Return to site

The flowery plane of Enna: Mary Shelley’s Proserpine between Ovid and Virgil through Dante and Milton

Maria Giovanna Campobasso. Alumna Udine University. Italy.

 

The flowery plane of Enna: Mary Shelley’s Proserpine between Ovid and Virgil through Dante and Milton

Maria Giovanna Campobasso. Alumna Udine University. Italy,

campobasso.mariagiovanna@spes.uniud.it

This contribution intends to assess the web of intertextual references in Mary Shelley’s drama Proserpine (1820), an early example of Romantic interest in revisionist mythology. Shelley’s adaptation primarily concerns characterization, structure and intended audience. In light of Ostriker’s (1984) suggestion that revisionist myth-making in women’s literary production constitutes a significant reshaping of shared culture and personal identity, Proserpine generally reads as a tale of defiance against patriarchal violence. The thoroughness of the existing scholarship on its portrayal of gender performance calls for an evidence-based study of the text as a literary adaptation. With reference specifically to Ovid’s episode of Proserpine’s rape in the Metamorphoses 5.346 ff­, I intend to assess Shelley’s analogue in light of its performative component.

At the turn of the century, Ovid’s version of the myth became extremely dear to Romantic poets across Europe. The tale deploys the quintessential Romantic plot: “An act of oppression by a formidable tyrant (Hades) severs the child from maternal nature, but the relationship is restored by nature’s power” (Louis, 2009: 34). Romantic myth-making necessarily involved re-reading of canonical precursors, which were often (as in Pope, Dryden or Swift) adapted, sometimes distorted, to fit in a narrative where mythical references function as rhetorical devices, used to achieve variety in style and to flaunt erudition. Later English Romanticism slowly took parts with the catalogic rewritings of its antecedents, claiming universal validity for its archetypes by dramatising classical narratives. Mary Shelley belongs to that second generation of English Romantics whose poetic imagination was reawakened by antiquity, which was revised in order to restore it.

Percy Shelley intended his Discourse on the Manners of the Ancient Greeks Relative to the Subject of Love (1818) to be Mary’s instruction on the Athenian way of life. Together with slavery, the greatest cultural failure of the Greek civilization was its valuing man over women by custom and law. Percy observes how Athenians granted the male sex the highest cultural refinement, while the intellectual education of women was, to very little extent superior, to that of slaves and savages. Mary endorsed her husband’s criticism and extended it to Ovid’s, to whom she explicitly refers as an interpreter of heathen mythology (Richardson,1993: 127-128). Such critical relation to classical representation of gender performance in the antiquity explains Shelley’s engendering of the myth. In this perspective, her chief deviations from Ovid’s narrative concern the characters: the act of voicing silent characters in the original, specifically Proserpine; the identification of otherwise unnamed female characters; the absence of male characters of power on the page/stage. Shelley crafts a script with only female characters, eliminating Jove and Pluto from the scene and substituting Hermes with Iris, his female counterpart. The plot unfolds as in its source, from which Shelley specifically draws the cluster of words apt to characterize Proserpine, belonging to the semantic field of childhood and childish behaviour.

As in Virgil’s bucolic poetry, Proserpine makes a character of its space, where a specific combination of references to flora and fauna draws a landscape beyond which everything is remote, dangerous. Virgilian echoes emerge in in Shelley’s depiction of the characters’ activities on the plain: flower plucking, singing and resting in the shade. Shelley’s mimicry of the bucolic patterns in depicting of the plain of Enna is distinctive: a fair, blossoming plane, surrounded by golden fields, where nature offers a place to rest under the shadow for a singing contest.

With the aim of proving Shelley’s originality in revising the Metamorphoses and the Eclogue, this study primarily bears evidence of a wise rearrangement of canonical echoes which are only visible to a selected audience, to those well-versed in literary history. If literary adaptations serve the purpose to revitalize the “original”, to give access to the content to new audiences, Shelley enlightens those details the Ovidian sensitivity had left in the shadow, while resorting to Bucolic atmospheres as they were interiorized in the Romantic imagination. In further revising Dante’s and Milton' representation of Proserpine, Shelley crafts a cultural product prone to voice her concerns on engendered power structures and to advocate for inclusion in what was until then considered exclusive dominion of male writers, mythical revisionism.

