Gothic gallery. The play begins by evoking mystery and the supernatural. The gallery is not described, but its Gothic nature suggests pointed arches and ribbed vaults which emphasize Manfred’s towering sense of being oppressed by “a continuance of enduring thought.” As immortal beings the spirits cannot cope with his quest for “self-oblivion” and his rejection of being “coop’d in clay.”
*Jungfrau (YEWNG-frow). Peak in Switzerland’s Bernese Alps on whose cliffs Manfred is ready to end his life, even though he does not know if death will end his suffering. Prevented from jumping off the cliffs by a chamois hunter, who simply cannot accept suicide as a response to suffering, Manfred is led to safety in a cottage in the Bernese Alps. Finding no comfort in this domestic setting, Manfred explains why he is unfit to live among other people.
At the summit of Jungfrau the Destinies discuss Manfred’s plight, observing that “his aspirations/ Have been beyond the dwellers of the earth.” They cannot help him because they can only ratify what he has learned: “Knowledge is not happiness.”
*Alpine valley. Manfred encounters the Witch of the Alps and explains that he has always identified with the wilderness, felt estranged from human beings, and even caused the death of his beloved, Astarte. However, he refuses the witch’s request that he swear obedience to her as the price of relieving his mortal consciousness.
Manfred’s castle. In his castle Manfred expresses his continuing desolation. He refuses the abbot’s appeal to return to the church. Manfred is “self-condemn’d” and has made, as he earlier remarks, a hell of his own life. Then he withdraws to another chamber, a more private room, to watch the brilliance of the setting sun and to declare that he will end his life.
Mountains. In the distance can be seen Manfred’s castle. He stands on a terrace before a tower remembering how he alienated his beloved, who had been the “sole companion of his wanderings.” Moving even farther away from others in the interior of the tower, Manfred vows to die as he has lived: alone. He has made a desert of his life. The abbot watches Manfred will himself to death, having enclosed himself in the tower of his own suffering.
Butler, E. M. The Fortunes of Faust. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1952. Traces the Faust theme from its first appearance in 1587 to the present. Includes discussion of Manfred and compares Byron’s work with Goethe’s. For magic more generally, see Butler, The Myth of the Magus (1948) and Ritual Magic (1949).
Crane, David. The Kindness of Sisters. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2003. A study of Byron’s reputation after death, exploring bitter and conflicting accounts by the wife he divorced and the sister he seduced.
Evans, Bertrand. Gothic Drama from Walpole to Shelley. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1947. One of the few studies, and certainly the best, on the topic of Gothic drama.
MacCarthy, Fiona. Byron: Life and Legend. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003. A biography that re-examines the life of the poet in the light of MacCarthy’s assertion that Byron was bisexual, a victim of early abuse by his nurse.
Marchand, Leslie. Byron: A Biography. 3 vols. London: John Murray, 1957. It is almost impossible to discuss Manfred apart from the unconventional life of its author, particularly because the setting, the hinted-at theme of incest, and the ambiguous treatment of remorse are so obviously central to its meaning. The...
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standard biography of Byron. The author’s twelve-volume edition of Byron’s letters is equally admirable and should be consulted (volume 5 forManfred), in part because Byron is an extremely interesting letter writer.
Rutherford, Andrew. Byron: A Critical Study. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1961. Readable and superficially comprehensive on Byron, but often unsympathetic. Includes a full chapter on Manfred, which Rutherford, who believes the work to be a failure, ruthlessly dissolves into a pastiche of stolen references to Goethe’s Faust and other literary works.
Thorslev, Peter L., Jr. The Byronic Hero, Types and Prototypes. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1962. One of the most helpful books that a beginning student of British romantic literature can read. Thorslev describes the period as the last great age of heroes. He enumerates seven types of Romantic hero (a very useful classification), as well as the specific heroes that appear in Byron’s major works. Manfred and Cain are analyzed together in chapter 11 as “metaphysical dramas” dealing with the supernatural.