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obvious apology to palliate their error; theirs is the excess of virtuous
feeling. At the same time, however amiable may be the source of their
error, the error itself is probably fraught with consequences pernicious to
mankind” (i : 284). Here he objects not so much to anger per se, which can
be a “virtuous feeling” called forth by injustice. The problem lies in the
“consequences,” or the plot, of anger, particularly when indulged in
“excess.” Caleb Williams sets out to graph the trajectory of such excessive
rage, which Godwin plainly saw as relevant to the current political climate,
or “things as they are.” He concludes Political Justice with the following
cautionary re¬‚ection: “The condition of the human species at the present
hour is critical and alarming. We are not without grounds of reasonable
hope, that the issue will be uncommonly bene¬cial. There is however much
to apprehend from the narrow views, and angry passions, of the contending
parties” (ii :537). As Godwin saw it, the cause of British reform, like the
French Revolution itself, would founder amidst the factional anger of
the citizens “ republican and loyalist “ who felt their own passionate
indignation as a virtue and looked upon moderation as the enemy.26
The Revolution debates of the 1790s ultimately centered on elucidating
certain plots within rhetorical ¬gurations and actual demonstrations
of anger. For example, just one week before the passage of Pitt and
Grenville™s infamous “Two Bills” in 1795, Coleridge had published a
pamphlet version of his ¬nal political lecture at Bristol, entitled The Plot
Discovered, in protest. Ostensibly, the “plot” was one of “ministerial
Provocation and the plot of anger 99
treason” enforcing “worse than Pagan darkness” on the English people by
putting an end to political discussion via the bills.27 Yet within the
pamphlet Coleridge discovers other plots, or trajectories of cause and
effect, in order to contradict the government™s narrative of the same
events. Speci¬cally, Coleridge is concerned with the plot of popular anger.
This makes sense, given the nature of the Two Bills, which outlaw language
that would “tend to incite or stir up the People to Hatred or Contempt” of
the king, royal family, government, or constitution of England.28 Thus the
bills de¬ne a certain plot of anger, which they are meant to disable: the
rhetoric of outrage, either in the radical press or from the mouths of an
orator like John Thelwall, tends to rouse the otherwise peaceful masses to
anger and subsequent acts of violent protest. Witness: the king™s carriage
had been stoned in St. James Park in October, mere days after a large-scale
meeting of the London Corresponding Society at which Thelwall gave an
impassioned speech on reform. This event was seized by the loyalists as
proof-positive of the need for the measures described in the two Bills, and
Parliament soon made manifest its agreement with this version of anger™s
plot.
In the text of the Treason Bill, the attack on the king™s carriage is
attributed to “the multitude of seditious pamphlets and speeches daily
printed, published, and dispersed with unremitting industry” by the
reformers and radicals.29 In other words, angry protests by the populace
are caused by rhetoric. This was the standard counterrevolutionary pos-
ition regarding the anger of the masses: they have been stirred up,
in¬‚amed, confused, and enraged through exposure to wicked accusations
and speculations regarding matters best left to their betters. In this view,
material and political conditions are pointedly not at issue.30 In The Plot
Discovered, Coleridge rejects this narrative and provides another, holding
that “the dispersion . . . of seditious pamphlets was not the cause” of “the
outrage offered to his Majesty”; rather, “it was the hunger and the sense
of insulted wrongs that urged the ignorant mob with misplaced indigna-
tion to utter groanings and hisses against the Sovereign” (Lectures 1795,
286“87). For Coleridge, and for English radical writers generally, insult
and injury have combined to produce anger in the populace: not only
have they been reduced to poverty and hunger by a ruinous government,
but they have been wronged, denied representation in that government.
Unlike the false rage diagnosed by the loyalists, this authentic anger
demands some kind of redress. This is the plot that Coleridge has
discovered in the passions of the English people, and he fears its conclu-
sion in scenes of destruction that will do everyone more harm than good.31
Anger, Revolution, and Romanticism
100
Ronald Paulson writes of this period, “We see emerging from the
events of the French Revolution a new sense of the way one action or
event follows another “ a new sense of plot or sequence and new examples
of serial structure”; as a result, “Plot was never quite the same again.”32
Particularly after one had to map the Terror into the historical sequence,
anger and its consequences were suspect, at issue. Furthermore, following
Burke™s Re¬‚ections, the central point of the Revolution debates in England
was to establish the outlines of anger™s narrative, what A. J. Greimas refers
to as the “sequence constituted by an intertwining of states and of doing”
that comprise its “passional con¬guration.”33 The tone of Burke™s rhetoric
and the reactions it provoked demonstrated that claiming one narrative
program of anger (virtuous indignation) while condemning another (fer-
ocious rage) would become the central task for British commentators on
the Revolution question. Writing on Caleb Williams and this political
climate, Gary Kelly observes,
Early in 1794 the intensity of political debate was increasing but the tone of
argument was degenerating, and on 23 January [Godwin] wrote to Joseph
Gerrald advising him on how to conduct himself before his accusers at the
Edinburgh Treason Trials: “Above all let me entreat you to abstain from
all harsh epithets and bitter invective. Show that you are not terrible, but kind
and anxious for the good of all. Truth can never gain by passion, violence and
resentment. It is never so strong as in the ¬rm ¬xt mind that yields to the
emotions neither of rage nor fear.” (The English Jacobin Novel, 188“89; my emphasis)
For Godwin, anger™s various causes (pride, fear, a sense of injustice)
matter less than its sequels, which inevitably thwart the pursuit of truth
and typically confound the purposes of the irate. Like Coleridge, Godwin
ultimately sees popular anger as a mistake.
In fact, Godwin™s insistence on tranquility as the only temper for truth
soon caused a serious rift between himself and the English radicals
centered around Thelwall and the London Corresponding Society.34 As
with Coleridge™s The Plot Discovered, the catalyst was the proposal in
Parliament of the Two Bills. In 1794, Godwin published a pamphlet,
signed “By a Lover of Order,” that managed to attack the bills while also
alienating the radicals, condemning both Pittites and the LCS for exces-
sively angry rhetoric by which “the indignant emotions of the human
mind are excited.”35 Yet Godwin assigns most of the blame to the king™s
ministers for setting the tone of debate: “They consult not the coolness of
philosophy, but the madness of passion. The time calls upon them to
reason, they begin to rail. Their profession is that of invective; an invec-
tive has been their principal medium for working on the minds of their
Provocation and the plot of anger 101
countrymen, for the last three years. They act with the unsteadiness and
vehemence of passion” (Considerations, 75“76). And a few pages later,
“They have thrown down the gauntlet. They have had recourse to every
kind of irritation. They have . . . leaped, like a common wrestler, upon the
stage. They have been loudest in increasing the broil; they have urged on
the animosity of the combatants; and they have called for blood” (81“82).
Like Falkland, like Tyrrel, and like Alexander, the ministers employ anger
to defend “things as they are”; and yet this policy serves only to frustrate
their purposes, producing an immoderate atmosphere of con¬‚ict and
confusion by calling forth reactive anger in their opponents.
For Godwin then, the scene of provocation and reaction ¬gured by
Alexander and Clitus not only resonates through the interactions between
Tyrrel and Falkland, and Falkland and Caleb; it also illustrates Godwin™s
view of the political anger of his time. By 1794, both sides of the debate
over revolution and reform in England had adopted tones of passionate
indignation that often ¬‚ared into intemperate rage. Clitus is killed be-
cause of his own taunting, provoking invective and because of Alexander™s
angry reaction; Plutarch and Curtius Quintus present both events as rash
and regrettable, enabled by drunken losses of self-control. The Stoic in
Godwin ¬nds in this anecdote a moral lesson for the political actors of the
1790s, who should choose “sober inquiry” rather than the “spices and
seasoning” of ungoverned, passionately angry rhetoric (Considerations,
20“21). In Caleb Williams, Godwin uses narrative to anatomize anger™s
destructive plot; the con¬‚icts among Tyrrel, Falkland, and Caleb demon-
strate the self-defeating, tragic consequences of affairs conducted in a rage.
In so doing, Godwin introduces the logic of Senecan tragedy to the
gothic novel, so that anger becomes the engine of dramatic irony as well as
the source of the narrative™s unsettling power. In classical tragedy, a crime
of passion typically stands at the heart of the action; as we saw in chapter 1,
Seneca ¬nds himself presenting elaborate scenes of anger meant to repel,
but which often fascinate. As an anti-anger gothic novel, Caleb Williams is
similarly con¬‚icted. The raging of Tyrrel and Falkland drives the narrative
along paths ordained by the genre, producing intertwining plots of
revenge punctuated by verbal and physical outbursts of passion: the very
stuff of the gothic narrative. Yet, as scholars of the gothic have noted,
Godwin adapts his novel to realist and politico-philosophical ends,
eschewing the medieval trappings, supernatural occurrences, and sexual
mystery so characteristic of the genre.36 Maggie Kilgour recognizes
Godwin™s odd relation to the gothic, given that he represents “forces of
light” rather than “darkness” (The Rise of the Gothic Novel, 47); in a sense,
Anger, Revolution, and Romanticism
102
he brings to gothicism a spirit of classical order. Caleb Williams thus often
feels more like a drama of criminality and detection “ one thinks of
Oedipus Rex, for example (a play that Seneca reprised as Oedipus) “ than a
gothic tale. Furthermore, the novel is obviously meant as a warning
against the angry passions, rather than as a dark and titillating fantasy
that might encourage them. But, as with Seneca in his tragedies, the plots
of anger that are the object of Godwin™s disapproval in Caleb Williams
produce episodes that compel fascination “ an effect mirrored in Caleb™s
own reaction to Falkland™s wrath. Each time Falkland shows signs of
anger, Caleb becomes more watchful, more curious, more readerly, with
regard to his master. The Alexander“Clitus conversation is only one of a
series of such episodes.
