I recently reviewed Jessica Quillin's wonderful and important book, "Shelley at the Musico-Poetics of Romanticism" and received a deluge of interest - over 150 likes, 26 shares and 6,000 interactions. Wow. This underlined for me the vast amount of interest there is in this topic. The problem is that while Jessica's book is brilliant, it is something of a specialist's text and not necessarily for the lay person. I have asked Jessica if should could put together a precis for the Shelley Nation - and she agreed!! Jessica - you are officially on the hook. In the meantime, I am excited to link to an earlier article of hers in which she discusses the incredible influence opera had on Prometheus Unbound.
My first introduction to this idea was through fellow Canadian Ronald Tetrault who wrote a wonderful article called "Shelley at the Opera" in 1981. This is also deserving of a link in this section, which will come. in the meantime, here is what Jessica has to say:
While critics and reviewers of the past two hundred years have struggled to find a suitable analogy for Prometheus Unbound in literature, it seems possible that Shelley had non-literary models in mind when he was writing what he described to Thomas Love Peacock as "a lyric & classical drama" (PSL, II, 43). Indeed, the world of music provides a clear parallel to Shelley’s lyrical drama in the form of the Italian opera buffa that so delighted the poet and his friends during the London seasons in 1817 and 1818. Ronald Tetreault remarks that Prometheus Unbound is a "lyrical drama whose form derives ultimately from the union of poetry and music in Greek tragedy, but whose closest contemporary equivalent was the opera, especially the musical comedy of Mozart" (145). Taking Tetreault’s observation one step further, I would like to argue that the organization of discourse and the specific dramatic arrangement of Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound have strong affinities with the Italian operas of his day, particularly the works of Mozart and Rossini.
I find this sensational. Prometheus Unbound is a very difficult poem - and it is a goal of mine to eventually provide interested readers with keys to unlocking its magical, transformative power. The realization that operatic motifs and styles influenced not just the design of the poem, but its content is, well, breathtaking. I hope it will encourage opera fans to add Shelley not just to their artistic vocabulary but perhaps even their repertoire.
Jessica's article is longish but thrilling. So you need the following tools to read it: glass of whiskey, cheese plate, logs on the fire and Don Giovanni on the stereo (plus optional cats or dogs curled up nearby). Got it? Good. Now get to it, Shelley Nation.