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National Trauma and Romantic Illusions in Percy Shelley’s The Cenci

Department of English, Clark University, Worcester, MA 01610, USA
Humanities 2019, 8(2), 94; https://doi.org/10.3390/h8020094
Received: 18 March 2019 / Revised: 6 May 2019 / Accepted: 8 May 2019 / Published: 14 May 2019
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Romanticism and Contemporary Literary Theory)
Percy Shelley responded to the 1819 Peterloo Massacre by declaring the government’s response “a bloody murderous oppression.” As Shelley’s language suggests, this was a seminal event in the socially conscious life of the poet. Thereafter, Shelley devoted much of his writing to delineating the sociopolitical milieu of 1819 in political and confrontational works, including The Cenci, a verse drama that I argue portrays the coercive violence implicit in nationalism, or, as I term it, national trauma. In displaying the historical Roman Cenci family in starkly vituperous manner, that is, Shelley reveals his drive to speak to the historical moment, as he creates parallels between the tyranny that the Roman pater familias exhibits toward his family and the repression occurring during the time of emergent nationhood in Hanoverian England, which numerous scholars have addressed. While scholars have noted discrete acts of trauma in The Cenci and other Romantic works, there has been little sustained criticism from the theoretical point of view of trauma theory, which inhabits the intersections of history, cultural memory, and trauma, and which I explore as national trauma. Through The Cenci, Shelley implies that national trauma inheres within British nationhood in the multiple traumas of tyrannical rule, shored up by the nation’s cultural memory and history, instantiated in oppressive ancestral order and patrilineage. Viewing The Cenci from the perspective of national trauma, however, I conclude that Shelley’s revulsion at coercive governance and nationalism loses itself in the contemplation of the beautiful pathos of the effects of national trauma witnessed in Beatrice, as he instead turns to a more traditional national narrative. View Full-Text
Keywords: Percy Shelley; The Cenci; trauma; nationalism Percy Shelley; The Cenci; trauma; nationalism
MDPI and ACS Style

Kasmer, L. National Trauma and Romantic Illusions in Percy Shelley’s The Cenci. Humanities 2019, 8, 94.

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