Joanna Baillie may well have been thinking of Godwin™s novel when
she wrote of this phenomenon in her 1798 “Introductory Discourse” to
her Plays on the Passions:
Anger is a passion that attracts less sympathy than any other, yet the unpleasing
and distorted features of an angry man will be more eagerly gazed upon, by those
who are in no wise concerned with his fury, or the objects of it, than the most
amiable placid countenance in the world. Every eye is directed to him; every
voice hushed to silence in his presence; even children will leave off their gambols
as he passes, and gaze after him more eagerly than the gaudiest equipage.37
In other words, angry performances produce eager spectators, a sup-
position not lost on Baillie in her own play on hatred, De Montfort, nor
on the political actors and writers of the 1790s who used expressions of
outrage to rouse public attention. In this view, Godwin™s attempt in Caleb
Williams to expose the destructive and ironic consequences of anger is
undercut by the way readers respond to narrative displays of that always-
emplotted emotion: with neither sympathy nor judgment, but with a
suspended and anticipatory eagerness, a desire for more that British
intellectuals feared characterized the modern mass audience. As the latest
genre dedicated to entertainment, the gothic novel focused these anxieties,
and Caleb Williams stands as a representative case with regard to anger in
the public eye during this Revolutionary period. Like Edmund Burke™s
Re¬‚ections, in presenting the irrationality of provocation, Godwin™s novel
¬nds itself demonstrating the compelling spectacle of rage.
Mary Godwin grew up amidst the Napoleonic sequels to the Revolu-
tion and these debates over the issue of anger. Almost by 9 Thermidor
(the death of Robespierre, 1794) and certainly by 18 Brumaire (Napoleon™s
coup, 1799), the volatile, impassioned conversation in England regarding
the French Revolution had lulled, making way for a virtually monolithic
Provocation and the plot of anger 103
rhetoric of war. The second-generation Romantics thus inherited the neo-
Stoic attitude towards anger that had been developed in the public sphere
during the 1790s and preserved in a kind of cultural stasis through the
Battle of Waterloo. Their concerns and struggles with anger combine the
1790s conceptions of indignation, rage, and provocation with postwar
Romantic radicalism, just as Frankenstein synthesizes (and revises) the
in¬‚uences of father Godwin and husband Shelley to become a novel myth
of provocation and revenge.38 Indeed, like Caleb Williams, Mary Shelley™s
Frankenstein centers upon questions of provocation, criminality, and the
angry passions, and yet it does so from a distinctly post-Revolutionary
perspective in which reaction and revenge are particularly charged con-
cepts.39 Reading Frankenstein in its emotional“historical context, we can
begin to untangle what James O™Rourke has called “the central enigma” of
the novel, namely “the evolution of [a] benign creature into a child-
murderer.”40 Certainly, for the student of anger, the heart of Mary Shelley™s
novel must be the few pages that present this alteration, as the creature turns
from humble suppliant of Mr. DeLacey to merciless killer of little William
Frankenstein. It is here that the monster experiences anger for the ¬rst time,
and these scenes allow us one way of examining the dynamics of revenge
and justice in the imagination of the second-generation Romantics.
Critics are divided on the political allegiances of Frankenstein, although
its relation to the discourses of revolution and reaction in the 1790s has
been often traced. Lee Sterrenburg writes of “the stylistic difference
between Frankenstein and the 1790s,” comparing the novel to the work
of Godwin and Burke and ¬nding that Mary Shelley “depoliticize[s] the
monster tradition.”41 Jane Blumberg, on the other hand, ¬nds that
“Frankenstein self-consciously associated itself with the Jacobin tradition,
the complex of radical literature “ the ˜war of ideas™ “ which grew up
in England as an enthusiastic response to the French Revolution.”42
Ronald Paulson and Anne Mellor have been similarly interested in tracing
the Revolutionary backgrounds of the novel, particularly by way of the
gothic.43 My contention is that, insofar as Frankenstein represents
the concerns of the 1790s, its attitude towards anger determines both
narrative and style. Mary Shelley revises her Revolutionary inheritance by
means of her novel™s plot of anger, which is driven by con¬‚icts between
sympathy and provocation.
The novel makes it clear that a lack of sympathy produces the creature™s
murderous impulses.44 The creature himself says, describing his ¬rst
moments of anger, “¬nding myself unsympathized with, [I] wished to
tear up the trees, spread havoc and destruction around me, and then
Anger, Revolution, and Romanticism
104
to have sat down and enjoyed the ruin.”45 Furthermore, he tells his
creator, “I am malicious because I am miserable; am I not shunned and
hated by all mankind?” (Frankenstein, 119). Rejection and desertion turn
him into a violent sociopath “ reason enough for Frankenstein to agree to
create a spouse for the creature, and also literally to scrap that plan when
he considers that she too might “quit him, and he be again alone,
exasperated by the fresh provocation of being deserted by one of his
own species” (138). So, when he is beaten and chased from the cottage
by Felix DeLacey, and then abandoned as the DeLacey family “ his foster
family, if you will “ moves away, the creature responds with “feelings . . . of
rage and revenge,” saying “I could with pleasure have destroyed the cottage
and its inhabitants, and have glutted myself with their shrieks and misery”
(110“11). Soon thereafter, William Frankenstein lies dead at his feet.
But it is precisely that “thereafter” that remains the trouble, since it
speaks of a complication in the dynamics of provocation in the novel. The
creature™s conditional grammar, his rhetoric of deferral, should be telling
us something: “I wished to tear up the trees,” “I could . . . have destroyed
the cottage and its inhabitants.” After all, we might expect the creature
instantly to attack Felix, who “dashed [him] to the ground, and struck
[him] violently with a stick” (110); or immediately to burn the cottage
down, which he does the following evening. Instead, he nurses his wounds
and his misery in the woods, declares “everlasting war against the species”
(111), and awakes the next morning, surprisingly calm and repentant.
Not until he thinks about the fact that the DeLaceys are moving away
does his anger ¬‚are up with redoubled intensity: “when I re¬‚ected
that they had spurned and deserted me, anger returned, a rage of anger;
and unable to injure anything human, I turned my fury towards inani-
mate objects” (113) “ namely the cottage, which he destroys. In short,
meditation and re¬‚ection are the hallmarks of the creature™s rage. It
becomes apparent that, with regard to the legal developments concerning
rage that we have traced, Mary Shelley does not want to mitigate the
creature™s guilt: placed in a situation of justi¬able provocation and self-
defense (the beating by Felix), the creature runs away; and when in a
passionate ¬t of rage, he attacks only a house. By contrast, the creature
commits all of his murders as premeditated acts in a plot of vengeance
against Victor Frankenstein. William, Clerval, and Elizabeth do not
provoke the creature; they exist simply as targets by which he can cause
his creator to suffer. In other words, Mary Shelley gives us a monster “ a
terrorist, really “ whom English provocation law in its recent formulation
would not shield.
Provocation and the plot of anger 105
In fact, the monster comes to represent a third way of experiencing
anger, one that ¬ts less neatly into the paradigms of indignation and rage
established in the Revolutionary 1790s, and speaks of anxieties bred in the
decades of the Napoleonic wars. In 1794 (the year of Godwin™s Caleb
Williams and the height of the Reign of Terror), outbursts were the order
of the day: the angry episode “ be it a riot, a speech, an oath, or a killing “
was primarily at issue, and this conception mirrored late-eighteenth-
century changes to English provocation law. By 1816 (the year Mary
Shelley wrote Frankenstein), concerns over episodes had given way to
thoughts of anger™s extended narrative, and particularly to lengthy plots
of war and revenge. To be sure, Godwin™s novel consists mostly of a
long-term program of persecution enacted by Falkland against Caleb, and
thus pre¬gures Mary Shelley™s interests. But Falkland™s impulsive murder
of Tyrell stands at the heart of the earlier novel and its critique of
passionate rage, whereas in Frankenstein, murder is always the result of
the monster™s acts of re¬‚ection and subsequent rededication to a plot
of vengeance.
As William Blake™s poem “A Poison Tree” portrays it, re¬‚ection “ a
combination of memory and meditation “ can produce monstrous,
murderous emotions. Yet for Blake (again, writing in 1794), the concern
is over the violent discharge of this stored energy. In subsequent decades,
writers worry over a different outcome: the poisoned soul. The moral
philosopher Thomas Brown, in his 1820 Lectures on the Philosophy of the
Human Mind, maintains that the man who nurses his anger via obsessive
re¬‚ection “is like some dreadful being of another race, that walks the earth
cursing and accursed; “ we shun him as we would ¬‚y from some
malignant spirit who, by looking at us, could transfuse into us the venom
which he feels; “ we have no sympathy for him.”46 One hears in Brown™s
rhetoric an all-but-explicit allusion to Frankenstein™s sympathy-deprived
creature, as well as to the Byronic hero (mad, bad, and dangerous to
know), both of whom are associated with Satanic exile and resentment.
We may, for instance, recall the creature™s threat of revenge made to
Frankenstein, “I will watch with the wiliness of a snake, that I may sting
with its venom” (Frankenstein, 140). As opposed to the explosive ¬gures
that structure the Revolutionary imagination of anger, malignant wander-
ers haunt the Napoleonic years with threats of revenge and also of
contagion “ as if readers might become what they have beheld. In fact,
Brown™s closing declaration, “we have no sympathy for him” verges on the
imperative, as a warning to hold the vengeful at arms™ length, and not to
allow their emotional dynamics to become one™s own.
Anger, Revolution, and Romanticism
106
The problem with re¬‚ection, then, is not only a ¬xation on one™s own
sufferings and a consequent meditation of revenge; it also includes the
danger of taking someone else™s emotional program as a model for one™s
own “ that is, of re¬‚ecting the passions of another. We have already seen
that Frankenstein can be read as a primer on the ill effects of insuf¬cient
sympathy; I want to suggest that it contains a subtle warning against
excessive sympathy as well. Both Godwin and Mary Shelley warn against
allowing suffering to produce a rage for destruction. Caleb Williams
presents a neo-Stoic plot of anger (essentially, anger is self-defeating)
based upon the assumptions behind English provocation law, while
Frankenstein shows how a postwar Romantic reading of that plot can be
even more dangerous.
The key text in this regard is Goethe™s The Sufferings of Young Werther, the
¬rst of the three books that Frankenstein™s creature reads, and the one that
has the most in¬‚uence on his emotional development, and in fact determines
his reaction to Paradise Lost, particularly his all-important identi¬cation with
Satan. Indeed, Frankenstein scholars have often noted the centrality of
reading and misreading in the novel, but the priority of Werther in the
creature™s imagination, and particularly in his emotional development, has
not been much explored.47 By means of Goethe™s novel, the creature comes
to believe that passions based on suffering produce an irresistible and
permanent condition, that noble creatures reveal themselves in their tragic
commitments to emotions called forth by trauma or loss. Werther™s suicide is
of course central, and the creature follows this example at novel™s end,
immolating himself on his ice-bound pyre. But provocation and murder
also play key roles in both novels, which are concerned with the dangers of
seeing another™s experience of passion as a re¬‚ection of one™s own.
