The Cambridge Companion to Byron (Cambridge Companions to Literature)
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Byron's life and work have fascinated readers around the world for two hundred years, but it is the complex interaction between his art and his politics, beliefs and sexuality that has attracted so many modern critics and students. In three sections devoted to the historical, textual and literary contexts of Byron's life and times, these specially commissioned essays by a range of eminent Byron scholars provide a compelling picture of the diversity of Byron's writings. The essays cover topics such as Byron's interest in the East, his relationship to the publishing world, his attitudes to gender, his use of Shakespeare and eighteenth-century literature, and his acute fit in a post-modernist world. This 2004 Companion provides an invaluable resource for students and scholars, including a chronology and a guide to further reading.
my gentle Muse he please to roast, And break a promise after having made it her, Denying the receipt of what it cost, And smear his page with gall instead of honey, All I can say is – that he had the money. (Don Juan, I.208–10) I have taken stanza 208 as the point of departure because this is where the plot begins. Byron stakes his claim for the truth of his verse and singles out a ‘clergyman’ as a prospective unbeliever. Stanza 209 shifts from the reiteration of the claim – subtly
unconcern for their glaring incongruity. Most revealing of all was the episode (again reported by Smith) when Byron, on the evening they returned to Cephalonia, suddenly stretched himself out in an empty sarcophagus near a monastery on the hill of Samos, muttering indistinct ‘English lines’. Somewhat guiltily, Smith bent over to listen, and discovered that they were disconnected fragments from the graveyard scene in Hamlet. His apprehensions were justified. Aware that he had been overheard, Byron
Protestants, Deists and Sceptics, Whigs, Tories, and Radicals, libertines and moralists, sensibility and reason, action and behaviour, nature and art, general norms and historical particulars. The events of the French Revolution and its twenty-year aftermath of European conflict activate and cast into new shape this preceding dialectic much as they shape the creative personality of Byron who comes to embody them. Byron’s biblical drama, Cain (1821), shows us the same point in a different way and
tell us something about his developing interest in, and experiments with, narrative verse. Up until this time, Byron had been a writer of lyrics and satire. Childe Harold might be seen as a poetic structure combining these genres while touching on narrative in its travelogue. But the Tales are completely different, being primarily narratives. And while they all tell much the same tragic, swashbuckling story, they do it in different ways: in The Giaour we discover a narrative constructed through
relationship to Shakespeare whom he mined and in his protean manner in some way resembled, but whom he also pilloried. Bernard Beatty looks at the strange fact that it was when Byron was most obviously in debt to the eighteenth century that he was also most obviously creating textures for the twentieth and twenty-first. Professor McGann’s essay on the lyric raises the context of the lyric idea, so important to the period, and to which Byron has a unique relationship. Peter Cochran creates for