The Byron Journal

Byron's Manfred and the King's Head: Having Words with Bodies

The Byron Journal (2009), 37, (1), 43–54.

Abstract

Byron's Manfred was staged in a single performance of a 'rehearsed reading' at the King's Head Theatre, London in March 2007. Poised dynamically between theatrical production and closet reading, this rehearsed recitation played creatively into the critical debate about Byron's dramas as requiring one or the other mode of reproduction. This hybrid staging of Manfred also recast this theme of reproduction in the terms of incarnation and resurrection. These terms, charged here with an irony derived from Frankenstein, served to amplify within Byron's dramatic text the comic critique of the post-Waterloo resurrections of both Napoleon and the Bourbons. The thrust of this critique is that such resurrections do not derive from any intrinsic power incarnated in these political figures but rather from the rhetorical power accorded to them by an audience. Reception rather than inception is the prime mover here. The rehearsed reading went a stage further, by applying a similar critique to Manfred itself. Playing up the Orphic contours of Manfred resurrecting Astarte, the reading sought to shift the balance of poetic power from the text to the collectivity of the players and the audience. Collective, public reading contested the closet of Orphic poetry as much as it challenged the spectacle of political theatre.

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Author details

Simpson, Michael