By Martyn Corbett (auth.)
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The speech is obviously modelled upon Hamlet's brief and ironic encomium upon Man. 36 Beautiful! How beautiful is all this visible world! How glorious in its action and itself! But we, who name ourselves its sovereigns, we, Half dust, half deity, alike unfit To sink or soar, with our mixed essence make A conflict of its elements, and breathe The breath of degradation and of pride, Contending with low wants and lofty will, 28 Byron and Tragedy Till our Mortality predominates, And men are - what they name not to themselves, And trust not to each other.
Back, ye baffled fiends! The hand of Death is on me - but not yours! , 124--41) The alternative to the 'clankless chain', implicit in the drama since Manfred opposed his 'Promethean spark' to the Spirits in the opening scene, is finally affirmed. Indeed, as I read the speech, Manfred seems to be denying, not only the control, but even the reality of superhuman tyranny. Certainly he denies its further existence, as far as his soul is concerned. His joys and sorrows, his 'mixed essences', are under his control.
If they are ignored for a moment, then this can be revealed. Manfred is a dramatic poem in three movements. The first might well be subtitled Astarte, for its dynamics are set by the gradual revelation of the part his dead sister-lover has played in the hero's life. The movement consists of three encounters, two of which are with supernatural beings; they flank a meeting with a fellow human, the Chamois Hunter. Each encounter follows a similar pattern in which an offer of help is rejected because it would need to be paid for by the submission of Manfred's proud spirit.
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