Prometheus Unbound

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Utilizing a greater variety of verse forms than appear together in any major English poem, Shelley celebrates the change of heart in Prometheus by demonstrating that his hero’s discovery of love triggers its affirmation throughout the entire universe. Not only is Asia, Prometheus’ wife, raised from her cave in the Caucasus and freed to rejoin her husband by the power released through his loving heart, but even the moon and earth dance in their orbits in heavenly sympathy and self-discovery.

Jupiter is overthrown by Necessity, embodied in the terrifying Nemesis of Demogorgon, who rises in the form of Jupiter’s own child to cast the tyrannical father from his throne. Demogorgon coincides his judgment on Jupiter with Prometheus’ declaration of universal love. Necessity is not the instrument of revolutionary destruction, determinism, or any rational critique; necessity is the unfolding force of love.

Shelley’s great song of liberty and love is his answer to 18th century rationalism as well as a rebuttal of Aeschylus’ intention in his unfinished trilogy on the story of Prometheus. The great Greek tragedian had planned to reconcile Prometheus and Zeus (Jupiter) through the Titan’s revealing of the secret that the head of the gods feared: that Zeus’s son, born of his marriage to Thetis, would overthrow him. Shelley could imagine no such understanding between love and evil. PROMETHEUS UNBOUND is one of Romanticism’s greatest contributions to the doctrine that “Love Conquers All.”


Baker, Carlos. Shelley’s Major Poetry: The Fabric of a Vision. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1948. An introductory survey of Shelley’s most important writings in verse, this standard work includes a chapter and an appendix on the poem.

Cameron, Kenneth Neill. Shelley: The Golden Years. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1974. In part a biography, this survey of Shelley’s work from 1814 to 1822 analyzes all of his important poetry and culminates with a two-chapter discussion of the poem.

King-Hele, Desmond. Shelley: The Man and the Poet. New York: Yoseloff, 1960. Shelley’s evident interest in science is explored.

Shelley, Percy Bysshe. Prometheus Unbound: A Variorum Edition. Edited by John Lawrence Zillman. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1959. Offers a full text of the poem and line-by-line commentary on it. There are also eight appendices, including “The Prometheus Story Before Shelley.”

Wasserman, Earl R. Shelley’s “Prometheus Unbound”: A Critical Reading. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1965. An example of close reading and profound thought, Wasserman’s philosophical interpretation of Prometheus Unbound defends the poem’s fundamental unity.

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Critical Evaluation