On opening The Sufferings of Young Werther, Frankenstein™s creature
would have ¬rst encountered the editor™s introductory headnote, with its
injunction, “And you, good soul, who are feeling the same anguish as he,
draw consolation from his sufferings, and let this little book be your
friend, if fate or your own fault prevent you from ¬nding a closer one.”48
The companionless creature thus would have heard the ¬rst words of
sympathy and friendship ever addressed to him, delivered in the language
of re¬‚ection: you and Werther are both good, suffering souls, and you
suffer the same distress. And indeed, as the creature presents his own
reaction to Goethe™s novel, we can see that this preface has lodged itself
in his mind: “As I read . . . I applied much personally to my own feelings
and condition. I found myself similar, yet at the same time strangely
unlike the beings concerning whom I read and to whose conversation I
Provocation and the plot of anger 107
was a listener. I sympathized with, and partly understood them”
(Frankenstein, 103“04). This is the only time the creature tells us he
“sympathized” with another “ that crucial attitude in the novel “ and it
reveals the creature™s deep elective af¬nities with Werther, whom the
creature calls “a more divine being than I had ever beheld or imagined”
(103). In short, precipitate sympathy causes the creature to take his temper
from Werther, despite the creature™s recognition that he is “strangely
unlike” him and only “partly understood” his frame of mind.
To experience passion in the manner of Werther is to commit oneself
to suffering as fate, as a permanent condition rather than an episode. In
his debate with Albert over suicide, to which Frankenstein™s creature
explicitly refers, Werther defends those who commit crimes of passion,
and does so in a manner that glances at late-eighteenth-century provoca-
tion law, asking “Who will cast the ¬rst stone against the husband who, in
righteous wrath, sacri¬ces his faithless wife and her contemptible seducer?
. . . Even our very laws, coldblooded pedants that they are, let themselves
be moved and withhold their penalties” in such a case (Young Werther,
49). But his defense goes beyond this, and beyond Albert™s assent that “a
person who is carried away by this passion loses all power of deliberation
and is as good as drunk or mad” (49). Werther in fact celebrates extrava-
gant passions, ¬nding that “all extraordinary beings . . . have always and
necessarily been defamed as drunk and mad,” and casting shame on
“unsympathetic . . . moral men” who are able to control their emotions
(49). According to Werther, “a growing passion robs him of all calm
power of thought and drives him to destruction” (51), in a tragic process
that is nevertheless preferable to a more tepid, balanced emotional life.
This is the Romantic model of the passions that the creature assimilates in
his ¬rst reading experience “ he tells us he “inclined to the opinions of
[Werther]” in this discussion (Frankenstein, 104) “ and its effects on the
phenomenology of his emotional life are profound.
Of course, like the creature™s, Werther™s own problems are brought to
crisis by means of an encounter with someone whom he rashly reads as an
emotional double. In Goethe™s novel, we observe a peasant servant lad
who murders his rival for a beautiful widow™s love, and moreover how
profoundly this scene of provocation affects Werther because of his
excessive sympathy for him. Essentially, Werther sees the murderer as a
version of himself, a man devoted to a woman who has chosen another,
and whose devotion is his doom. On ¬rst meeting the lad and comparing
his passion to his own for Lotte, Werther says, “the recollection of
this genuine naturalness sets my inmost soul aglow . . . the picture of
Anger, Revolution, and Romanticism
108
this loyalty and tenderness follows me everywhere, and . . . I, as if set on
¬re by it, am languishing and pining” (Young Werther, 25). Here is passion
as contagion, as wild¬re, and it implies a devotion that will dare all things,
including suicide and murder. Confronted by Werther after killing the
rival, the lad says darkly, “No one shall have her, and she will have no
one” (91) “ a logic, incidentally, that the creature seems to recall in his
memorable threat to Frankenstein, “I will be with you on your wedding
night!” (Frankenstein, 140). Reacting to the situation, Werther “found him
so guiltless even as a criminal, he put himself so profoundly in his
situation, that he was con¬dent he could persuade others as well” (Young
Werther, 91). After fruitlessly arguing for the lad™s release before a judge,
Werther exclaims, “You cannot be saved, unhappy man! I see clearly that
we cannot be saved!” “ the slippage in pronouns marking the moment
of re¬‚ection that triggers Werther™s imminent suicide (92). Like Mary
Shelley, Goethe seems to be interested in displaying the destructive
consequences of taking one™s emotional logic from the narrative of
another, particularly when it comes to questions of provocation.
Under the in¬‚uence of his Wertherian reading, the creature comes to
believe that emotions are not things one gets over “ a dangerous modus
operandi when it comes to anger. When he opens Milton™s Paradise Lost
soon thereafter, he ¬nds in the permanently outraged Satan what he calls a
“¬t emblem of my condition,” and begins describing his angry emotions
thus, saying things like, “I, like the arch ¬end, bore a hell within me” and
“I declared everlasting war upon the species, and more than all, against
him who had formed me” (Frankenstein, 111) and “The mildness of my
nature had ¬‚ed, and all within me had turned to gall and bitterness” (114).
This devotion to revenge “ this poisoned soul “ determines all of his
future behavior, and is marked by his strangely ritualistic destruction of
the DeLacey cottage, wherein he had hoped to ¬nd happiness; like
Goethe™s peasant lad, he seems to say, after being rejected, “Now no
one will possess it if I cannot.” Rather than experience a ¬t of rage “ that
is, an emotional episode with a temporally bound trajectory “ the creature
commits himself to outrage as destiny, and becomes a monster: the plot of
anger and the narrative of his life become congruent.
Mary Shelley™s novel thus presents a gothic tragedy, in a manner that
simultaneously glances back at the classical spirit of her father and at the
fervid Romanticism of the Villa Diodati over which an atmosphere of the
macabre hung thick. Her vision of provocation and anger partakes of
Godwin™s neo-Stoicism insofar as her novel warns against immoderate
passions “ which it does. However, the creature™s narrative and his ¬nal
Provocation and the plot of anger 109
speech cast him as a noble ruin, a Byronic if not Shelleyan wanderer,
persecuted and driven to crimes of passion by a cold world. The task that
confronted this second generation of Romantic poets was to ¬nd ways to
accommodate such an attitude in the midst of post-Napoleonic anxieties
regarding anger™s infectious dangers, to articulate lasting outrage and still
command sympathy, to plot the work of one™s hands along an axis of
revenge and yet not become a monster. In a manner typical of its author™s
work, Frankenstein stands in admonition and encouragement.
chapter 5

Shelley and the masks of anger




When, in A Vision, Yeats wishes to describe a particular movement upon
his byzantine Wheel of Faculties, he looks to Blake and Shelley as his
representative men. Blake, “The Positive Man” of Phase 16, “hates that
which opposes desire,” and his hatred “is always close to madness . . .
There is always an element of frenzy, and almost always a delight in a
certain glowing or shining image of concentrated force: in the smith™s
forge; in the heart; in the human form in its most vigorous develop-
ment.”1 Observing Blake™s wrath, Yeats recognizes it as the ¬ery furnace
that provides Blake with the energy that is his eternal delight. However, as
the Wheel turns to Shelley (“The Daimonic Man”), this creative anger
falls away. In Yeats™s opinion, Shelley works best when he draws his poetry
from the wellsprings of desire, but produces only “monstrous, meaning-
less images” when he resorts to outrage (A Vision 143). Shelley “can never
see anything that opposes him as it really is,” because “He lacked
the Vision of Evil, could not conceive of the world as a continual con¬‚ict,
so, though great poet he certainly was, he was not of the greatest kind”
(143“44).
Once raised, the charge lingers: does Shelley suffer from a kind of
congenital blindness in his dealings with evil and con¬‚ict? Does he lack a
vision of anger? In Shelley and the Revolutionary Idea, Gerald McNeice
praises Shelley™s rebellious courage, which he carefully separates from
“Hatred and revenge,” passions with which “true freedom can never
coexist.”2 Donald Reiman has reminded us that Socrates and Jesus were
Shelley™s “ideal ¬gures,” because they “confronted the full power of social
injustice and . . . chose martyrdom over either ¬‚ight or violent resist-
ance.”3 Challenging this standard image of Shelley as paci¬stic humanist,
Steven Jones has argued that, in much of the poetry, “(self ) righteous
anger fueled by personal aggression is often just below the surface” and
that “the basis of Shelley™s satire is in violence rather than laughter.”4 By
approaching Shelley from the vantage of satire, Jones has emphasized a
110
Shelley and the masks of anger 111
subterranean side of the poet obscured by the assertions of his idealizing
and progressivist imagination. However, only by integrating both of these
aspects of Shelley can we approach the complexities of his artistic and
moral imagination.5 In effect, Shelley was often both angry and deter-
mined not to be so; and this ambivalence can be traced through a large
portion of his work, where it produces a particular trajectory of anger
deployed and retracted. His vision of anger was always double, as he cast a
¬erce eye on the object of his rage and a calm one on utopian resolutions
to con¬‚ict.
Always politically minded, Shelley enacts a particularly intense version
of the Romantic struggle with anger. For poets of the period, the trajec-
tory of events in France demonstrated that revolutionary outrage (which
most, to greater or lesser degrees, had imbibed) would not end cycles of
cruelty: anger had promised revolution and revelation, yet had brought
forth reaction and terror instead. As we have seen, negotiations with
anger became central to Romantic conceptions of self and world and
profoundly affected Romantic poetry in ways that I attempt to further
delineate here, in terms of the work of Shelley. The contours of Roman-
ticism emerged also in partial reaction to the bad eminence of eighteenth“
century satire, heightened as it was in this period of English history
(as Habermas has shown) by the emergent importance of public debate
to the political realm.6 Of course, scholarly activity of the last several
decades has gone a long way towards undoing our received story of
verse satire as a genre that disappeared in England after the death of
Pope. I mean to address this question of literary history only partially,
examining the changing fortunes of angry satire, not satire generally, in
Shelley™s imagination. Satire had long been imagined as a weapon
for revelation, and in the apocalyptic dawn of the French Revolution,
anger promised to undermine false structures of power and reveal the
true nature of humanity. Shelley™s poetry has similar promises lying
close to its heart, and he sets about creating a species of anger not
implicated in vengeful cycles of cruelty, a self-consuming rage that does
its work and then burns itself out, making way for the harmonies of the
millennium. He admires anger for its power to unmask ¬gures of decep-
tion and vice and thus far uses anger in a way that resembles satiric
invective in revealing the corruption hiding beneath the mask of virtue.7
Yet angry satire, content with naming and punishing such corruption,
remains only caustic and pessimistic, whereas Shelley™s poetry almost
invariably contravenes its own wrath with more conciliatory and hopeful
imaginings. For Shelley, (satiric) anger always threatens to become
Anger, Revolution, and Romanticism
112
another deceptive, or deceived, mask, particularly if indulged too long or
too vehemently.
