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).
Redeemed from the Worm: Manfred’s Celebrity Revenge Tragedy
I. Prologue: “Motto”
1. Signing off on one of several letters to John Murray between January and April that accompanies the manuscript of Manfred, A Dramatic Poem (1817)—sent from Venice “at different times,” “piecemeal, by the post” (BLJ V:209, 188)—Byron delivers the poem’s epigraph:
And this is your Motto
My love and thanks to Mr. G[iffor]d.—(Apr. 9, 1817, BLJ V:209).
2. Shakespeare’s play famously starts in medias res after the death of Hamlet’s father; so too does Byron’s epigraphed quotation come in the middle of the dialogue between Hamlet and Horatio about the ghost of Hamlet’s father, omitting Horatio’s response to the news that Hamlet has spoken to his father’s ghost, who has revealed his uncle’s dire machinations: “O day and night, but this is wondrous strange” (Shakespeare I.v.891). In Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet responds to Horatio’s marking of the “wondrous strange” with “give it welcome” (I.v.893). Hamlet’s comment, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio / Than are dreamt of in your philosophy,” announces a kind of enlightened disillusionment, as though Horatio is a mere philosopher, without any access to the mysteries of heaven and earth, while Hamlet has access to it all—all the darkness—and is no longer surprised by any of it (I.v. 894-5).  This invocation of Hamlet echoes Byron’s enlightened disillusionment at the revelation that Lady Byron, Annabella Milbanke, has been through his letters: “I am past indignation,” he wrote to Augusta Leigh, as he toured the Alps that were to feature as the setting of Manfred (Sep. 14, 1816, BLJ V:93) and in the Alpine Journal that Byron wrote for Augusta. 
3. The motto’s laconic disillusionment cues the hinterland of “bitterness” that informed Byron’s life and writing after April 1816, when everything became mediated by the memory of “the Separation;” this was particularly pronounced when Byron was writing the first two acts of Manfred in Switzerland in September-October 1816 (BLJ V:104). As he writes to Augusta from the Diodati on September 8, 1816: “As for me I am in good health—& fair—though very unequal—spirits—but for all that—she—or rather—the Separation—has broken my heart—I feel as if an Elephant had trodden on it—I am convinced I shall never get over it—but I try . . . I breathe lead” (BLJ V:91). Writing “she—or rather—the Separation,” as though the thought of Lady Byron might be easier to bear by turning the person (“she”) into the event of the separation, Byron both separates and conflates the two.
4. The Hamlet epigraph cues philosophy as the domain of the play’s protagonist, the magician Manfred, who in the opening monologue invokes the epigraph’s recessed figure of wonder:
5. To link one paratextual space of Manfred (the drama’s epigraph) to another (the letter that sends it), the “Motto” makes a direct address from Byron to Murray, enacting a pre-existing relationship between Byron as Hamlet and Murray as Horatio that Murray initiated in 1814 when he signed off on a letter in which he requested a portrait of Byron—“the Original to whose continued friendship I owe so much”—with the salutation “I am my Lord ‘your poor servant ever’” (Murray 99). As such, the epigraph (“your Motto”) can be read as an indirect reprimand to Murray for having failed to properly appreciate the play, and for being backward in coming forward to “give it welcome” with either praise or constructive critique; Gifford, on the other hand, is conspicuously thanked for doing precisely that. To Murray, his avowedly “poor servant ever,” Byron signs “Yours ever,” while to Gifford he sends his “love and thanks.” This history of Shakespearean role-playing applies a further paratextual twist to Byron’s reference to “your philosophy”: questioning Murray’s self-identification as “your poor servant” and subtly impugning Murray’s loyalty. After Manfred’s publication, Murray’s failure to report on the poem’s public reception became a theme of Byron’s testy correspondence, intensely interested as Byron was in the public’s reaction to a work that so clearly revisited the scandalous events that spurred his departure from England in April 1816.
II. Vengeance is still alive
6. The Hamlet epigraph is also significant in cueing the genre of the Elizabethan revenge tragedy; it is the conventions of the revenge genre, I argue, that Byron’s dramatic poem engages with its own “springs of wonder.” The word “springs” works here in what we might call an Alpine sense—meaning the places from which water and inspiration flow—but also in the sense of tricks, surprises, contraptions, a form of machine, like Hamlet’s play within a play: the mouse trap. (And Manfred is not a mouse, of course, but a worm—“Thou worm!” [I.i.125],—though his maker had had his heart trodden on by an Elephant.) Where Hamlet traps the conscience of the king, Manfred sets out to catch the conscience of its author. In his discussion of Byron’s revision of the third act in the Life, Thomas Moore deploys “spring” with a similar ambiguity, as he marvels over “the complete success with which, when his mind did make the spring, he at once cleared the whole space by which he before fell short of perfection,” using the figure of making the spring to suggest Byron both making the mental leap and crafting the machine or device (Life IV:15).