The paper I am presenting has been accepted in the academic journal “Lingue Antiche e Moderne” and will be published this fall.

Biondi, I.

2002 Epos, poesia didascalica e mito in P. Ovidio Nasone, in (ed.) Graece et Latine, testi in parallelo, Vol. II. Siena, Spazio Tre, pp. 655-718.

Burkert, W.

1977 Griechische Religion der archaischen und klassischen Epoche, Stuttgart, Verlag W. Kohlhammer; Eng. trans. Greek Religion, Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard University Press, 1985.

Caretti, L.

2001 ‘Dear Mother, leave me not!’ Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley e il mito di Proserpina, in Mary vs Mary, eds. M.L. Crisafulli and G. Silvani, Napoli, Liguori, pp. 197-208.

Carlson, J.

1999 Coming After: Shelley's Proserpine, in Texas Studies in Literature and Language, Vol. 41, No. 4, Romantic Drama in Place (WINTER 1999), pp. 351-372.

Carlson, J.

2007 Living off and On: The Literary Work of Mourning, in England first family of Writers, Baltimore, The John Hopkins University Press, pp. 162 – 211.

Clemit, P.

2004 The Novels and Selected Works of Mary Shelley. Electronic Edition, Volume 2. Virginia: InteLex Corporation.

Cox, J.N.

1996 Staging Hope: Genre, Myth, and Ideology in the Dramas of the Hunt Circle, in Texas Studies in Literature and Language, Vol. 38, No. 3/4, Romantic Performances (FALL/WINTER 1996), pp. 245-264.

Donovan, J., Duffy, C., Everest, K. and Rossington, M. (eds.)

2010 The Poems of Shelley: Volume 3: 1819-1820. London: Taylor & Francis Ltd.

Duffy, C.

2015 Percy Bysshe Shelley's other lyrical drama and the inception of Hellas, in Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900. 55.4 (Autumn 2015), pp. 817- 839.

Edmonds III, R.G.

2003 Who in Hell is Heracles? Dionysos' Disastrous Disguise in Aristophanes' Frogs, in D.B. Dodds and C.A. Faraone (eds.) Initiation in Ancient Greek Rituals and Narratives: New Critical Perspectives, London, Routledge, pp. 181-200.

Ellis, J.

1982 The Literary Adaptation: An Introduction, in Screen, 23 (1), pp. 3-5.

Feldman, P.R. and Scott-Kilvert, D.

1987 The Journals of Mary Shelley 1814-18. Baltimore and London: The John Hopkins University Press, pp. 317.

Felgentreu, F.

2010 Claudian (Claudius Claudianus), in Die Rezeption der antiken Literatur. Kulturgeschichtliches Werklexikon (Der Neue Pauly Supplemente 7), pp. 253–62.

Foley, H.

1994 The Homeric “Hymn to Demeter”: Translation, Commentary, and Interpretive Essays. Pricenton: Princeton University Press.

Graves, R.

1955 Greek Myths, London, Penguin Books; It. transl. I miti Greci, Milano, Longanesi 19928.

Grimal, P.

1951 Dictionnaire de la mythologie grecque et romaine, Presses Universitaires de France, Paris; It. transl. Dizionario di mitologia greca e romana, Brescia, Paideia Editrice, 1987.

Gubar, S.

1979 Mother, Maiden and the Marriage of Death: Woman Writers and an Ancient Myth, in Women's Studies 6, pp. 301–315.

Hinds, S.

1987 The Homeric Hymn to Demeter: Metamorphoses 5, in The Metamorphosis of Persephone: Ovid and the Self-Conscious Muse, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, pp. 72 – 98.

Horowitz, M.C.

1976 Aristotle and woman, in Journal of the History of Biology 9 (2), pp. 183-213.

Keach, W.

1998 The Shelley’s and Dante’s Matilda, in Dante's Modern Afterlife, New York, Palgrave Macmillan.

Koszul, A.

1922 Introduction, in Proserpine and Midas: Two Unpublished Mythological Dramas by Mary Shelley, ed. A. Koszul. London: Humphrey Milford, pp. v-xxxi.