As a poet committed to the transformation of the political and social
world, however, Shelley knew that anger was an important tool or
weapon, a needful torch for burning in order that the work of building
utopia might begin. Thus, like Blake, Shelley was attracted to anger
precisely because of its renovating force. Sharing an emphatic desire to
change the world through poetry, Blake and Shelley imagine anger as the
remover of masks and the despoiler of illusions that constitute an un-
acceptable status quo. Masks ¬gure evil™s dependence on disguise, a false
state of affairs foisted on humanity as truth. As Yeats perceived, Shelley
denies any fundamental truth to evil, equating it always with falsity and
error. His poetry therefore presents evil in a series of disguised ¬gures
whose ritualized unmasking prompts the advent of the millennium. Yet
Shelley wants to allow anger only a momentary, functional importance in
his visions of transformation, extinguishing it anxiously with more har-
monious emotions. He presents his displaced outrage as a mask, or
masque, of anger.
In the spring of 1819, Shelley found himself in Florence, standing before
two statues of Marsyas, the satyr who boasted of his musical virtuosity and
was summarily ¬‚ayed alive by an enraged Apollo. For Shelley, who
embraced Apollo as an image of the harmonies of the creative imagin-
ation, it was a disturbing moment, emblematic of a larger struggle with
anger. In his notebook, he writes,
This is one of the few abominations of the Greek religion. This is as bad as the
everlasting damnation and hacking and hewing between them of Joshua and
Jehovah. And is it possible that there existed in the same imagination the idea of
that tender and sublime and poetic and life“giving Apollo and of the author
of this deed as the same person?8
Having chosen ancient Greek culture as a refuge from the cruel-
ties he saw in orthodox Christianity, Shelley is brought up short by the
specter of Marsyas suffering under the hand of the Apollonian “author of
this deed.”9 Confronted with an imagination capable of containing
poetic creativity and vengeful rage within the same persona, he implicitly
wonders about the place of anger in his own mind and work: what
does it mean for a poet to put aside his lyre and pick up a knife or a
scourge?
Figuratively, it means to turn from song to satire, and speci¬cally to a
tradition of invective that aims to anatomize and punish its target. For
Shelley and the masks of anger 113
example, in his First Satire, Horace remembers the satirist Lucilius, who
“from conscious Villains tore the mask away, / And stripped them naked
to the Glare of Day.”10 Such violent disclosure of hypocrisy remains one
of the cherished powers of angry satire, through Jonson and Pope to
Shelley.11 In a letter to Leigh Hunt written in 1822, Shelley declares,
“I began once a Satire upon Satire, which I meant to be very severe, “ it
was full of small knives in the use of which practice would have soon made
me very expert.”12 Apparently, Shelley meant to use these “knives” on
satire itself. However, a glance at the un¬nished poem reveals an image of
satiric violence directed at a more human target: “If Satire™s [scourge]
[could wake the slumbering hounds / Of Conscience]”,
. . . who that has & seen
What Southey is & was, who wd. not Exclaim . . .
Lash on, & be the keen verse dipped in ¬‚ame
Follow his ¬‚ight on winged words, & urge
The strokes of the inexorable scourge . . .
And from the mirror of the [enchanted] shield,
From which his Parthian arrow . . .13 (lines 17“30)
One could say that Southey plays Marsyas to Shelley™s Apollo here,
although in a conditional syntactical arrangement. Shelley imagines that
“Satire™s scourge” could reveal Southey™s heart, with “contagion™s spots foul,”
as he says elsewhere in the draft, to the accompaniment of Apollonian
imagery (“Truth™s sunlike shield”).14 Given that angry satire had such
powers, Shelley would “urge / The strokes of the inexorable scourge” until
Southey was quite exposed.
The statues of the ¬‚ayed satyr Marsyas brought Shelley face to face with
the implications of such satiric revelation, which both attracted and
horri¬ed the poet. The point of “A Satire on Satire” is to deny these
powers to satiric punishment (“This cannot be”) and to assert that
“Suffering makes suffering, ill must follow ill”(lines 35“36). Yet the
revealing power of the “inexorable scourge” also attracts Shelley, who
hated falsehood and hypocrisy almost as much as Blake did. In this poem,
the wishful aggrandizement of satire which precedes its retraction shows
Shelley having it both ways. He allows for anger™s revelations and then
condemns anger as a contributor to the same cycles of cruelty that called it
forth. As we will see, this plot characterizes virtually all of Shelley™s angry
poetry. Like Blake, he knows the importance of anger as a revolutionary
emotion but sees revenge as a “pernicious mistake” (Prose, 323). He takes
pains to purge his anger quickly, after it has done its work.15
Anger, Revolution, and Romanticism
114
At the center of many of Shelley™s narratives is a ritual of unmasking,
usually accomplished by means of de¬ance and aggression: Prometheus
curses Jupiter, Shelley curses the reviewer of Endymion, the disguised
¬gures in The Mask of Anarchy are routed, Iona Taurina compels her
enemies to assume their true shapes in Swellfoot the Tyrant. These
moments cannot be fully assimilated to the satiric tradition, however,
because of Shelley™s own palpable ambivalence about his anger. In fact,
scenes of unmasking are not the unique province of satire. The romance
tradition, particularly as read through Spenser and Milton, surely pro-
vided Shelley with another approach to evil disguised.16 Spenser, in the
stripping of the witch Duessa in Book i of The Faerie Queene, and Milton,
in the revelation of the toad as Satan in Book i v of Paradise Lost,
emphasize the inevitability of falsehood™s spectacular revelation when
confronted by truth. In The Faerie Queene, Una (or Truth) directs the
Red Crosse Knight and Arthur to strip Duessa (or Falsehood) naked, “and
let her ¬‚y.”17 Once they have revealed Duessa™s deformity and ugliness,
Una proclaims, “Such is the face of falshood, such the sight / Of fowle
Duessa, when her borrowed light / Is laid away, and counterfesaunce
knowne” (i.8.49). Similarly, in Paradise Lost, an angelic patrol ¬nds Satan,
“Squat like a toad, close at the ear of Eve,” in amphibious form that
pre¬gures his later transformation: “Him thus intent Ithuriel with his
spear / Touched lightly; for no falsehood can endure / Touch of celestial
temper, but returns / Of force to its own likeness: up he starts / Dis-
covered and surprised . . . So started up in his own shape the ¬end.”18
These moments encapsulate the Shelleyan project, particularly in their
rejection of vengeance. Una tells her knights to spare Duessa™s life, and
Ithuriel touches the toad lightly, sparing what presumably he could have
speared. The “celestial temper” of Ithuriel™s weapon matches the angelic
forbearance of its owner, providing a model for Shelley™s own poetic
encounters with evil.19
Prometheus Unbound, for example, raises the (Blakean) Spectre of anger
in order to dispel it, making way for the triumph of a paci¬stic utopia.
Readers tend to locate Prometheus™ conversion from anger in his opening
soliloquy, when he imagines Jupiter™s eventual fall with “pity” rather than
“Disdain.”20 Certainly by the conclusion of that speech, Prometheus
claims, “I am changed so that aught evil wish / Is dead within” and “no
memory be / Of what is hate”(211, i .70“71). Yet anger™s disturbing
presence continues to make itself known through much of this ¬rst act,
speci¬cally in Prometheus™ curse and the circumstances surrounding its
rearticulation. Prometheus says, “The Curse / Once breathed on thee I
Shelley and the masks of anger 115
would recall”(211, i .59“60), and critics have often noted the double
meaning encoded there: he will both remember and revoke his angry
curse. Yet between these meanings falls a third, one that is invoked most
directly by the subsequent action of the poem. Prometheus literally
recalls, or summons back, his curse, in the same sense as when in “Mont
Blanc,” the poet speaks of his mind as
One legion of wild thoughts, whose wandering wings
Now ¬‚oat above thy darkness, and now rest
Where that or thou art no unbidden guest,
In the still cave of the witch Poesy,
Seeking among the shadows that pass by
Ghosts of all things that are, some shade of thee,
Some phantom, some faint image; till the breast
From which they ¬‚ed recalls them, thou art there! (98, lines 41“48)
Here in Poesy™s cave, among the “Ghosts of all things that are,” Shelley
seeks “Some phantom” to represent his “wild thoughts,” just as Prome-
theus summons Jupiter™s phantasm from among “The shadows of all
forms that think and live” (line 198) to pronounce the wild justice of his
curse. In “Mont Blanc,” Shelley will “recall” his “wild thoughts” from
their wandering, back to his own breast, and Prometheus similarly pro-
poses to bring his angry words out of exile and back to their place of
origin: his own consciousness.21 This is more than memory, for by thus
recalling his curse, Prometheus summons anger within himself.
Despite his initial abjuration of disdain and hate, Prometheus becomes
strangely irritable as soon as he determines to recall his curse, as if he
cannot quite control anger™s manifestations. In fact, it is precisely this
sense of powerlessness that upsets him, as he demands to hear his curse
and meets repeated refusals. The Mountains, Springs, Air, and Whirl-
winds, as well as the Earth herself, all shrink from the task of articulation.
Prometheus responds,
Mother, thy sons and thou
Scorn him, without whose all-enduring will
Beneath the ¬erce omnipotence of Jove
Both they and thou had vanished like thin mist
Unrolled on the morning wind! “ Know ye not me,
The Titan, he who made his agony
The barrier to your else all-conquering foe? (213, i .113“19)
When the Earth replies, “They dare not,” he exclaims with growing
impatience, “Who dares? / For I would hear that curse again”(lines 130“
31). Emphasizing the ingratitude of those he has protected from the “else
Anger, Revolution, and Romanticism
116
all-conquering foe,” Prometheus begins to sound like Homer™s Achilles or
Shakespeare™s Coriolanus. His anger is a fundamentally aristocratic emo-
tion that has its source in spirited pride and jealous concern for one™s place
in a hierarchy. For all his anti-tyrannical sentiments, Prometheus clearly
considers himself the commander-in-chief and ¬nds it dif¬cult to forbear
giving orders accordingly.
