by Percy Bysshe Shelley is a lyrical drama told in four acts. In the first act, Prometheus, the Titan, is bound to a rock. When morning dawns, Prometheus cries out against the “Monarch of Gods and Daemons,” who is Jupiter (Zeus in the Greek pantheon). As the hawks begin to tear at his flesh for the day, he recounts his suffering and claims that he is greater than Jupiter. The Earth commiserates with him against Jupiter’s tyranny. She tells him that there are two realities—the current reality and the shadow reality.
Prometheus summons the Phantasm of Jupiter to restate his curse and then repents, but Mercury—the messenger god—arrives with words from Jupiter and the Furies. He tells Prometheus that Jupiter has willed a new punishment for Prometheus. Mercury offers him pity but reminds him that he has to oppose him because Prometheus opposed Jupiter. Mercury asks Prometheus to reveal the secret that he alone knows—the fate of Jupiter—but Prometheus refuses, even when Mercury offers him freedom and exaltation. Thunder rolls and Mercury leaves; the Furies begin torturing Prometheus by telling him that they attack humankind; for the champion of humankind, this is a great blow indeed, but Prometheus accepts it as part of his martyrdom.
He reflects that even though he would never want to be a mortal, there is a promise of peace with death. Spirits come and speak to Prometheus, proclaiming that he will “quell this horseman grim” because of his secret knowledge.
In act 2, Oceanid Asia summons her sister Panthea. They talk about life since Prometheus’s fall. They discuss dreams, and when the Echoes arrive, they follow when beckoned. The Echoes promise that if they do, an unspoken voice will wake in an unknown world. They arrive in a forest among spirits and fauns. From there, they are sent to the cave of the Demogorgon, where Asia questions the Demogorgon about the world’s creator. The Demogorgon answers that God created everything, both good and bad. Asia demands the Demogorgon provide her with a name for God. They talk about how Jupiter rules the universe, and how Prometheus gave humans fire, mining knowledge, speech, science, and medicine.
Asia asks when Prometheus will be freed. The cave opens and Demogorgon leaves on his chariot. The Hours come to transport Asia and Panthea. On this journey to a mountaintop, Asia undergoes a change that reveals to her that it is through her love that she discovers paradise.
That is where act 3 takes place—in heaven. Jupiter and the other gods hold court, and Jupiter claims to have conquered everything but the soul of man. He speaks of the rise of Demogorgon, who appears then and says he is Eternity, Jupiter’s child—and therefore more powerful than the sky god. At first, Jupiter seeks Eternity’s mercy, saying that not even Prometheus would make him suffer. When Eternity does not answer, Jupiter attacks him. However, the elements will not help Jupiter; he falls.
Ocean and Apollo talk about Jupiter’s fall. Hercules frees Prometheus, who thanks him. He tells Asia there is a cave where they can be with one another for all time. Earth describes death to Asia, who does not understand at first because she is immortal. Earth summons a spirit to guide Prometheus, Asia, and their friends to a temple that was once dedicated to worshipping Prometheus and tells them that they can live there in that cave. When they arrive, the Hours tell them that since Jupiter’s fall, mankind is free. They have abandoned their thrones and live peacefully but not without passion.
In act 4, the spirits of the dead Hours and the human mind rejoice over the peace brought about by the end of Jupiter’s tyranny. Panthea and Ione describe a chariot with a winged infant—the Spirit of Earth. The Earth and Moon sing together about the peace and freedom mankind is now experiencing, and how there are no secrets left hidden from them—humans even control the lightning. The Demogorgon appears and speaks at the end of Prometheus Unbound
, to laud Prometheus’s victory.Prometheus Unbound
(1820) deals with the aftermath of Prometheus stealing fire from the gods and giving it to humans. Shelley was inspired to write Prometheus Unbound
by the classical trilogy of plays known as Prometheia
, written by Aeschylus during the height of Ancient Greek power. The great difference between the two works is that in Aeschylus’s work, Prometheus and Zeus reconcile; they do not in Shelley’s work. Prometheus Unbound
is what is known as a closet drama—that is, Shelley never intended it to be performed on stage. It was meant to be performed in the reader’s mind’s eye.
Percy Bysshe Shelley was an influential English Romantic poet. He was considered a radical both politically and socially. He was good friends with Lord Byron and married to Mary Shelley, known for the novel Frankenstein