Laurens, A.F.

1988 Hebe, in Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae (LIMC), Band IV, Zürich/München, Artemis & Winkler Verlag, pp. 458– 464.

Louis, M.K.

2009 A Myth appropriated: Greek Persephone to Romantic Proserpine, in Persephone Rises, 1860–1927: Mythography, Gender, and the Creation of a New Spirituality, Aldershot and Burlington: Ashgate, pp. 25-42.

McMillen Conger, S.

1997 Women in Prison, in Iconoclastic Departures: Mary Shelley After Frankenstein: Essays in Honor of the Bicentenary of Mary Shelley’s Birth, eds. M.S. Conger,. S.F. Franks and G. O’ Dea, Madison, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, pp. 81-97.

Mazzara, F.

2003 Persephone: her mythical return to Sicily. In Arcojournal: e-journal of Dipartimento di Arti e Comunicazioni dell'Universita di Palermo, pp. 1-55.

Nuss, M.

2012 Distance, Theatre, and the Public Voice, 1750-1850, New York, Palgrave Macmillan.

Ostriker, A.

1980 Body Language: Imagery of the Body in Women's Poetry, in The State of the Language, eds. L. Michaels and C. Ricks, Berkeley, University of California, pp. 247-63.

Pascoe, J.

2003 Proserpine & Midas, in The Cambridge Companion to Mary Shelley, ed. E. Scor, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, pp. 180-190.

Pérez Vega, A.

20083 Ovidio, Metamorfosis, Sevilla, Orbis Dictus Ediciones.

Postlewait, T.

2010 Closet Drama, in D. Kennedy (ed.) The Oxford Companion to Theatre and Performance, Oxford, Oxford University Press, pp. 182.

Purinton, M. D.

1999 Polysexualities and romantic generations in Mary Shelley's Mythological Dramas Midas and Proserpine, in Women's Writing, 6:3, pp. 385-411.

Ready, R.

2003 Dominion of Demeter: Mary Shelley's “Mathilda”, in Keats-Shelley Journal, Vol. 52, pp. 94-110.

Richardson, A.

1993 Proserpine and Midas: Gender, Genre, and Mythic Revisionism in Mary Shelley's Dramas, in Fisch, A., Anne K. Mellor, A.K. and Esther H. Schor, E.H. (eds.) The Other Mary Shelley: Beyond Frankenstein, New York,Oxford University Press.

Rosati, G.

2002 Narrative Techniques and Narrative Structures in the Metamorphoses, in Boyd, B. Weiden (eds.) Brill’s Companion to Ovid Leiden: Brill, pp. 271-304.

Sanders, J.

2016 Adaptation and appropriation, London: Routledge.

Scivoletto, N.

2005 Indice dei nomi mitologici, in Metamorfosi, Torino, Utet, pp. 765-781.

Shima, K.

1998 Mary Shelley's Proserpine : A Daughter Writer's Revision, in Osaka Literary Review, 37, pp. 51- 66.

Sölch, B.

2008 Ganymedes, in Moog-Grünewald (Hrsg.) Mythenrezeption. Die antike Mythologie in Literatur, Musik und Kunst von den Anfängen bis zur Gegenwart (= Der Neue Pauly. Supplemente. Band 5). Stuttgard / Weimar: Metzler, pp. 292–296.

Von Albrecht, M.

1998 Ovidio, in Lana and Maltese (eds.) Storia della civiltà letteraria greca e Latina, vol. I. Torino: Utet, pp. 757-769.

Weber, C.

2009 Matrilineal Descent: Mother, Daughter and the Seeking Soul in Mary Shelley’s Proserpine, in Romanticism and Parenting: Image, Instruction and Ideology. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, pp. 61.

Wolfson, S.J.

1993 Editorial Priviledge: Mary Shelley and Percy Shelley’s Audiences, in The Other Mary Shelley: Beyond Frankenstein. Eds. Audrey A. Fisch, Anne K. Mellor, and Esther H. Schor. New York: Oxford University Press.

All Posts
×

Almost done…

We just sent you an email. Please click the link in the email to confirm your subscription!

OKSubscriptions powered by Strikingly