7. Engaging the play’s makings and re-makings of revenge’s “springs of wonder,” my essay considers Manfred as a form of revenge tragedy—the vital if broken heart of a sustained post-separation revenge fantasy that encompasses Byron’s letters and the Alpine Journal. It examines how Manfred allegorizes Byron’s authorial agency as that fraught and intriguing form of social magic, power, and intimate publicity: celebrity. I argue that in its mediation of the marital separation—as public scandal and in the forms of private commemoration—Manfred functions as a kind of celebrity revenge tragedy that seeks to re-set the “springs of wonder” that connect Byron’s authorial practice to his audience and “the wisdom of the world.”
8. As the Elephant and the breathing of lead (which lined coffins) remind us, Byron had a generous capacity to be refreshed by self-parody, which often took the turn of Gothic pantomime and melodrama. For the Gothic mode cues pantomime, as Byron did explicitly in the April 9 letter to Murray: “As for ‘Manfred’ . . . You must call it ‘a poem,’ for it is no drama (& I do not choose it to be called by so Sothebyish a name)—a ‘poem in dialogue’ or—pantomime if you will” (BLJ V:209). There is melodrama, too, which points the play’s intense self-reflexivity in the direction of emotion. Manfred’s profuse Gothic intertexts are so many “membra” (BLJ V:208)—limbs, arms and legs, quoted, discarded, remade and recycled: Walpole’s Otranto, originator of the genre, and his melodrama The Mysterious Mother; The Monk (by “wonder-working Lewis,” as Byron put it in English Bards and Scotch Reviewers, l. 265); Goethe’s Faust, that Lewis “translated . . . to me by word of mouth,” when he visited the Diodati in mid-August (BLJ V:206), and from which, as Goethe himself put it, Byron’s play drew the “strangest nourishment” (qtd. in Butler 33).  A less remarked but no less vital, and specifically theatrical, generic intertext for Manfred is the Elizabethan revenge tragedy. Mediating between eighteenth-century Gothic and Elizabethan revenge tragedy is Marlowe’s Tragical History of Dr Faustus (1604) about a necromancer who sells his soul to the Devil—which Byron denied having read or seen performed (BLJ V:268, 270). As a generic intertext, Elizabethan revenge tragedy literalizes Manfred’s play with dead bodies and threats of scattered limbs: “Crush the worm! / Tear him in pieces!” (II.iv.49); “what ye take / Shall be ta’en limb from limb” (III.iv.104); “I sent him all three acts piecemeal, by the post” (BLJ V:188). Thomas Kyd’s Spanish Tragedy (1592); Shakespeare’s Hamlet (1601, itself a revision of a lost play by Kyd); Othello (1602-4); and the anonymous The Revenger’s Tragedy (1607, attributed to Tourneur and Middleton), all bristle in the intertextual background, as does the genre of Restoration tragedy cued by Byron’s comparison of Manfred with “Nat. Lee’s Bedlam tragedy” (BLJ V:179).
9. An even more vital intertext for Manfred is The Revenge (1721), by the graveyard poet Edward Young. To some extent a reworking of Shakespeare’s Othello, Young’s Revenge was a primal text for Byron, who performed its central character, the avenging Moor, Zanga, at Harrow Speech Day in 1805. As Paul Elledge memorably notes, “Zanga is a patently juicy role, offering numerous openings for stagy exhibitionism, overstated deviltry, especially to a boy prone to and notorious for mischief-making himself” (129). Not only to a boy, but to that fully-fledged icon of serially elaborated notoriety that Byron would become after the separation and his move into exile: “Consistently [Byron] forced his readers to like and admire against their wills, to like and desire the forbidden, to applaud the transgressive actions he lavished upon them. Zanga fostered that impulse” (Elledge 129). Zanga is an early experiment in the Byronic Satanic hero, the thrillingly ambivalent tragic hero who teeters on the brink of villainy. Thus Byron reworks from Young’s reworking of Shakespeare’s Othello one of the key discoveries of the Elizabethan revenge play: that the revenger is not a villain but a tragic protagonist. Within such a transformed conception of heroism, the figure of Zanga had an enduring significance for Byron; as late as 1821 Zanga crowns a canon of Satanic-tragic heroes, as Byron asks rhetorically: “Who is the hero of ‘Paradise lost’? Why Satan,—and Macbeth, and Richard, & Othello and Pierre, and Lothario, & Zanga?” (BLJ VIII:115).