In choosing the “phantasm of Jupiter” to repeat his curse, Prometheus
indulges these tyrannical urgings, here at the expense of his foe: “Arise,
appear” (line 221), he demands; “Speak the words which I would hear”
(line 248). The note of urgency in Prometheus™ commands indicates his
recognition that, in deciding to recall his anger, he has evoked a mon-
strous aspect of himself. The imaginative center of a millennial and
paci¬stic masque, Prometheus verges on becoming a wrathful, tyran-
nical tragic hero. We watch as he struggles to externalize the recalled
anger which threatens to effect this transformation. Yet such an act
of externalization seems to have created Jupiter in the ¬rst place, an
action here mimicked by the rise of Jupiter™s phantasm. We begin to
doubt whether the poem will transcend its cyclical creation of angry
¨
doppelgangers.
However, after the curse is spoken and Prometheus moves from re-
membering that he forgot to actually remembering, his anger and its
accompanying anxiety disappear. Like Blake (and Freud also), Shelley
believes that bringing the hidden to light is the central restorative action
available to mankind. Revelation produces the good and healthy; con-
cealment (from one™s self or others) involves evil and error. This is why
Prometheus must actually hear his own curse in order to revoke it fully.
It also helps to explain the burden of the curse itself, which takes a similar
approach to the mysti¬cations of Jupiter. The curse concludes with
the stanza that Bloom calls “the best and most important” (Shelley™s
Mythmaking, 107):
An awful Image of calm power
Though now thou sittest, let the hour
Come, when thou must appear to be
That which thou art internally.
And after many a false and fruitless crime
Scorn track thy lagging fall through boundless
space and time. (218, i .296“301)
Note that Jupiter™s crimes are “false”: real enough, yet necessarily the
products of deception. In characteristically Shelleyan manner, Prometheus
Shelley and the masks of anger 117
compels him to assume a form that corresponds to his inner state. In other
words, he dooms the god simply to be himself: Jupiter Unmasked.
We can see why the Earth speaks of Prometheus™s angry curse as a
“treasured spell” and why the spirits of nature “meditate / In secret joy
and hope those dreadful words” (214“15, i .184“86), given its power to
reveal the falsehood at the core of Jupiter™s tyranny. Furthermore, since
the articulation of the curse brings about its own speci¬c ful¬llment, we
may well wonder in what sense Prometheus retracts it. The curse in fact is
a characteristically Shelleyan outburst of rage against tyrannical cruelty, an
incantation he resorted to repeatedly throughout his career.22 Like the
wishful scourging of Southey in the “Satire on Satire,” the cursing of
monarchy and religion in the shape of Jupiter allows Shelley to put on the
mask of anger and imagine the triumph of wrath over falsehood. Shelley™s
construction of utopia in the later acts of Prometheus Unbound is fueled by
the energies of this lurid episode of angry confrontation and conquest.
A story told by one of Shelley™s schoolmates at Eton illuminates the scene:
“I have seen him surrounded . . . hooted, baited like a maddened bull, and
at this distance of time I seem to hear ringing within my ears the cry
which Shelley was wont to utter in his paroxysm of revengeful anger.”23
Prometheus™ curse of Jupiter echoes faintly behind this passage, and we
can see here one of the sources of Shelley™s image of himself as exile,
cursing and accursed. Of course, Shelley became a paci¬st, and Prome-
theus repudiates his curse, calling it “blind” “ and then watches as it is
ful¬lled. Like Shelley, who stages his anger, allows it to take effect, and
then renounces it, Prometheus looks the other way while his outraged
curse does his dirty work for him.
Calling his own angry words “blind,” Prometheus implies that the
mask of anger conceals truth from its wearer as well as from its audience.
Such a moment of recognition belongs to the tragic hero, and we can see
Shelley here working to transform Aeschylus™ character into his own by
contravening the generic plot of Greek tragedy. For the Greeks, blind
anger produces tragic deeds: Sophocles™ Oedipus slays his father at the
crossroads, Seneca™s Hercules slaughters his family, Euripides™ Agave tears
her son apart. These scenes of domestic violence give way to moments
when the eyes of the angry ¬gure are opened to the horrible consequences
of his or her wrath; indeed, Oedipus puts out his own eyes, transforming
his face into a symbolic mask of blind rage. Shelley™s poem begins where
these tragedies leave off, thus imagining the repudiation of anger as the
driving event of the action rather than as the tragic conclusion to it: the
Anger, Revolution, and Romanticism
118
unbinding of Prometheus as opposed to the denouement of tragedy.
Furthermore, the blind anger of Prometheus has produced only words,
rather than irrevocable deeds. His decision to “recall” his curse demon-
strates that this is a non“tragic world of revocable anger. Yet Jupiter™s
subsequent fall, which accords with the terms of the curse of Prometheus,
shows that those “blind” words have real power.
Shelley wants art to have the potency of vital ritual and often ima-
gines his anger as a kind of unsympathetic magic.24 As I have argued,
Prometheus™ curse operates as a performative gesture which invokes the
hour of unmasking that is to come. The regeneration of mankind
that follows Jupiter™s fall is accomplished by way of additional un-
masking, following the curse™s injunction, “Let the hour / Come, when
thou must appear to be / That which thou are internally” (217, i.277“79).
Summoned by this imperative, the Spirit of the Hour proclaims, “The
painted veil . . . is torn aside” (269, ii i .4.190ff.), and “The loathsome
mask has fallen” (269, i i i.4.193). Furthermore, the Spirit of the Earth
describes humanity™s transformation in similar terms. This spirit remem-
bers the “foul masks with which ill thoughts / Hide that fair being whom
we spirits call man” (265, i ii .4.44“45) “ masks which included “proud,
angry looks” (265, ii i .4.41). Prometheus™ carefully staged masque of anger
thus comes to unmask anger, following the pattern of Shelley™s “Satire on
Satire” and his youthful oath of eternal intolerance of intolerance.25 In the
millennial society that follows Jupiter™s fall, “those ugly human shapes and
visages / . . . Past ¬‚oating through the air,” and “those / From whom they
past seemed mild and lovely forms / After some foul disguise had fallen”
(265, ii i.4.65ff.). Shelley™s momentary adoption of the mask of anger
allows him to imagine this universal unmasking.
Adonais contains a similar curse of revelation, directed against the
reviewer whom Shelley imagines has caused Keats™s death. In the midst
of his lament, Shelley wonders angrily, “What deaf and viperous mur-
derer,” what “nameless worm,” laid Keats low (421, lines 317, 319). He
questions the identity of the anonymous reviewer, associating the “name-
less” attack on Keats with deception and disguise. Furthermore, he
suggests that the mask becomes a kind of curse against identity, divesting
the reviewer of his own self or soul. Anonymity allows one to act
without taking responsibility for those actions, which is the vice Shelley
condemns so thoroughly in others. Yet this pattern characterizes
precisely Shelley™s own expressions of anger, which he continually dis-
avows even as he ampli¬es them. Here Shelley turns to the reviewer and
curses him:
Shelley and the masks of anger 119
Live thou, whose infamy is not thy fame!
Live! fear no heavier chastisement from me,
Thou noteless blot on a remembered name!
But be thyself, and know thyself to be! (421, lines 325“28)
Identi¬cation is the burden of this contemptuous curse, which aims
to compel the equally contemptuous reviewer to self-knowledge and self-
loathing. Commanding the reviewer to be and know himself, Shelley
performs the Promethean ritual of unmasking evil from behind a mask of
anger.
The result, Shelley imagines, will be that the reviewer will become his
own worst enemy:
And ever at thy season be thou free
To spill the venom when thy fangs o™er¬‚ow:
Remorse and Self-contempt shall cling to thee;
Hot shame shall burn upon thy secret brow,
And like a beaten hound tremble thou shalt “ as now.
(421, lines 329“33)
Shelley clearly relishes the prospect of punishing Southey here, as he
did in the “Satire on Satire,” despite the relegation of the beating to a
simile (and despite the fact that Southey was not the reviewer in question,
although Shelley thought he was). Part of Shelley wants to hit this
misbehaving hound with a rolled-up copy of Adonais, as a way of teaching
him remorse and shame. Yet Shelley also hopes that this training can be
separated from angry abuse.
In his letters, Shelley makes repeated reference to this stanza of the
poem, worrying it with simultaneous pride and embarrassment. To his
publisher Ollier he wrote that the poem contained “some interposed stabs
on the assassins of his peace and of his fame”(Letters ii :207), and to John
Gisborne and Claire Clairmont, he bragged, “I have dipped my pen in
consuming ¬re” in order to punish Keats™s “destroyers” (Letters i i :300,
302). Yet to Byron, Shelley admitted that he had “been carried too far by
the enthusiasm of the moment” and by his “indignation” (Letters i i:308);
and Byron would later say that the curse in Adonais contained some of the
most “cutting” lines of poetry he knew.26 In his desire to reveal the
enemies of poetry, he may have allowed his anger to become too vengeful.
Yet, as he wrote to Byron, “I console myself by re¬‚ecting that it is defence
of the weak “ not in conjunction with the powerful” (Letters ii :309).
For Shelley, then, the angry mask can be an enabling one as long as the
poet uses it for the public good and puts it away when ¬nished. However,
Shelley™s anxiety, even embarrassment, over his own anger separates him
Anger, Revolution, and Romanticism
120
from the main line of angry satirists, from Juvenal on, who have worn a
similar mask. In a seminal essay on satiric personae, Maynard Mack
identi¬ed “the public defender” as one of the primary roles or masks of
the satirist, who “never lets us forget that we are at war; there is an
enemy.”27 Shelley is clearly torn between his desire to defend the public
and his fear that Mack is right, that such a role shades quickly into
warmongering and intolerance. The career of Jonathan Swift surely served
as a monitory example for Shelley, as an angry phantasm or specter-self
representing what Shelley might become. To end in despondency and
madness was what the Romantic poets feared as they remembered the
poets of the eighteenth century, from Swift through Burns; and the broad
road that led to such an end was paved with consuming rage.
