Percy Bysshe Shelley: Note on Oedipus Tyrannus, by Mrs. Shelley

by Percy Bysshe Shelley
Act 2.

Note on Oedipus Tyrannus, by Mrs. Shelley

In the brief journal I kept in those days, I find recorded, in August,
1820, Shelley 'begins "Swellfoot the Tyrant", suggested by the pigs at
the fair of San Giuliano.' This was the period of Queen Caroline's
landing in England, and the struggles made by George IV to get rid of
her claims; which failing, Lord Castlereagh placed the "Green Bag" on
the table of the House of Commons, demanding in the King's name that
an enquiry should be instituted into his wife's conduct. These
circumstances were the theme of all conversation among the English. We
were then at the Baths of San Giuliano. A friend came to visit us on
the day when a fair was held in the square, beneath our windows:
Shelley read to us his "Ode to Liberty"; and was riotously accompanied
by the grunting of a quantity of pigs brought for sale to the fair. He
compared it to the 'chorus of frogs' in the satiric drama of
Aristophanes; and, it being an hour of merriment, and one ludicrous
association suggesting another, he imagined a political-satirical
drama on the circumstances of the day, to which the pigs would serve
as chorus—and "Swellfoot" was begun. When finished, it was
transmitted to England, printed, and published anonymously; but
stifled at the very dawn of its existence by the Society for the
Suppression of Vice, who threatened to prosecute it, if not
immediately withdrawn. The friend who had taken the trouble of
bringing it out, of course did not think it worth the annoyance and
expense of a contest, and it was laid aside.
Hesitation of whether it would do honour to Shelley prevented my
publishing it at first. But I cannot bring myself to keep back
anything he ever wrote; for each word is fraught with the peculiar
views and sentiments which he believed to be beneficial to the human
race, and the bright light of poetry irradiates every thought. The
world has a right to the entire compositions of such a man; for it
does not live and thrive by the outworn lesson of the dullard or the
hypocrite, but by the original free thoughts of men of genius, who
aspire to pluck bright truth
'from the pale-faced moon;
Or dive into the bottom of the deep
Where fathom-line would never touch the ground,
And pluck up drowned'
truth. Even those who may dissent from his opinions will consider that
he was a man of genius, and that the world will take more interest in
his slightest word than in the waters of Lethe which are so eagerly
prescribed as medicinal for all its wrongs and woe. This drama,
however, must not be judged for more than was meant. It is a mere
plaything of the imagination; which even may not excite smiles among
many, who will not see wit in those combinations of thought which were
full of the ridiculous to the author. But, like everything he wrote,
it breathes that deep sympathy for the sorrows of humanity, and
indignation against its oppressors, which make it worthy of his name.