10. Young’s Revenge was a live text in Byron’s childhood and throughout the Regency, when Zanga was performed by major actors such as “Master” Betty, John Kemble and Edmund Kean.  An early fan of Kean (“a wonder”), Byron wrote in February 1814: “There is a new Actor named Kean come out—he is a wonder—& we are yet wise enough to admire him—he . . . will run Kemble hard—his style is quite new—or rather renewed—being that of Nature” (BLJ IV:67). That style of “Nature” was an emotional style, and Kean was most famous for his powerfully impassioned outsider roles such as Richard III and Shylock, and his capacity for turning villains into compelling tragic heroes. Given that The Revenge was such a formative event for Byron, far more significant in the role of Zanga than either Kean and Kemble was “Master” Betty, the sensational child actor, William Henry West Betty, also known as “the Young Roscius,” who performed Zanga in the 1805-6 season. As a peer of Byron’s at Harrow (and then at Cambridge [Christ’s]), and having played Hamlet five times at Drury Lane during Byron’s 1805 March schooltime (Elledge 108), Master Betty was the object of an “urgent rivalry” conceived by Byron, Elledge intriguingly speculates (121).
11. In the wake of the separation, and with the memory of a recent 1815 London theatre season in which Kean and Kemble had played Zanga, Byron returns to this “juicy role” and primal ur-text of revenge as he works on Manfred. Another detail helps explain The Revenge’s juiciness: a remark in the preface of the 1792 stage edition that The Revenge is “yet better in the closet than upon the Stage” (Young iii). This recommendation of The Revenge as a “closet drama” would have heightened the play’s appeal for Byron while he was writing Manfred—which he did, avowedly, not for the stage;  Byron’s choice of The Revenge would have fueled—and been fueled by—Byron’s revenge toward the London stage, thickening the extra-textual plots of revenge that Manfred lovingly-hatingly reworks. 
12. In Young’s The Revenge, the central character, Zanga, is a captive Moor, son of a king, Abdalla, who was killed in battle by Alonzo, now Zanga’s master. Unbeknown to Alonzo, Zanga harbours against him an all-consuming passion “To catch the man I hate, and then devour” (27). Having “toil’d, and groan’d for an occasion / Of ample vengeance” (9), Zanga decides upon jealousy as his motive—“Oh, jealousy . . . Thou king of torments” (27), that “Hydra of calamities” (26), “the jealous are the damn’d” (26)—and crafts an appropriately intricate scheme to make Alonzo jealous of his wife, Leonora. With all the rich dramatic irony that attends the genre, Alonzo enlists Zanga in his own plot of revenge against Leonora (“Thou, Zanga, . . . call vengeance, call the furies, call despair” ); and, as instructed, Zanga kills Carlos, Leonora’s alleged lover (“Poor mangled shade!”). But then Alonzo’s plan of vengeance goes astray. As Alonzo confides his scheme to meet Leonora in a leafy bower so as to confront her with her crime and kill her, the play delivers up the sweet spot of Zanga’s “maze / Of gloomy thought and intricate design” (27), with a striking (and strikingly Byronic) fantasy of sadistic bisexual perversity in glorious blank verse, when Zanga responds to Alonzo’s plan—sotto voce—with a vengeful curse:
13. Heavily based on Shakespeare’s Othello, Young’s Revenge offers a heightened treatment of the revenge plot’s imbrication with sexual jealousy and race, together with an arguably more complex characterization of the figures of the revenger and the Moor.  Zanga is a composite of the vengeful Iago and Othello as Moor to Alonzo’s reworking of Othello as jealous lover. But unlike Iago, Zanga has a conscience (“Oh, the medley / Of right and wrong! The chaos of my brain!” [68-9]). And his revenge is not just personal but cultural, political and religious, responding to centuries of oppression of Muslims by Catholic Spain: “I tread on haughty Spain, and all her kings” (82); “Be propitious, / Oh! Mahomet, on this important hour, / And give at length my famish’d soul revenge” (10). Zanga’s revenge also has a (proleptically Byronic) geopolitical edge: “If cold white mortals censure this great deed, / Warn them, they judge not of superior beings, / Souls made of fire, and children of the sun, / With whom revenge is virtue” (84). Such righteous opposition by “children of the sun” to the “cold white mortals” of England becomes an abiding trope of Byron’s post-exilic world. These “children of the sun” are summoned again in Byron’s “speech of Manfred to the Sun”—one of Manfred’s many echoes of The Revenge (BLJ V:211).
