The magician Manfred summons a group of spirits to make him forget some secret, but they cannot. The next day, Manfred attempts suicide by throwing himself off a mountain, but a passing chamois hunter saves him. The hunter urges Manfred to repent of his secret sin, but Manfred claims that his sin is part of his destiny.
Manfred calls up the Witch of the Alps and reveals that the woman Astarte was destroyed by his love for her. Manfred then goes to the evil spirit Arimanes and demands that he summon the phantom of Astarte, who tells him that his torment will soon be over.
Manfred feels a great calm and prepares to meet his destiny. He encounters the Abbot of St. Maurice, who asks him to reconcile himself to God, but Manfred respectfully tells him that it is too late for repentance and that his fate is already decided.
Manfred, gifted, fiercely independent, and tortured by some secret guilt, is an excellent example of the Byronic hero, a figure which, based in part on Byron’s personal mystique, exercised an enormous appeal throughout the Romantic period. Manfred’s chief characteristic, in common with other Byronic heroes, is his pride; the play reveals this pride as both his glory, making him a great wizard, and his downfall, causing him to have a destructive love affair.
This pride alienates Manfred from human contact. His exalted life is a tormented search for escape from guilt. Yet Manfred’s striving for self-determination invests him with a superhuman grandeur, making him an ambiguous, but...
(The entire section is 631 words.)