Shelley™s well-known sonnet, “England in 1819,” begins with a Swiftian
torrent of abuse: “An old, mad, blind, despised, and dying king, “ / Princes,
the dregs of their dull race, who ¬‚ow / Through public scorn,“mud
from a muddy spring, “” (326, lines 1“3). Compare a typical passage from
Gulliver™s Travels, where Swift writes of friends (!) as “importunate, overbear-
ing, quarrelsome, noisy, roaring, empty, conceited, swearing companions.”28
The power of Swift™s anger, both its tragedy and comedy, is most palpable in
such passages, which are his trademark. Here, eight adjectives are not
enough, one senses, to exhaust Swift™s rage, as he moves on to attack other
“scoundrels” and “vices.” Shelley™s ¬rst line can hold no more descriptors of
George III, and we feel the poet™s anger straining against the sonnet™s form.
Furthermore, as for Swift, other targets present themselves to Shelley™s
onrushing imagination: “Princes,” “Rulers,” “An army,” “laws,” “Religion,”
“A senate” (326, lines 2“12). The poem reads like an almost uncontrolled
litany of Shelley™s hatreds, like a Swiftian list of everything wrong in a dirty
and broken world. Shelley tries to begin with this type of rage and end with
an image of hope. Yet he leaves himself only two lines to pull up from his
sonnet™s nose-dive into the abyss. All of the enumerated evils, he writes, “Are
graves, from which a glorious Phantom may / Burst, to illumine our
tempestuous day” (327, lines 13“14). It is a familiar Shelleyan trope: an
exorcism performed by a ghost, and a turning of our gaze from a darkened
present to a bright future in which there will be no cause for anger. Yet it
arguably comes too late here, a pale illumination next to the darkness visible
of the rest of the poem. This urgent, cumulative rhetoric of Swift and Shelley
can preclude radical changes of direction or attitude.
In fact, Shelley™s passion for unmasking often manifests itself as rapid,
incantatory variations on a theme. The question that occupies him in
“To a Sky-Lark” “ “What thou art we know not; / What is most like
Shelley and the masks of anger 121
thee?” (305, lines 31“32) “ can be read as the determining inquiry for his
angry verse as well. In “To a Sky-Lark,” it produces a series of similes
that attempt to describe an intangible by way of an accumulating list
of tangibles: a poet, a maiden, a glow-worm, a rose. In “Similes for
Two Political Characters of 1819,” this question “ what is most like thee?
“ leads Shelley to another angry, Swiftian list, an incantation of incarnation,
as the poet works to name and thus unmask Sidmouth and Castlereagh:
. . . two vultures sick for battle,
Two scorpions under one wet stone,
Two bloodless wolves whose dry throats rattle,
Two crows perched on the murrained cattle,
Two vipers tangled into one.29

Shelley™s goal is not one perfectly apt comparison, but a spell of naming
that is suf¬ciently comprehensive to bind these protean ¬gures and
uncover their “true” selves. Like the anonymous reviewer of Keats who
savaged the poet from behind a mask, Sidmouth and Castlereagh are
preying on England in the disguise of public servants or heroes. Shelley
thus aims to reveal them by means of anger, upstaging these ¬gures by
adopting their roles himself. As enraged public defender, Shelley will force
Sidmouth and Castlereagh to appear as grotesques; he engages in an angry
struggle for de¬nition of self and other.30
In his discussion of Shelley™s “To the Lord Chancellor,” Steven Jones
remarks on this incantatory aspect of that poem: “The long series of
objects upon which to predicate the curse calls attention . . . to the
extreme anger of the curser, foregrounding his frenzied search for the
most negatively powerful ˜ground™ for hatred that he can ¬nd” (Shelley™s
Satire, 26). Jones recognizes the similarity to “Hymn to Intellectual
Beauty” and “To a Sky-Lark,” where “it becomes clear that the ˜power™
the poems seek to invoke cannot be covered in a single act of naming or
comparison” (26). However, it seems that in “To the Lord Chancellor,”
and in “Similes for Two Political Characters,” Shelley stops writing
when he feels he has effectively unmasked his subject rather than when
he has simply exhausted his imagination, as in Epipsychidion. His angry
poems have a sense of conclusiveness that his hymns of love do not share,
perhaps because his anger is essentially a reductive emotion that mandates
simple oppositions (e.g., liberty versus tyranny; truth versus falsehood),
while his love encourages imaginative proliferation, or promiscuity. Thus
“To the Lord Chancellor” ends, like so many of Shelley™s angry poems,
with a turn from rage to hope, from curse to blessing:
Anger, Revolution, and Romanticism
122
I curse thee, though I hate thee not; O slave!
If thou couldst quench the earth-consuming hell
Of which thou art a daemon, on thy grave
This curse should be a blessing. Fare thee well!
(Poetical Works, ed. Hutchinson, 544, lines 61“64)

Having done its work in revealing this “Masked resurrection of a buried
form” (line 4) as a “Priestly Pest” (line 3) and a “tyrant” (line 60), the
curse is itself unmasked by the poet as a potential blessing in disguise. As
an incantation to dispel falsehoods and deceptions (including its own), it
begins in invective and ends in benediction. Yet does this retrogression
amount to anything more than a covering of tracks? By staging anger™s
expression and then dispelling it, Shelley guillotines Marie Antoinette and
eats his cake too: he moves from violent, revolutionary vengeance to the
sweetness of reconciliation without acknowledging that his anger must be
either irrevocable or ineffectual, a cutting stroke or a mere feint. Both
make Shelley uneasy. “To the Lord Chancellor” exempli¬es his oscilla-
tion, as he writes, “I curse thee, though I hate thee not; O slave!” This
emotional confusion will lead Shelley away from lyric expressions such as
this to more dramatic structures, where he may enact his rage at a safer,
less revealing, distance.
We can best address the generic implications of Shelley™s repeated
turnings from anger towards hope by imagining a poem he never wrote,
or rather, wrote many times under different titles: the Masque of Anger. It
is a poem that begins in outrage, with a violent spectacle of indignation
that resembles satire, directed against an enemy or false hero in order to
strip away his disguise. However, this confrontational, rather grotesque
scene soon gives place to the triumphant entrance of a conciliatory and
harmonious ¬gure, who puts an end to anger, heralding the impending
advent of a peaceful millennium. Shelley™s Prometheus Unbound and
“England in 1819” follow this generic plot rather closely, and darker
variations can be found in The Mask of Anarchy, Adonais, and The
Triumph of Life.31 Millennial hope informs and displaces satiric anger;
the resulting Shelleyan poem is a masque of unmasking.
Scholars have recognized Shelley™s abiding interest in the masque, and
generally attribute it to the in¬‚uence of Leigh Hunt, whose The Descent
of Liberty: A Mask (1815) uses the conventions of that most monarchical
of genres to criticize George III™s government.32 Indeed, such a reversal
lies at the heart of Shelley™s engagement with the masque, and Hunt™s
example must have helped Shelley crystallize a generic structure for
his moral and political outrage. Milton™s Maske Presented at Ludlow Castle
Shelley and the masks of anger 123
(i.e., Comus) was also an important guide for Shelley here, as quite
probably were Jonson™s various masques, available by 1816 in Gifford™s
edition. In the typical Shelleyan generic trajectory, anger begins as satire
and ends as anti-masque. In other words, it ¬rst unmasks falsehood
and then is rede¬ned as a grotesque and destructive indulgence to be
expelled from the poet™s ultimate vision; it may operate in the plot, but
not in the dream. Shelley™s own oscillation between caustic skepticism and
progressive idealism ¬nds its expression in this pattern, which allows for
satiric anger and masque-like visions of hope in the same work of art.
However, he forces his poetry to overcome mere oscillation in favor of
dialectical progress, favoring the spectacle of triumph that characterizes
both the Jacobean masque and the Elizabethan genre known as the
“progress.” Shelley attempts to dissociate these genres from their royal
energies while retaining their transcendent aesthetic and in fact works
hard to convey satiric meaning by means of the af¬rmative, progressive
spectacle of the masque.
Milton™s Comus (1634) and its most immediate Jonsonian precursor,
Pleasure Reconciled to Virtue (1618), demonstrate the two varieties of anger
that Shelley recognized: revealing and revengeful. Thus these masques
provide a general summary of the role of anger within the genre, as it was
available to Shelley. In addition, both Comus and Pleasure Reconciled to
Virtue center around the imagined defeat of Comus (a Proteus-¬gure) and
his minions “ a plot that recalls Shelley™s frequent struggles to name and
unmask his protean enemies. Finally, the reconciling of pleasure and
virtue, which occupies both masques, also proves to be one of Shelley™s
central concerns, from Queen Mab through Epipsychidion to The Triumph
of Life. What role has anger in such a reconciliation?
In his un¬nished drama Charles the First, Shelley deals explicitly with
this question, in ways illuminated by Jonson and Milton. The play begins
with a Puritan audience observing a royal masque, and responding with
anger as the masque so obviously privileges (Catholic) pleasure over
(Protestant) virtue. “Here is the pomp that strips that houseless orphan /
Here is the pride that breaks the desolate heart,” says one citizen (Poetical
Works, ed.Hutchinson, 154“55). For most of these observers, anger serves
to unmask (at least to their own eyes) the false union of pleasure and
virtue enacted by these “papists, athiests, tyrants, and apostates” (line 75).
The anger of the Puritans is both anti-mask and anti-masque, in that it
offers to “strip the vizor from their [the masquer™s] purposes” (line 77) by
challenging the theatrical ideology of the masque itself. Yet one observer,
“A Youth,” takes a different view, reading the masque under the sign of
Anger, Revolution, and Romanticism
124
idealized aesthetics rather than politics. In so doing, he offers a third role
for anger: in the wholly generic category of anti-masque, which is com-
prehended by the structure of the masque. The youth calls the masque,
“Beautiful, innocent, and unforbidden / By God or man; “ ™tis like a
bright procession / Of skiey visions in a solemn dream / From which men
wake as from a Paradise” (lines 16“19). Furthermore, seeing “the troop of
cripples, beggars, and lean outcasts” that “bring up the rear” of the
masque, he declares, “™tis but / The anti-masque, and serves as discords
do / In sweetest music. Who would love May ¬‚owers / If they succeeded
not to Winter™s ¬‚aw?” (lines 174“76). That is, anger may serve as a
discordant note to set off succeeding harmony.