14. Operating as a model for Byron’s fashioning of Nemesis—the goddess of retribution—Young’s Zanga offers a florid homage (and more fabulous snakes) to the figure of Vengeance:
15. A couple of weeks later, in an entry in the Alpine Journal, Byron again tries to will himself out of the desire for vengeance: “I am past reproaches—and there is a time for all things—I am past the wish of vengeance” (Sep. 29, 1816, BLJ V:105). But he is not past it. Far from it. The statement is deeply ambiguous: even disclaiming his own wish for vengeance, Byron keeps open the possibility of an impersonal providence whose wish it might be to carry out that wish for vengeance on Byron’s behalf. Sure enough, as Byron writes to Augusta as late as June 3-4, 1817, a couple of weeks before Manfred’s publication in Byron’s homeland while he is abroad in exile, “sooner or later time & Nemesis will give me the ascendant” (BLJ V:232). But far from denying, Byron’s writings are self-reflexively alive to these contradictions.
16. Such avowals-disavowals stage a dress rehearsal for what John Wilson (“Christopher North”) called in his Blackwood’s review of Manfred the “wild Personifications” of “this extraordinary drama”: Byron has “burst into the world of spirits” and “endeavoured to embody and call up before him their ministering agents, and to employ these wild Personifications, as he formerly employed the feelings and passions of man” (Wilson 290).  Another critic who liked Byron’s “wildness” was John Wilson Croker, who reviewed for the Quarterly, and urged Murray to encourage Byron to continue with the “extravagance.” “Its wildness or, if you will, its extravagance, is to me its first recommendation” (Murray 225), Croker wrote, supporting his case by quoting Voltaire on Hamlet: “amongst the beauties that sparkle in the midst of these terrible extravagances the ghost of Hamlet’s father is one of the most striking pieces of theatre” (May 12, 1817, qtd. in Murray 226). Murray showed Croker’s letter to Byron, which would have confirmed for Byron the strength and fitness of his use of the ghost of Hamlet’s father’s as a structuring absence in the poem. 
17. In the weeks after Manfred was published on June 16, Byron’s inner Zanga is still playing out in Byron’s letters:
18. And what of the play itself? In Manfred, Nemesis arrives with appropriate fanfare and a sense of expectation—“Behold she cometh,” notes the Third Destiny—but also with an edge of drollery. Harried and late (“I was detained repairing shattered thrones”), she nevertheless obliges Manfred by conjuring Astarte, and with a rousing flourish: “Redeem from the worm. Appear!—Appear!—Appear!” (II.iv.95-6). This flourish hosts an intertextual exorcism, as “Appear!—Appear!—Appear!” gothically inverts Hamlet’s words to his father’s ghost: “Rest, rest, perturbèd spirit” (I.5.909). However, much like all the other assembled Spirits and Demons, Nemesis turns out to be somewhat disappointing. Commanding the spirit of Astarte to “speak”—“By the power which hath broken/ The grave which enthrall’d thee”—Astarte refuses and Nemesis is “baffled” (II.iv.106-7, 117). Nemesis’s final words to Manfred are vaguely withholding; when he asks her will he meet her again on the earth, she replies officiously, “That will be seen hereafter” (II.iv.166). This scene with Nemesis and Astarte can also be read as a reworking of Germaine de Staël’s attempt to broker a reconciliation between Lord and Lady Byron, in the early stages of the separation.  Indeed, herself a fellow celebrity exile, de Staël is a significant protagonist in the biographical events reworked in Manfred, and in the play’s paratextual background and critical reception. Jerome McGann’s marvelous reading of Manfred, which celebrates Byron’s “spoiler’s art” and illuminates how “Byron’s play can only succeed by attacking itself, satirizing and exposing itself to itself,” takes its cues from de Staël’s reading of the deliberate “bad taste” of Goethe’s Faust (McGann 194-5). The legitimator of deliberate bad taste, of bad taste as a strategy, de Staël is also significant as the mediator of Byron’s first encounter with Goethe’s Faust (before Lewis’s oral translation at the Diodati), through what Thomas Medwin referred to as her “sorry French translation” of parts of Goethe’s play in D’Allemagne (1813)—another form of unsuccessful mediation (Medwin 141).
19. The failed intercession by “our Lady of Coppet” (BLJ V:207) to effect a reconciliation between Lord and Lady Byron occurred just before Byron commenced work on Manfred in September 1816. On August 24, in one of two brief letters to de Staël (of August 24 and 25) in which the separation and Byron’s feelings for Lady Byron are basically the exclusive subject, Byron writes: “The separation may have been my fault—but it was her choice.——I tried all means to prevent—and would do as much & more to end it,—a word would do so—but it does not rest with me to pronounce it.——You asked me if I thought that Lady B[yron] was attached to me—to that I can only answer that I love her . . . I cannot conclude without thanking you once more for your kind disposition towards me on this” (BLJ V:88). Here, Byron articulates a wish to “end” the separation. A letter shortly after that to Augusta, of September 8, suggests that de Staël was helping him to do precisely that: “Me. de Stael has been particularly kind & friendly towards me—& (I hear) fought battles without number in my very indifferent cause” (BLJ V:92). De Staël’s well-meaning failure to broker a reconciliation with Lady Byron is reworked in Manfred through the figuration of de Staël and Annabella as Nemesis and Astarte, respectively. Astarte is, of course, a composite figure who represents both Augusta and Annabella throughout the play; and while she is usually taken to represent Augusta (contemporary readers, such as Annabella’s confidante, Mrs. Villiers, wrote of the resemblance between Astarte and Augusta that “It is too barefaced for her friends to try to deny the allusion” [qtd. in Lovelace 69]), at this moment in the play in the Hall of Arimanes (Act 2, scene 4) she figures Annabella in her capacity as the former lover who might yet be reunited with Byron.
