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The vertex of Percy Shelley’s drama was a tragedy “Cenci” (1819), based on the Italian material. Shelley saw the tragedy as the most important dramatic genre, as in the drama the hero goes through the pain and difficulties, overcomes them, and morally rises; the more he suffers, the more strengthened his desire to eradicate the evil becomes. The tragedy of Shelley develops the traditions of English theater that are going from Shakespeare. This is one of the most “Shakespearean” works of English Romanticism according to the passions and the power of images: the ominous figure of Francesco Cenci, and his avenging daughter Beatrice – the true success of the author. The poet himself pointed the similarity of this tragedy to Shakespeare’s “King Lear” in the degree of dramatic tension. The conflict of love is given the secondary role, while the main thing is the struggle against evil, which also generates evil. Shelley shows how breaks the line between good and evil, and he is against such indistinction of good and evil. In the preface he writes that Beatrice, following the way of revenge to her father, made a tragic mistake: she was to act with love and kindness instead of violence. Her death is the price paid for the mistake.
The plot is based on manuscript, which was found by Shelley during his trip to Italy. It tells about the events of 1599: atrocities and excesses of the Italian Count Cenci, who killed his sons and dishonored the daughter. Papal court didn’t pay attention on the crimes of the Count, who paid large sums to the court. Then the daughter of Count, Beatrice, hired assassins to put an end to her father’s evils. But the murder was revealed, and Beatrice, her brother and stepmother were executed by sentence of the father.
All these events are presented in the tragedy of Shelley in a typically romantic way. At the beginning of the tragedy, Beatrice is portrayed as humiliated and crying person. At the end, having gone through the misery brought by her father, and through the flour prison walls, she becomes more and more courageous. In the final, she goes to the chopping block with proudly raised head, accepting the fate as punishment for her deeds.
Shelley tries to avoid her idealization, since he does not see the way out of the heroine’s path – the path of revenge, which is false, according to Shelley. It condemns violence in all its manifestations. Anyway, the author paints a romantic image; all the other characters in the drama are considerably inferior to the power of the spirit of Beatrice – that is her kind and compassionate stepmother Lucretia, and her wavering brother Giacomo. They all desire the death of the hated tyrant – Count Cenci, but after the disclosure of the murder, they all can not stand the suffering and torture, they break, indulge in despair, and only Beatrice maintains a presence of mind.
The author makes an effort to divert the reader from the perspective of love, this line is reduced, love as a feeling of offset. Beatrice refuses her love to Orsino in the name of revenge and punishment of the villain. Orsino is one of the instigators and main organizer of the Count Cenci’s murder. He actually turns out to be a villain and a traitor: after the disclosure the murder, he disappears, betraying the trust of people. His declaration of love to Beatrice is not true. In the final monologue, the author finally opens his essence. The real carrier of evil in the tragedy appears to be not the Count Cenci; in his behavior and words it is not hard to see clear signs or insanity, or total depravity. For example, he arranges to celebrate when he gets to know that his both sons were killed so he doesn’t need to maintain them any more. The main evil in this tragedy is the papal court and the Pope who made the faith to be a justification of crime. They not only failed to stop the villain, but severely punish his killers, seeing it as a threat to morality and order, which they promote and support.
Pope is compared with a mechanism that does not realize what happens in reality and what are the consequences for the rest of people. He puts the principles of law and order, which replace humanity. These words indicate that the conflict goes beyond the private, family tragedy and finds social meaning. Beatrice, her brothers and step-mother are the victims of not only a mad old man but of the social system which is based on injustice. Their crime is generated by the Count’s crimes, and they in turn are the consequence of pope’s complacency. The heroes find themselves in circumstances when there are two ways out: either death from the hands of Cenci, or on the scaffold.
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