This study positions Percy Bysshe Shelley as an important though ultimately unwilling contributor to the development of mixed-style mimesis and thus to the evolution of Western drama from neoclassicism to realism. To capture the historical dimensions and final irony of this thesis, I frame my analysis of Shelley's dramatic style with a set of poetic and critical contrasts. Judged in the light of twentieth-century treatments of the Cenci story by Antonin Artaud, Bertrand Tavernier, and George Elliott Clarke, Shelley's style appears comparatively unmixed and unrealistic or, as Stuart Curran has argued from different evidence, essentially neoclassical. Viewed in the light of Racinian tragedy, however, or even in the more restricted context of the post-Restoration English drama, Shelley's style appears radically mixed, not an antithesis to twentieth-century approaches to mimesis but a revolutionary anticipation of them. Situating Shelley by means of this double perspective, I show how he disposes the modern mixed style in Prometheus Unbound and The Cenci to make it subserve the ideal poetics and metaphysics of antiquity. As his Defence of Poetry argues and his stylistic treatment of Beatrice Cenci confirms, Shelley thus intended to legislate against his own mimetic breakthrough and, it would appear, significantly failed.
Poetics Today: International Journal for Theory and Analysis of Literature and Communication – Duke University Press
Published: Dec 1, 2001