20. Just as Our Lady of Coppet’s intercession on behalf of Byron and his “indifferent cause” is unsuccessful, so too in the play an explicit reconciliation with and forgiveness from Astarte does not come. Crucially, however, this withholding (from the baffled Nemesis and the silent Astarte) is productive; it is part of the play’s experiment in re-setting the tone, an attempt to move past the wish of vengeance as anger and retribution and toward more mixed forms of the revenge genre, such as revenge farce or “revenge comedy”—apt for a “baffled” Nemesis—and other hybrid forms of intimate commemoration. 
21. As befits the play’s allegorization of Byron’s poetic practice as a form of “Mysterious agency!,” Manfred is often linked with the magician figures of Faust, Prospero, or the Elizabethan occult philosopher Dr. John Dee (I.i.28). Another vital form of communing with the dead is antiquarianism; and another figure of the practitioner of magic is the antiquarian, such as John Weever, an historian of funeral monuments and church inscriptions who travelled throughout Britain and Europe, collecting and transcribing inscriptions on medieval tombs that were housed in dissolved monasteries. These were published in 1631 in the vast, unfinished survey Antient funeral monuments, republished in 1767 by the Romantic antiquarian, William Tooke.
22. Weever’s prefatory “The author to the reader” articulates an urgent sense of antiquarianism as a form of remembering and honoring the dead:
23. Weever’s account reminds us of the etymological link between epigraph and epitaph. It was not until the eighteenth century that the practice of attaching epigraphs to the head of a literary work became common. Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary (1755) defines “epigraphe” as “an inscription on a statue” such as a tombstone (Johnson I:309). The forerunner of the modern epigraph was the authorial coat of arms (Genette 144). Hence Byron’s use of the conventional term “motto,” which traditionally referred to the text of the coat of arms that accompanied its “device” or emblem, the visual design.  The coat of arms was a central feature of the design of funeral monuments; and religious monuments became, in turn, museums of armorial bearings—another form of memorial that Weever laments with the destruction of religious monuments.
24. In an 1819 letter to Murray about “the beautiful Cimetery of Bologna” (BLJ VI:148), Byron imagines his own epitaph. Musing upon epitaphs he had seen at nearby Ferrara, he is particularly struck by the words “Implora pace”: “Can anything be more full of pathos? those few words say all that can be said or sought—the dead have had enough of life—all they wanted was rest—and this they ‘implore’. . . . ‘implora pace’. I hope, whoever may survive me and shall see me put in the foreigners’ burying-Ground at the Lido . . . will see those two words and no more put over me” (BLJ VI:149). With “those two words,” like the earth, “put over me,” Byron marks the epitaph’s function as both symbolic and material. The sheltering words have as much materiality and protective agency as the earth itself. And of course Byron’s peace will only be found in foreign ground: “I am sure my Bones would not rest in an English grave . . . I would not even feed your worms—if I could help it.——So—as Shakespeare says of Mowbray . . . that he after fighting . . . retired himself / To Italy; and there at Venice, gave / His body to that pleasant Country’s Earth” (BLJ VI:149). So Byron returns to Shakespeare, who he opens the letter with—transplanting Shakespeare to Italian soil, as he had transplanted himself—explaining how at Bologna he “found besides the Superb Burial Ground—an original of a Custode who reminded me of the grave-digger in Hamlet” (BLJ VI: 148). As Byron affectionately details, this Shakespearean Custode “had the greatest attachment to . . . his dead people” and a collection of skulls to help remember them and the “joy” they dispensed (BLJ VI: 149, 148). The grave-digger, then, is another kind of custodian (“Custode”), like the antiquarian, who communes with the dead.
