Last Updated on July 22, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 410
There are numerous important themes in Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound. The four-act play follows the Greek myth of Prometheus, a Titan. Prometheus possesses sympathy for mankind and steals fire in order to ensure the progression of mankind. The gods had forbidden this act, and Prometheus is forced to spend his life chained to a rock as his punishment. Each day, an eagle (the symbol of Zeus) would appear and eat the liver of Prometheus. The liver would grow back each night, and Prometheus would have to submit to it day after day. Eventually, Hercules releases Prometheus from his chains.
Knowledge and Freedom
One theme of the play is knowledge and freedom. These two themes work together throughout the play. Essentially, the possession of knowledge brings about freedom. Unfortunately for Prometheus, his desire to enlighten mankind brings about his own loss of freedom. That said, without Prometheus to lead mankind on how to use fire, mankind regresses and begins to use it for evil. This speaks to the negative aspects of freedom. When mankind is not “held in check” by rules, or in this case Prometheus, they begin to use fire in a way Prometheus did not intend. In the end, Prometheus is saved from his chains, is able to free himself from Jupiter’s torment, and is able to lead mankind down the path to true knowledge and freedom.
As a Romantic, many of Shelley’s writings possess romantic characteristics. Romantics valued imagination, subjectivity, nature, and the empowerment of the individual. In some cases, the romantic hero tended to go against religious law or man’s law in order to seek out Forbidden Knowledge. Here, the gods did not wish mankind to possess knowledge of fire.
Power of the Individual
Prometheus, a champion of mankind, did not believe that mankind’s possession of fire was a negative thing. He went against the laws and desires of the gods and gave mankind fire anyway. Through this, one could identify the importance or power of the individual to be an important theme. Given that Prometheus was acting out as an individual against the whole (the gods), his individual desires are highlighted. As a conduit between the gods and mankind, Prometheus’s chaining represents the chaining of humanity (which could also be tied to the theme of freedom). Prometheus, as an individual, has the power to make great strides on behalf of humanity. Therefore, his individual empowerment is of the utmost importance.