboo status of incest, how might this forbidden behavior be interpreted in a way that sheds light on Manfred’s dilemma as a “romantic hero”? In this light, consider the lines that begin the play – 1.1.1-25 as a unit.

8. From 1.1.28-192, Manfred has his first encounter with the Spirits whom he has summoned. Who are these spirits? Why must they obey Manfred? What can’t they tell him that he wants to know, and why? What do they offer him in compensation, and then what happens when (175ff) Manfred demands to “behold . . . {them} face to face”)?

9. From 1.1.193-261, what further insight does the Voice offer about Manfred’s situation? To what extent does it explain the end of the previous episode, in which Manfred “faints away” at the sight of one of the Spirits?

Act 1, Scene 2

10. From 1.2.1-56, we note that the scene has shifted from Manfred’s Castle to the Mountain of the Jungfrau. Why is this alternation in setting between the Alps and a human habitation significant? How is the mountain-summit setting, in particular, metaphoric of the speaker’s spiritual condition? More generally, what does Manfred suggest in this passage about his connection (or lack thereof) to the natural world?

11. Again from 1.2.1-56, how does Manfred explain his failure to leap from the mountain at once, without further thoughts or words? How, in this passage, does Manfred analyze and figure forth his desire to die, and why do his words seem only to increase his misery?

12. From 1.2.57-125, the Chamois Hunter comes upon Manfred unawares, and rescues him. How does this character’s sensibility differ from that of Manfred, and how does he apparently regard the latter’s attempt at suicide? And why – aside from brute force — does Manfred descend with the Chamois Hunter rather than continue to struggle?

Act 2, Scene 1

13. From 2.1.1-95, how does his continuing conversation with the Chamois Hunter help Manfred decide what his course must be, now that he has rejected suicide? How much does the Hunter understand of Manfred’s problem? How does Manfred himself describe it at this point?

Act 2, Scene 2

14. From 2.2.1-205, how does Manfred describe his differences from ordinary human beings? What did he seek most intently, and to what extent did he find what he was looking for? How does the picture we obtain of Manfred here amount to what readers and critics came to call “The Byronic Stance (or Pose)”?

15. Again from 2.2.1-205, why won’t Manfred swear obedience to the Witch of the Alps? What is the symbolic significance of his rejection, and how does his refusal follow logically from the self-description given us?

Act 2, Scene 3

16. From 2.3.1-72, what are the aims and powers of the Destinies and Nemesis?

Act 2, Scene 4

17. From 2.4.1-169, what request does Manfred make of the Destinies, Nemesis, and Ahrimanes? What does he want from Astarte, and what answer does the Phantom of Astarte give him?

Act 3, Scene 1

18. From 3.1.1-171, TBD

Act 3, Scenes 2-3

19. From 3.2.1-30 and 3.3.1-63, TBD

Act 3, Scene 4

20. From 3.3.1-153, .... TBD

Edition: Abrams, M.H. et al. The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Volume 2A. 7th edition. ISBN 2A = 0393975681.


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