25. When Manfred asks Nemesis to “call up the dead,” and Nemesis replies, “Whom wouldst thou / Uncharnel?” Byron uses a word that had particular significance at the time of the Elizabethan revenge tragedies (I.iv.82). “Uncharnelling” referred to the digging up and disinterring of the bones of the dead from the charnel house of St Paul’s in 1549, an act of desecration and memorial spoliation.  “Uncharnel” has an ambiguous significance, then, meaning to raise from the dead, but also to deprive of proper memory. Hence the revenge tragedy’s remit of calling in honor’s debts in order to avenge such desecration, as Zanga, the righteous Moor, rhetorically asks as he avenges the Christian desecration of his proud Moorish race and Muslim culture: “What is revenge, but courage to call in / Our honour’s debts?” (Young 10). Weever was moved by a similar spirit of avenging desecration, describing his work as being to “preserve” “the monuments of the dead . . . knowing withal how barbarously within these his majesty’s dominions [Charles I], they are (to the shame of our time) broken down, and utterly almost all ruinated, their brazen inscriptions erased” (Weever). The widespread iconoclasm that marked the time of Charles I involved the same impulse that cleared the ossuary of St. Paul’s in 1549, both part of the ongoing cultural trauma that marked the Protestant reformation.
26. Like Weever, Byron in Manfred conjures diverse forms of commemoration and “monuments of the dead.” In a letter to Murray, topped and tailed with queries about the whereabouts of the MS of Manfred, Byron referred to his marriage as a funeral: “You talk of ‘marriage’—ever since my own funeral, the word makes me giddy—& throws me into a cold sweat—pray don’t repeat it” (Apr. 2, 1817, BLJ V:204). Writing from Ravenna, on New Year’s Eve, 1819, he made the same association, in a letter to Lady Byron herself: “This time five years [ago] . . . I was on my way to our funeral marriage.—I hardly thought then that your bridegroom as an exile would one day address you as a stranger, and that Lady and Lord Byron would become bye words of division” (BLJ VI:260). In its working through and as a commemoration of the “funeral marriage” and the separation, Manfred functions as a kind of funeral monument, as well as a form of revenge tragedy, a genre that explores the process of accounting for the dead (even—especially—when those dead to the heart are still alive). Manfred is a funeral monument, then, that commemorates the death of the marriage, the wreck of the broken heart: it is the “casket”—fittingly, “a small wooden box for cremated ashes”—that Byron fashions for this wreck of the broken heart (III.i.5). 
IV. Posterity Out of Joint
27. In commemorating the wreck of the broken heart, Manfred allegorizes how the private event of the author’s broken heart is relentlessly mediated by and as a public celebrity scandal. The “clankless chain” of memory is bound tighter by the echoing publicity of celebrity culture, so that Manfred-Byron is doomed not only to confront these memories, but also to do so before the public eye, for better and worse, for pain and pleasure—doomed but reveling drolly in bringing them into the light (I.i.259). Simultaneously invited and spurned, a key adversary of Byron’s play against which it prosecutes revenge is Byron’s public and the celebrity it bestows. Manfred’s being condemned to eternal life dramatizes Byron’s scandalous celebrity, and a sense of being inescapably before the public eye in a blaze of publicity—obsessively, interminably: “thy spirit shall not sleep.” Hence the “vigil,” a ritualized occasion of remaining awake, in prayer, reflection or keeping watch, of being accountable to a public, during the time one usually spends in private: “There is a power upon me which withholds / And makes it my fatality to live” (I.ii.23-4). A vigil of the heart, Manfred is also a drama of conscience, about coming to terms with the knowledge that knowledge of one’s private acts cannot remain private but will circulate in the “public imagination” (BLJ V:186), especially when these private acts are submitted to the public in the form of a play at the height of Byron’s infamy. As Byron writes to Thomas Moore, “I suppose now I shall never be able to shake off my sables in public imagination, more particularly since my moral ** [Clytemnestra?] clove down my fame” (Mar. 10, 1817, BLJ V:186). Byron’s recently coined post-separation code-name for Lady Byron, Clytemnestra, is the classical embodiment of revenge, driven by jealousy on account of her husband’s infidelity and fury at the sacrifice of her daughter. 
