Byron’s dramatic poem “Manfred” is a poem that exemplifies the characteristics of the Romantic Period. It focuses on feeling and emotions, along with supernatural setting and events. This makes it an ideal work in characterizing what writing was like during this time. Also, Byron’s character Manfred and his belief in the individual demonstrate the thinking of a time period which had both the French and American revolutions. In looking at the work through these three pieces, a person can easily see that it is a piece of Romantic literature.
During the Romantic period, there was a focus on the truth of personal feelings, especially feelings that were deeply sad. In reading “Manfred”, a person can see these types of deeply sad feelings in almost the whole poem. For example, the character Manfred is a hero but has many instances where a person can plainly see he’s sad. He says, “Grief should be the instructor of the wise” (1.1.9). The character says this because he is currently upset over a woman who has died. His deep sadness is so great even, that Manfred asks of the spirits he’s summoned to make him forget and turn his life to oblivion. The spirits cannot offer this and an upset Manfred then suggests death as a substitute. Later, when the spirits show a vision of his this woman, Manfred says, “My heart is crushed” (1.1.192). So, given the deep feelings and deep sadness in the work, the poem shows that it is Romantic poetry.
Also, the supernatural things are also often seen in Romanticism and are also seen in “Manfred.” The main character has super powers whereby he can talk with and order around spirits. He even has a short talk with his dead lover. The Abbot even thinks the
powers of Manfred are unreal. He says, “’Tis said thou holdest converse with the things which are forbidden to the search of man” (3.3.34-35). Manfred himself later says almost the same thing: “I learned the language of another world” (3.4.7). It is through Manfred’s super powers of communication, and the fact that there are spirits, that the poem shows supernatural parts and proves it is Romantic literature.
Probably the most obvious part of Romanticism seen in the poem is that of the focus on the individual. Manfred’s character demonstrates the thinking of the time by rebelling and really shows the human ability to not give in to others even when they look like they’re the more powerful force. Manfred’s character not only calls spirits, he threatens and argues with them. He dares them also and denies that they could possibly have any power over him. Manfred says, “Slaves, scoff not at my will! The mind, the spirit, the Promethean spark, the lightning of my being . . . that not yields to yours, though coop’d in clay” (1.1.153 – 157). Even though these spirits have the power to do what he asks and raise the dead, Manfred will not listen to them or makes promises. In his talks with the witch, a person can see the Manfred is not going to do what they ask him to. He says, “I will not swear – obey and whom? The spirits whose presence I command, and be the slave of those who served me – never!” (2.2, 157-159). Manfred is not only doesn’t believe the power that spirits might have over him, but he also doesn’t listen to the church. When he talks to the priest, he tells the priest to punish him if he has not listened and sinned against God. When the priest says he did not mention punishment but that he should feel bad about what he did, Manfred says that prayers have no power. Even on his when he’s dying, the priests asks that he say just one prayer, but he will
not; he only says that it dying is not a hard thing to do. Manfred’s belief in himself is often seen in Romanticism. It is stands for how the people felt at that time. They were tired of how they were treated by their kings and thought just one person could do something about it. This makes the poem “Manfred” a Romantic poem because people thought individual people were important.
“Manfred” is one of the poems that really is part of the Romantic Period. It has deep sadness, super skills and characters, and believes the individual was important. This shows that it really belongs to the period, and that the poem talks about how people felt at that time. They were tired of kings and wanted to do things themselves.
Byron, George Gordon Lord. “Manfred.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2000. 588-620.