Dissertation Idea: Prometheus Unbound

Prometheus Unbound is an ethical and psychological drama, written by one of the most major English Romantic poets, Percy Bysshe Shelley. Prometheus Unbound can be considered as Shelley’s best work. Shelley himself regarded it as his most excellent masterpiece. In this work, he combined his two most sought after themes, the necessity of social reform and the necessity of societal love.

There are two factors that start the dramatic tension in Prometheus Unbound; firstly, the separation and reunion of Prometheus and Asia, and secondly, the animosity between Prometheus and Jupiter. The first is a version of the Psyche-Epipsychetheme on a cosmic scale. The second is a more developed treatment of the good-evil antithesis already employed in the first and final cantos of The Revolt of Islam.

Shelly’s main concern in Act I is to make Prometheus growth dramatically convincing. Prometheus, unlike Milton’s Satan, is free of envy, malice, ambition, yet he resembles Satan in his resentment against authority and in his supreme will to protest and not to submit. Prometheus resembles Satan in his eternal hatred of omnipotence and a kind of unregenerate pride. But Prometheus’ pride often melts into pity:

Disdain! Ah, no! a pity thee”


“I wish no living thing to suffer pain”

Prometheus’ conversion from pride to pity is an epitome of his moral ripening and this prepares the way for his reunion with Asia.

In the temptation scene, Prometheus is linked to Jesus Christ in both being impervious to temptation and serene in self-mastery. This resemblance provides an interesting study of Shelley’s mind in view of his youthful recrimination against Jesus. Thus, the first act has become a myth of pagan origin with deeply felt Christian symbolism. It is designed to show Prometheus waiting for the main redemption, having cast out pride and hatred after a long struggle.

Prometheus Unbound is not easy to interpret because the chief characters are both characters and symbolic universals. Prometheus is not a “character” at all, but rather an image of the mind of man. It shows the psychological aspects of human existence. Prometheus Unbound repeats a question that is one of the oldest in philosophic literature: How far is a man able to combat his own destiny? Shelley’s answer to this question is that is man’s mind will be free of hatred and vengeance it will be free of fear and pain and capable of the highest love. Love will then bring harmony and peace to mankind. Prometheus suggest the hope of a new order.

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