28. The social magic of authorial agency reaps ambivalent rewards and pleasures, in those strange solicitations of intimate publicity that animate celebrity culture; celebrity brings company (“My solitude is solitude no more”) and sympathy to “watch my watchings,” but also the sting of a capricious public that does not always avail itself of the choice to subject itself to the celebrity author’s powers, but sometimes chooses instead to repudiate and spurn, conspiring in the cleaving down of fame (II.ii.129-30). Hence the author’s impulse to avenge himself on his public. Revenge is one form of “calling in honour’s debts” to the dead; another form of honoring the dead is posthumous fame, immortal social life. Posthumous fame, that heroic form of fame Weever refers to as “true posterity,” is a way of being “redeemed from the worm;” celebrity is a different kind of fame: contemporary with life, it can disturb the chronological order of life and death, for better and worse. Such temporal disturbance is engaged in Manfred’s address to Astarte:
29. But then again, the poem swerves to Manfred’s identification with the immortal, in his famous “mind which is immortal” speech:
30. While (satanically) redeeming Milton’s lines, Manfred is not so much about redemption as about unfinished business: to redeem from the worm means to attend to unfinished business. Manfred is about the unfinished emotional business that is the desire for revenge, but also about the unfinished textual business of first drafts, recycled work, such as “the Incantation,” written, according to Thomas Moore, “soon after the last fruitless attempt at reconciliation,” and originally published in The Prisoner of Chillon and Other Poems (Dec. 1816) as “a Chorus in an unfinished Witch drama, which was begun some years ago” (I.i.192-261; Works III:288; qtd. in CPW IV: 463). Byron, then—much like the antiquary—is finding a place, preserving “The Incantation” by repurposing it as a strange, disembodied, multi-tasking curse upon Lady Byron and Manfred-Byron (recoiling on his own head). Burying the precious text under faint praise and disavowals of interest (“you may put it in the fire if you like—& Gifford don’t like”), Byron both preserves the precious inscription and gives it a kind of ambivalent “uncharnelling,” digging it up, moving it from one poem to another, giving it a new site, a new use, and adding new lines (BLJ V:193).
31. The famous redrafting of Act III on Gifford’s advice is part of this process and an ongoing saga of the correspondence with Murray. In a spectacular letter written en route from Florence to Rome, Byron tells Murray he must “wait” for Manfred to be finished, and refers to the unfinished manuscript (and the revisions of the third act yet to be completed) at the end of an inspired rant about unfinished funeral monuments:
I also went to the Medici Chapel—fine frippery in great slabs of various expensive stones—to commemorate fifty rotten carcasses—it is unfinished & will remain so. The church of “Santa Croce” contains much illustrious nothing—the tombs of Machiavelli—Michael Angelo—Galileo Galilei and Alfieri—make it the Westminster abbey of Italy.—I did not admire any of these tombs—beyond their contents. That of Alfieri is heavy—and all of them seem to me overloaded—what is necessary but a bust & a name?—and perhaps a date?—the last for the unchronological—of whom I am one.—But all your Allegory & eulogy is infernal—& worse than the long wig of English numskulls upon Roman bodies in the statuary of [the] reign[s] of Charles—William—and Anne. . . .
I have done nothing at Manfred’s third act—you must wait—I’ll have at it—in a week or two—or so.—(Apr. 26, 1817, BLJ V:218)
32. Byron’s identification with “the unchronological” emphasizes the importance of chronology: “the unchronological” are prone to forget dates, so they need to be reminded. Byron explains: “The context will show you the sense” (BLJ V:218). The context for both topics (Florentine funeral monuments and Manfred) is provided by that historical drama of religious conflict and its legacies of cultural trauma, brilliantly satirized—but commemorated too—in Byron’s rendition of these ecumenically bizarre funeral monuments. This broader historical context connects to another, more personal context—Byron’s desire for Nemesis to do its work. The context of revenge as a form of commemoration informs “the unchronological” as an ominous figure of the terrible power of memory, suggesting how memory can play havoc with a proper sense of place and time. Byron as “the unchronological” emphasizes the need for a date, intoning—like any committed revenge hero—that repeated formula of “Time & Nemesis” (BLJ V:246). The revenger is the unchronological, poised in that limbo of “sooner or later.”
33. The texts, intertexts and paratexts of Manfred calibrate so much unfinished business. The revenger’s unfinished emotional business links with the unfinished business of commemoration (“a bust & a name?—and perhaps a date?”) and the business of unfinished manuscripts; just as the play’s mechanisms of self-reflexivity facilitate reflection on different forms of fame, so too, in the letter to Murray that sends the epigraph for Manfred, does Byron engage these different forms of fame, joking about his own posthumousness:
34. But even this playful celebration of Byron’s posthumousness and celebrity soon recurs to a blackly comic revenge fantasy—the seemingly interminable revenge fantasy that Byron unspools across Manfred, the Alpine Journal and the letters:
35. Manfred, A Dramatic Poem is a poem in search of a certain tonality, for memory, for commemoration. It re-sets the springs of wonder in search of a new set of tones and forms not only of revenge but of self-critique and commemoration, of the good and the bad, a new mix of comic and tragic forms that might—if not elude or “shake off”—at least disarm or re-mediate the wondrous strange rituals of intimate publicity to which Byron’s life and work were forevermore subject. Like Byron’s spirit, the old Gothic revenge forms also “rebound”: never fully exorcised, there’s bloom on their cheeks. Uncharnelled, “redeemed from the worm,” they “rebound” to enthrall. Hence our commemoration of Manfred’s “strange hectic” from which we draw the “strangest nourishment” (II.iv.100).
