Redeemed from the Worm: Manfred’s Celebrity Revenge Tragedy

This essay considers Manfred, A Dramatic Poem (1817) as a form of revenge tragedy. It takes its cues from the text’s Hamlet epigraph, and from that primal text of Byronic hero-formation, Edward Young’s The Revenge (1721), whose avenger, Zanga, Byron performed at Harrow. In the wake of the separation of April 1816, and inspired by the recent memory of the 1815 London theatre season in which Edmund Kean and John Philip Kemble played Zanga, Byron returned to this ur-text of revenge, I argue, as he started work on Manfred in September 1816. Through the figure of Manfred the magician, the drama allegorizes Byron’s authorial agency as that fraught and intriguing form of social magic, power and intimate publicity: celebrity. In its mediation of the separation between Lord and Lady Byron of April 1816—as public scandal and private event—Manfred functions as a kind of celebrity revenge tragedy that attempts to move through revenge (if not past it) toward more mixed forms of intimate commemoration, thereby re-setting the “springs of wonder” that connect Byron’s authorial practice to his audience and “the wisdom of the world” (Hamlet).