The Dynasts Summary

Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

The Spirit of Years, Shade of Earth, Spirit Sinister, Spirit Ironic, Spirit of Pities, and their accompanying choruses forgather somewhere above the earth to watch the larger movements of humans in western Europe in 1805. The design of the Immanent Will manifests itself at the time in Napoleon’s preparations for the invasion of England.

In England, Sir William Pitt contends with isolationist members of Parliament to secure proper defense against the invasion, while Napoleon goes to Milan to be crowned king of Italy. The spirits make light of the chicanery and pomp that attends the coronation. The Spirit of Pities descends to earth and disturbs Napoleon by reminding him of his original intention to champion liberty.

At sea, a Pyrrhic victory of the French and Spanish over the English prevents the support required for the planned invasion. On the south coast of England, the Phantoms of Rumor cause great disturbance. A fleet of fishing craft is mistaken for the invasion fleet, and civilians flee from the coastal towns as signal fires flare upon the cliffs and hills.

When Napoleon learns that his admiral, Villeneuve, has returned to Cadiz, he discards his invasion plan and moves eastward against Austria and Russia, countries that Pitt enlisted in the English cause. The Spirit of Years remarks that the ensuing campaign will be a model in tactics for all time. At Ulm, Napoleon defeats the Austrians, who hoped that the English fleet would hold the French forces in northern France. In London, Pitt, unsuccessful in gaining permission from the king to form a coalition government, visibly declines in health under his terrible burden.

Villeneuve is ordered out of Cadiz. The British under Admiral Horatio Nelson meet the French and Spanish off Trafalgar and defeat them. Nelson is killed in the engagement; Villeneuve subsequently ends his own life in an inn at Rennes. Napoleon defeats the Austrians and Russians at Austerlitz. Then, hearing of the English victory at Trafalgar, he declares his intention to close all continental ports to English ships. He dictates peace terms to Emperor Francis of Austria while attendant Austrian officers stand by in disgust at the sight of a nobody dictating to true royalty. In Paris, the Spirit of Rumor comments on the way Napoleon is uprooting old dynasties and founding new ones.

Pitt being dead and King George III being mentally ill, Charles James Fox negotiates for England with Napoleon for peace, but Napoleon uses the negotiations as a screen for his real plans. He marches on Prussia and defeats the Germans at the Battle of Jena. In Berlin, he decrees that all British ships are barred from continental ports. Napoleon and Tsar Alexander of Russia meet at the River Niemen, where the two draw up a Franco-Russian alliance. During this meeting, Napoleon expresses the...

(The entire section is 1163 words.)