In Jonson™s Pleasure Reconciled to Virtue, anger appears as this kind of
grotesque discord that precedes the harmonious speeches and dances. It is
the emotion of anti-masque, what Stephen Orgel calls “a world of
disorder or vice, everything that the ideal world of. . .the courtly main
masque was to overcome and supersede.”33 Here Jonson™s anti-masques
present the union of pleasure and vice as that which must be put asunder,
in order for virtue to take her proper place at pleasure™s side. Comus
presides over the ¬rst anti-masque, a celebration of gluttony dispelled by
Hercules, whose legendary choice of hard virtue over easy pleasure serves
as the mythological pretext for the masque. In the second anti-masque,
anger is the vice in question; an enraged pygmy and his companions seek
vengeance on Hercules for killing the giant, Antaeus:
Where is this Hercules? What would I give
To meet him now? Meet him? nay three such other,
If they had hand in murder of our brother!
With three? with four, with ten, nay, with as many
As the name yields! Pray anger there be any
Whereon to feed my just revenge, and soon!
How shall I kill him? Hurl him ™gainst the moon,
And break him in small portions!34

When the pygmies discover Hercules asleep beneath a tree, and feel
certain they “have him,” this same angry leader exclaims, “Come, let us
dance for joy” (lines 121ff.). Their anger is a pleasure, and their impending
vengeance, a cause for excited celebration. Furthermore, the pygmy™s
prayer to anger reveals the similarity between his rage and Comus™
gluttony, as the pygmy desires an ever-expanding number of victims
“whereon to feed” his vengeance. The two vices merge as pleasurable
forms of excess and obsession enacted as humorous grotesques.
Shelley and the masks of anger 125
The triumphant dance of the pygmies is immediately followed by their
dispersal, as Hercules awakens to the sound of a choir, which in turn sets
the stage for Mercury and Daedalus, presiding over the masque proper.
The discordant dance of vengeance is replaced by the graceful intertwin-
ings of masquers and nobles, enacting the reconciliation of pleasure and
virtue. On an aesthetic level, the main masque thus uses the anti-masque
to heighten its idealizations by way of contrast. From a political or moral
perspective, the anti-masque represents that which must be expelled or
purged in order for the ideal to exist. In the ideology of this masque, the
vengeful anger of the pygmies has no business with either pleasure or
virtue, except as a grotesque other to be unmasked and dispelled.
Likewise, “the execrable passion of vengeance” has no place in the
utopian society Shelley envisions (Prose, 263). In his preface to The Cenci,
he calls revenge a “pernicious mistake” (Prose, 323), and he takes pains to
separate his own anger, which he presents as de¬ant, public, and moralis-
tic, from vengeance, which he sees as underhanded, private, and malig-
nant. He also recognizes that vengeful anger, which quickly becomes
hatred, is a grotesque emotion at odds with the creation of beautiful
works of art. In “A Hate-Song,” he writes,
A hater he came and sat by a ditch,
And he took an old cracked lute;
And he sang a song which was more of a screech
™Gainst a woman that was a brute.
(Poetical Works, ed. Hutchinson, 550, lines 1“4)
Like the pygmies™ dance of revenge, the screech of the hater, to the
accompaniment of a broken instrument, is an ugly parodic work of art,
meant to demonstrate the deforming in¬‚uence of vengeful anger as a
destructive rather than a creative emotion.
In the masque/anti-masque dialectic of Jonson™s Pleasure Reconciled to
Virtue, Shelley found a generic model that allows for the presentation of
anger and then the elimination of it. Yet, because the anger in Jonson™s
masque is so openly grotesque and vengeful, Shelley had to look elsewhere
for the revelatory anger that was so important to his political, satiric poetry;
that is, he needed anger that was anti-mask, not merely anti-masque.
Milton™s Comus is central to this aspect of Shelley™s imagination, not least
because Milton reworks the masque genre so completely, separating it
from the celebrations of monarchy that Jonson authored.35 Crucial to our
interests is Milton™s presentation of anger in this masque as an incantation
of revelation, a strategy Shelley made his own, as we have seen.
Anger, Revolution, and Romanticism
126
In Comus, the imprisoned Lady, tempted by Comus to surrender
to sensual (and sexual) indulgence, responds, “Hence with thy brewed
enchantments, foul deceiver! / Hast thou betrayed my credulous in-
nocence / With vizored falsehood and base forgery?”36 Comus remains
undeterred, and the Lady™s anger rises:
Thou art not ¬t to hear thyself convinced:
Yet, should I try, the uncontrolled worth
Of this pure cause would kindle my rapt spirits
To such a ¬‚ame of sacred vehemence,
That dumb things would be moved to sympathize,
And brute earth would lend her nerves, and shake,
Till all thy magic structures, reared so high,
Were shattered into heaps o™er thy false head. (65, lines 792“99)
One can hear this extraordinary passage resonating through
Shelley™s angry poetry, particularly in Prometheus™ curse and the curse
on Keats™s reviewer. Milton™s Lady emphasizes Comus™ “vizored false-
hood,” which her anger as a “¬‚ame of sacred vehemence” will dispel; here
is the curse as an incantation of unmasking, the familiar Shelleyan
trope. Shelley explicitly echoes this passage in Charles the First, when a
citizen observing the nobles™ masque observes, “When lawyers masque ™tis
time for honest men / To strip the vizor from their purposes” (Poetical
Works, ed. Hutchinson, 490, i.i.76“77). Furthermore, the Lady™s claim
that “brute earth would lend her nerves” to Comus™ defeat pre¬gures the
Earth™s participation in Prometheus™ curse, as the “venerable mother” who
has kept that “treasured spell. . .in secret joy” (214“15, i .184ff). Finally, the
Lady™s con¬dence in the “uncontrolled worth / Of this pure cause”
reminds us of Shelley™s faith in his role as public defender, warding
off the corrupt “enchantments” of church and state, and the “base
forgery” of the reviewers.
The Orphean quality of the Lady™s (deferred) outburst clearly attracts
Shelley as well. “Dumb things would be moved to sympathize” with her
anger, in the same way that the natural world responds to Prometheus™
curse and Jupiter™s fall. Poetic utterance that has power beyond that of
unacknowledged legislation is Shelley™s covert wish, part of his satiric
inheritance and his prophetic aspiration. In “Orpheus,” Shelley drama-
tizes this fantasy by depicting a broken-hearted Orpheus who returns
from his unsuccessful voyage to “drear Hell”:
He chose a lonely seat of unhewn stone,
Blackened with lichens, on a herbless plain.
Then from the deep and over¬‚owing spring
Shelley and the masks of anger 127
Of his eternal ever-moving grief
There rose to Heaven a sound of angry song.
(Poetical Works, ed. Hutchinson, 629, lines 68“72)
Orpheus™s irrigating rage over¬‚ows in a “harmonious roar” and causes
“Earth herself” to bring forth trees, ¬‚owers, and bushes, which encircle his
seat, “while near his feet grim lions crouch” (lines 114ff.). The song of
anger moves dumb things to sympathize, and brute earth lends her nerves,
here as in Milton™s masque. It would seem that, in at least one corner of
Shelley™s imagination, any emotion felt strongly and sincerely tends
towards utopian creativity.
Furthermore, Shelley follows Milton in his alteration of the Orphean
myth by reconceiving this power as a disenchanting agent operating
against “magic structures” and “enchantments,” rather than as a charming
spell. Of Renaissance masques, Orgel observes, “when magic appears in
the masques, it is regularly counteracted not by an alternative sorcery. . .
but by the clear voice of reason, constancy, heroism” (The Illusion of
Power, 56). In Milton and Shelley, this clear voice partakes heavily of
moral indignation. Both Milton and Shelley imagine anger as the proper
tenor of the Orphean utterance, which will compel super- and un-natural
illusions to yield to natural realities. Their angry curses draw power from
the utter sincerity and righteousness of their speakers. In Shelley™s Prome-
theus Unbound and “Orpheus,” the earth is (naturally) moved by sym-
pathy for the singer™s over¬‚ow of powerful anger, not by telekinesis or
mesmerism.
In Milton™s masque, the Lady™s last spoken words are these angry ones.
Following this speech, her brothers “rush in with swords drawn,” chase
Comus away, and release her by calling on Sabrina and the water-nymphs
to “undo the charmed band” that restrains the Lady (Comus, 68, line 904).
The masque ends as a spirit admonishes, “Love Virtue: she alone is free”
(71, line 1019). This concluding sequence presents the ful¬llment of the
Lady™s curse, much in the same way that the later acts of Prometheus
Unbound ful¬ll Prometheus™ curse of Jupiter. A moment after she
threatens Comus with the destruction of his “magic structures,” the
brothers enter and accomplish just that, making way for the “victorious
dance / O™er sensual folly and intemperance” (70, lines 974“75). Shelley is
more ambivalent than Milton about the power of outrage, and may have
perceived too close a resemblance between this “victorious dance” and the
joyous dance of the vengeful pygmies in Pleasure Reconciled to Virtue.
In emphasizing too completely the righteousness of the Lady™s wrath,
Milton™s masque presents the triumph of virtue over pleasure, not the
Anger, Revolution, and Romanticism
128
reconciliation of the two. Whereas Milton is content to let his heroine™s
anger have the last word, Shelley fears anger™s tendency to adopt the robes
of the tyrant it has overthrown. Therefore, Prometheus explicitly re-
nounces his curse; his anger unmasks, and then is itself unmasked. In
Shelley™s view, only when indignation is dispelled can pleasure and virtue
meet in an uncon¬‚icted embrace.
