Prometheus Unbound is a four-act lyrical drama by Percy Bysshe Shelley, first published in 1820. It is concerned with the torments of the Greek mythological figure Prometheus, who defies the gods and gives fire to humanity, for which he is subjected to eternal punishment and suffering at the hands of Zeus. It is inspired by the classical Prometheia, a trilogy of plays attributed to Aeschylus. Shelley’s play concerns Prometheus’ release from captivity, but unlike Aeschylus’ version, there is no reconciliation between Prometheus and Jupiter (Zeus). Instead, Jupiter is abandoned by his supportive elements and falls from power, which allows Prometheus to be released.
As you speak, your words
Fill, pause by pause, my own forgotten sleep
With shapes. Methought among these lawns together
We wandered, underneath the young gray dawn,
And multitudes of dense white fleecy clouds
Were wandering in thick flocks along the mountains
Shepherded by the slow, unwilling wind;
Political – Prometheus, then, is also Shelley’s answer to the mistakes of the French Revolution and its cycle of replacing one tyrant with another. Shelley wished to show how a revolution could be conceived which would avoid doing just that, and in the end of this play, there is no power in charge at all; it is an anarchist’s paradise.
Shelley finishes his “Preface” to the play with an evocation of his intentions as a poet:
My purpose has hitherto been simply to familiarize the highly refined imagination of the more select classes of poetical readers with beautiful idealisms of moral excellence; aware that, until the mind can love, and admire, and trust, and hope, and endure, reasoned principles of moral conduct are seeds cast upon the highway of life which the unconscious passenger tramples into dust, although they would bear the harvest of his happiness.