Voice in Manfred: Sign, Symbol, and Performance

Voice in Byron’s Manfred is a vehicle for authorial power, as well as representing an unstable force that may turn against those that wield it—and thus primarily against the protagonist. Placed at the nexus of the physical and the spiritual, the human and the non-human, voice is a structural theme in the play, relating to spiritual and transcendental issues on the one hand, and questions of theatrical performance typical of the Romantic-period stage on the other. Multiplying the forms and meanings of utterance, Manfred foregrounds, explores, and valorizes voice, which in turn oscillates between a deceivingly singular denotation and an unstoppable process of proliferating connotations. In Byron’s dramatic poem, voice and voicing delineate a field of contacts, overlaps, and tensions, concentrating its questions about identity, power, authority, and control, as well as transcendental and social forms of interconnection or separation. This essay demonstrates that the process of transiting on which Byron’s play is predicated is crucially rooted in the dual nature of voice, its function as an instrument for conjuring and materializing, and its problematic relevance in the theater of the time.