Shelley tests the limits of this generic structure most overtly in The
Mask of Anarchy, inspired by the poet™s openly satiric outrage over the
Peterloo Massacre and by his attempts to transcend that outrage by way of
the masque. A good deal of critical ink has been devoted to the strange
intersection of satire and masque found in The Mask of Anarchy. Most
notably, Stuart Curran, Lisa Vargo, and Steven Jones have all discussed its
various maskings and unmaskings, and all three critics seem quite pre-
pared to read The Mask of Anarchy as following the generic trajectory I
have described: from satiric anger and its unmasking imperative to
millennial, masque-like hope as the end of satire.37 At a relatively high
level, The Mask of Anarchy does conform to this structure. The masked,
allegorical ¬gures of evil are dispersed by a spirit of freedom and the voice
of the earth, thus restoring “Hope” (line 128). However, because the
“indignant earth” gets the last word “ and there repeats her ¬rst, most
militant advice “ we may feel that anger remains dominant at the poem™s
conclusion. Shelley is explicitly concerned here with breaking cycles of
violence and revenge, yet he is unwilling to relinquish the outrage that he
continually defers. He claims to have felt a “torrent of indignation” in
response to Peterloo, but he begins The Mask of Anarchy not as a raging
poet, but as a dreaming one. The poem opens on a cinematic vision that
combines Biblical iconography and English politics with the logic of
nightmare. As a poetic spectacle or masque of evil (Shelley calls it a
“ghastly masquerade” in line 27), the ¬rst twenty-¬ve stanzas of the poem
are grim and disturbing, but their tone can hardly be called angry. As
Morton Paley puts it, the speaker “does not seem to comprehend
the meaning of what he relates: extraordinary events are recounted
in a ¬‚at, quotidian tone, much as in Blake™s ˜The Mental Traveller™”
(“Apocapolitics,” 94). Frequent echoes of the Biblical Revelation reinforce
a sense of apocalyptic detachment at odds with the satiric anger that
relishes actual revelation:
I met Murder on the way “
He had a mask like Castlereagh “
Very smooth he looked, yet grim;
Seven bloodhounds followed him: (316, lines 5“8)
Shelley and the masks of anger 129
Unlike other masks we have seen, Murder™s Castlereagh-mask is part of
an array of verbal iconography that is meant to reveal rather than disguise.
Shelley offers this image, and others like it, as a vision of a higher disorder
that does not require satiric unmasking: what good would it do to strip
Castlereagh™s image from Murder™s face? In Shelley™s mythography, both
are images and sources of evil; Murder has adopted this mask not to fool
the English people but to publicize the allegiance of Castlereagh as his
faithful right-hand man.
This initial visionary anti-masque depicts the triumphant progression
of Anarchy and his minions as a prophetic revelation. Carl Woodring
remarks that the poem “treats the mode of prophetic dream-vision as
apocalypse, a ¬nal uncovering and revelation.”38 It is too late, Shelley
implies, for satire™s angry scourge; the powers of evil have already revealed
themselves in all their strength, eager for the inevitable apocalyptic clash.39
The expository power of satire has become redundant, and more severely
violent methods of dealing with evil are required of the poet. Thus anger
manifests itself, in the second half of the poem, as a call to arms, as if
“indignant earth” had “cried aloud”:
Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number
Shake your chains to Earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you“
Ye are many “ they are few. (320, lines 151“55)
A trumpet of a prophecy to unawakened England, the earth™s oration
partakes of both the de¬ant rage of the public defender and the calmer
assurance of the apocalyptic visionary. Here the lions will not lie down
with the lambs, but “rise. . . / In unvanquishable number,” obviously with
less conciliatory plans for the bloodhounds of Murder; these rough beasts
slouch towards a second, apocalyptic Peterloo.
In fact, the poem™s uncanny circling around, and back to, the scene of a
bloody massacre reveals Shelley™s ambivalence regarding the generic and
moral polarities of killing: is it an imaginative necessity for the radical
poet? Certainly this poem requires a good deal of bloodshed to keep it
going. The ¬rst thing Anarchy does when he appears is trample “to a mire
of blood / The adoring multitude” (317, lines 40“41), cheered on by his
“mighty troop,” “Waving each a bloody sword” (317, lines 42“44). Under
Anarchy™s rule, indiscriminate slaughter apparently is the order of the day;
Anarchy is just as eager to kill supporters as enemies. This initial scene of
bloodshed gives way to another, presented obliquely, as Anarchy is
Anger, Revolution, and Romanticism
130
somehow killed following the appearance of “a Shape arrayed in mail”
(319, lines 110):
And the prostrate multitude
Looked “ and ankle-deep in blood,
Hope that maiden most serene
Was walking with a quiet mien:
And Anarchy, the ghastly birth,
Lay dead upon the earth “
The Horse of Death tameless as wind
Fled, and with his hoofs did grind
To Dust, the murderers thronged behind. (320, lines 126“34)
As Morton Paley has noted, that “ankle“deep” blood signi¬es some
epic slaughter, not the mere leveling of one skeleton and a few dusty
murderers (“Apocapolitics,” 100). The defeat of Anarchy, Shelley implies,
will occur when the “sons of England” (320, line 140) deliver their bodies to
be slaughtered in protest of their condition. The poem™s ¬nal scene makes
clear how this should be accomplished: by staging another Peterloo, which
will in turn lead to revolution. The “tyrants” may “Slash, and stab, and
maim, and hew,” but “that slaughter to the Nation / Shall steam up like
inspiration, / Eloquent, oracular; / A volcano heard afar” (325, lines
342ff.), and awaken England with the same lion-rousing cry to battle.
Leigh Hunt decided not to print the poem in the Examiner precisely
because of its encouragement of revolutionary anger among the people.
As he explained in 1832, when the poem was eventually published,
I did not insert it because I thought that the public at large had not become
suf¬ciently discerning to do justice to the sincerity and kindheartedness of the
spirit that walked in this ¬‚aming robe of verse. His charity was avowedly more
than proportionate to his indignation; yet I thought that even the suffering part
of the people, judging, not unnaturally from their own feelings, and from the
exasperation which suffering produces before it produces knowledge, would
believe a hundredfold in his anger, to what they would in his good intention.40
For Hunt, anger and good intentions are mutually exclusive when
times are ripe for violent revolution, because the people are ready to
“believe a hundred-fold” in anger and act accordingly. Shelley may have
avowed his charity, but, in Hunt™s view, his indignation was all too
temptingly apparent to those suffering under Pitt™s repressive ministry.
Withholding the reconciliations of masque as the conclusion to its satiric
anger, The Mask of Anarchy leaves this voice of righteous indignation
ringing in the ears of its auditors.
Shelley and the masks of anger 131
Shelley™s poem thus traces a circle which leads to and from a scene of
violence. Anarchy™s initial triumphant entrance, with its bloody, war-like
deeds, serves as the anti-masque for Shelley, who presents the (equally
bloody) passive resistance of the sons of England as the masque proper.
However, this scene of resistance pre¬gures yet another con¬‚ict, the one
mandated by the “eloquent, oracular” blood spilled, the “volcano heard
afar,” prophesying the active overthrow of Pitt™s government, the army,
George III, the Church of England, and the slave trade. This is the
revolution that Shelley is not ready to embrace, yet which he secretly
hopes may put an end to cyclical violence by routing Anarchy and the
“murderers thronged behind” once and for all.
Like “England in 1819,” Shelley™s Mask of Anarchy ends with an antici-
pated millennium rather than an imminent one, precisely because he
avoids imagining the spectacle of decisive and bloody transition. For all
of his fascination with physical violence, Shelley swerves from confronting
the ultimate conclusion of his preoccupations: a vision of con¬‚ict that
Yeats knew Shelley lacked, or feared. In addition, the poem stops short of
the typical reconciliations of masque, as Shelley begins to perceive a
fundamental evil that does survive its revelation as such, and must be
dealt with by more violent means. Yet he remains skeptical that Anarchy
could be defeated by the same outrage that produced the carnivalesque
slaughter of the French Revolution.
The horns of this dilemma “ how to destroy evil without becoming
an evil destroyer “ caught Shelley and left him with the bleak con¬rma-
tion of The Triumph of Life: “God made irreconcilable / Good and the
means of good” (490, lines 230“31). The last stanzas of that poem
depict a scene where unmasking leads not to revelation but to enervated
exhaustion and despair:
“. . . thus on the way
Mask after mask fell from the countenance
And form of all; and long before the day
“Was old, the joy which waked like heaven™s glance
The sleepers in the oblivious valley, died;
And some grew weary of the ghastly dance,
“And fell, as I have fallen, by the wayside;“
Those soonest from whose forms most shadows passed,
And least of strength and beauty did abide.” (499“500, lines 535“43)
Here Rousseau describes the “phantoms” (498, lines 482ff.) or human
passions as trans¬guring the marching throng: “thus on the way, / Mask
Anger, Revolution, and Romanticism
132
upon mask fell from the countenance / and form of all,” causing men to
grow “weary of the ghastly dance.” Each falling mask or phantom reveals
another behind it and takes some “strength and freshness” from “every
¬rmest limb and fairest face” (499, line 520) “ like the “vampire-bats” to
which the phantoms are compared (498, line 484). Shelley presents
unmasking unto death in this poem as directly opposed to the utopian
unmaskings of Prometheus Unbound, where “those / From whom they
past seemed mild and lovely forms / After some foul disguise had fallen”
(265, ii i .4.68“70). In Prometheus Unbound, “proud, angry looks” are
“foul masks” that “Hide that fair being whom we spirits call man” (265,
i i i.4.41ff.). In The Triumph of Life, these proud, angry masks transform
man to their own image and then depart, leaving him less fair and closer
to death.
By analyzing the generic and mythographic implications of anger in
Shelley™s poetry, we come nearer to understanding the ways political
emotions shaped artistic utterance in this period. For poets who wrote
in the highly charged Romantic era of revolution and reaction, negotiat-
ing the claims of politics and art meant ¬nding ways to gather, process,
and distribute outrage. Shelley responds with the deeply ambivalent,
doubly “tempered” form I have called the Masque of Anger. We have
seen that his faith in the revelatory power of anger determines the utopian
tenor of his work, but his ultimate retraction of anger determines that
the resolutions he desires shall remain utopian. In sum, his poetry of
desire depends upon, but does not admit, his poetry of de¬ance. Shelley is
at his best when he can imagine opposing some tyrannical authority in
pursuit of some imaginative consummation, in poems like Prometheus
Unbound, “Ode to the West Wind,” and Epipsychidion. Moreover, he
wants his anger not only to defy but also to unmask, revealing the
falsehood supporting tyranny and thus creating a post-political world
where anger and desire may end, where humanity may rest calm of
mind, all passion spent. In “The Philosophy of Shelley™s Poetry,” Yeats
memorably imagines Shelley worshiping “in some chapel of the Star of
in¬nite desire,” but that desire is always for the end to desire altogether, in
that far Paterian household “where the undying gods await all whose souls
have become simple as ¬‚ame, whose bodies have become quiet as an agate
lamp.”41 The same may be said of Shelley™s anger, that it is a rage for order
against the chaos of violent contention and the deceptions of fearful
revenge. Its various play of masking and unmasking points beyond a
¬nal, apocalyptic revelation.
chapter 6

Byron™s curse




At every stage of his career, from English Bards and Scotch Reviewers
(1809) and The Curse of Minerva (1811) to Marino Faliero (1820) and Cain

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