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I wish to thank the convener of the Manfred 200 symposium, Omar F. Miranda. I also thank Trinity College, Cambridge, for the Visiting Scholarship that supported archival research on this essay at the Wren Library. And I acknowledge the Australian Research Council for supporting the research and writing of this essay.
The epigraph from Hamlet was added in the third issue of the first edition of Manfred, which is Jerome McGann’s copy-text for CPW. There are no less than three substantive texts of Hamlet; some editions, based on the First Folio, give “our philosophy” in place of “your philosophy,” which suggests a gentler response from Hamlet, less of the retort that is “your” philosophy. Byron owned a copy of the 1788 Bell’s Edition of Shakespeare, which is the edition I use throughout.BACK
The Alpine Journal, written in September-October 1816 as Byron toured the Alps with John Cam Hobhouse, has long been regarded as a key intertextual source for Manfred, at least since the first officially collected edition of Byron’s works, of 1832-3, when highlights of the Journal accompanied the text, and when Byron’s correspondence with Murray about the poem was presented as an aid to interpretation by being placed for readers before the text of the poem (see Works, XI, 3-4). BACK
Moore translates this as “strongest nourishment” (Works, IV 322). BACK
As Gerald Parker details, Zanga had also been performed by Garrick’s contemporary, Henry Mossop, who Byron playfully cites as a fancied rival when he nostalgically recollects his own performance in “On a Distant View of Harrow” (1806). In 1815, Kemble and Kean competed for the role, and were celebrated by Leigh Hunt and William Hazlitt, respectively (see Parker 178-9). BACK
 Byron’s most emphatic protest against the staging of Manfred comes in the letter to Murray, from Venice, March 9, 1817: “The thing I have sent you you will see at a glimpse—could never be attempted or thought of for the stage—I much doubt it for publication even.—It is too much in my old style—but I composed it actually with a horror of the stage—& with a view to render even the thought of it impracticable” (BLJ V: 185). Erdman offers the classic analysis of this statement, and of the ambivalence that informs it. BACK
Contributing to the sense of Manfred as a play within a play, and of Byron as the author within his own play, a commiserating letter of February 1817 to Douglas Kinnaird (who had just resigned from the Drury Lane Subcommittee, after a falling out with the actress, Frances Maria Kelly) suggests further reasons why the genre of revenge tragedy was chosen to effect Byron’s revenge on the stage and on Drury Lane: “Sooner or later you will have your revenge—& so shall I (in other matters) you on the stage & I off—& by Nemesis” (Feb. 3, 1817, BLJ V: 168). Here, Byron’s figure of revenge “off” “the stage” captures precisely his ambivalent relation to the stage that manifests itself against it. BACK
For a detailed discussion, see Parker, esp. 173-79. BACK
Speaking of “wild Personifications,” and how they relate to “feelings and passions,” Steven Mullaney’s question about the ghost of Andrea and his companion Revenge in The Spanish Tragedy—“should we call him a character, an embodied spirit or vengeance from Hades, or a personified allegory?” (Mullaney 64)—is also an appropriate question, I suggest, for the legion of Spirits, such as Nemesis, that populate Manfred’s often crowded stage. BACK
Coincidentally, Byron had already been reading Voltaire as he worked on Manfred, writing to Hobhouse on March 31, 1817 that he had just bought “a complete Voltaire in 92 volumes—whom I have been reading” (BLJ V: 199). BACK
For details, see Marchand III, 644-5, 650-1, and Moore, Works III, 285-8. BACK
Despite my focus on the genre of revenge tragedy, I would emphasize that I regard Manfred as multigeneric, encompassing comic and melodramatic, as well as tragic, modes. For a suggestive formulation of the revenge comedy, which sounds out comedy’s darker notes in charivari, “public shaming rituals” and “the scapegoating scene generic to festive comedy,” see Jones (23, 26). BACK
Johnson defines “motto” as “a sentence or word added to a device, or prefixed to any thing written” (II, 69). BACK
For an illuminating reading of the great uncharnelling and its relation to shifts in cultural and religious emotion, see Mullaney (1-10) and Schwyzer (esp. 108-112). BACK
Oxford Dictionary of English, 3rd ed (2010) online. The OED online defines casket as “A small box or chest for jewels, letters, or other things of value, itself often of valuable material and richly ornamented”. "casket, n.". OED Online. January 2018. Oxford University Press. http://www.oed.com.ezp.lib.unimelb.edu.au/view/Entry/28451?result=1&rskey=oXLqwt& (accessed January 21, 2018). BACK
In “Lines on Hearing That Lady Byron Was Ill” (written in September 1816, but not published until 1832), Byron addresses Lady Byron as “the moral Clytemnestra of thy lord” (37). As McGann notes, this poem was written shortly after the collapse of de Staël’s attempt to reconcile Lord and Lady Byron (CPW IV, 460). BACK