The Harrow and the Sword: Anger, Apocalypse and Calls for Revolution in Blake’s “Milton” and Shelley’s “The Mask of Anarchy”

©Mary Crockford July 31, 2016

Use of “mythic modes or mythopoeic strategies” in art in order to make “ethical and emotional appeals” regarding political and moral issues was not exclusive to the Romantics (Hopper 11), but the introduction of Burke’s A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful inspired poets and artists to adopt unprecedentedly hyperbolic “motifs of transport, surrender, ‘voluptuous panic,’ and self-alienation” to explicate perceived societal ills. Through symbolic replication of the “masquerade spectacle” popular in 18th-century Britain, numerous poets and authors adapted carnival’s “seething, grotesque, and paranormal forms” such devils, reapers, and quasi-human monsters to achieve in verse a “condensed phantasmagoria, a bounded dreamscape” (Castle, Masquerade 53) “shifting between the uncanny…and the comic” (Bardascino par. 6) to symbolically critique institutionalized corruption and oppression. William Blake’s Milton and Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Mask of Anarchy: Written on the Occasion of the Massacre at Manchester are two such works exposing British urban society as “a world of dizzying transformation,” one in need of such radical reorientation that the artist must “destroy the stability of perception and inflict a kind of voluptuous panic upon an otherwise lucid mind” (Castle, Masquerade 53) to impart their vision of revolution to readers.

Blake not only read Burke, but “endorsed [his] thesis in which ‘terror’ is converted “into an aesthetic system” where it “is…the ruling principle of the sublime.” His “preoccupation with generation and death,” the “God of Dread Majesty” (Miner 22) and Spectre, and apocalypse as transfiguration were favorite dichotomies comprising his aesthetic of the profane and divine coexisting in human form. In his Preface to Milton, Blake invokes Jesus as “the holy Lamb of God” and “the Countenance Divine” (Preface:21-23) traveling in a pastoral English paradise, before rapidly moving to symbols of death and apocalypse to converge sins of greed, mechanization and militarism with future annihilation and purification of “Four-fold London,” and “Albion’s four Forests” (P4:1-3) as the nexus of degradation of patriarchal Christianity “into Druidism” with “its dark forests and darker sacrifices,” extending to “Christ’s crucifixion and the doctrine of atonement” (Eaves 261). He portrays both conditions as existing simultaneously, outside his reviled construct of Newtonian conceptions of time and space: “And was Jerusalem builded here/Among these dark Satanic Mills?” (Preface:25-26). “These Satanic Mills” have been interpreted by scholars to represent the Albion flour mills, factories manufacturing materials of warfare, universities espousing “Newton’s materialist model of the universe” (Gourlay), an oppressive press, and various other aspects of modernity and “industrialization that Blake saw as corroding English culture” (Zuber 40).

As in much of his art and poetry, Blake populates Milton’s liminal world with symbols and language of the grotesque, through which “archetypal figures may be seen as acting within the psyche of Blake…personifications of parts of his psyche” and his “politics as an acting out of mental strife” (Sutherland 142). This ambience of striving in Milton represents “directly and literally…events within Blake’s own mind at a time of personal crisis,” as former protege and estranged “companion of William Hayley” (Pierce 165), radical with dashed “hopes for the pseudo-revolutionary, Napoleon” (Sutherland 146), and libertarian experiencing political repression. Using exquisite anatomical detail recalling “the bloody nervous tissues of the human foetus…composed in the secret darkness of the womb” (Miner 23), Blake’s body becomes the site of the transgressive poet-prophet’s ceaseless “Mental Fight” (Preface 31) and descent through dark “Realms/Of terror and mild moony lustre,” to beseech the “Daughters of Beulah! Muses who inspire the Poet’s Song” (P-3:1-4) to endow him with poetic inspiration:

Come into my hand

By your mild power; descending down the Nerves of my right arm

From out the portals of my brain, where by your ministry

The Eternal Great Humanity Divine planted his Paradise.

And in it caused the Spectres of the Dead to take sweet form

In likeness of himself. (P-3:5-10)

This scene of “surrender” of his body and “otherwise lucid mind” to “voluptuous panic” before the Muses is just the kind spoken of by Castle (Masquerade 53) as evocative of masquerade, and precedes Blake’s summoning of the spirit of Milton from heaven with “A Bard’s prophetic Song” (P-3:22) so that he may give him bodily form. Blake’s openness to incursion and stupefaction for the sake of psychological and artistic catharsis is an embodiment of Burke’s aesthetic of the sublime and terrible, in which “torments…are much greater in their effect on the body and mind, than any pleasures,” that “death is in general a much more affecting idea than pain,” even as “pain is…an emissary of this king of terrors” (36).

The “Spectres of the Dead” Blake refers to are less religious symbols than bearers of falsehood and insecurity generated from “the self-hood of the divided man” operating in “self-rationalization” and “in opposition to emanation” or the poetic spirit (Gourlay). Here Blake’s work takes on distinct elements of the Gothic with regard to the artist’s unconscious fragmentation, with the unnamed spectres functioning, like Milton, as an “uncanny…metaphor of haunted consciousness…in which the dead haunt the minds of the living who become [sic] thus become living spectres…alive as [Blake’s] own zombie or other” (Castle “Spectralization” 250). Radcliffe, DeQuincey and other pioneers of the Gothic tale experienced the disorienting effects of this liminality “in which the boundaries between inside and outside, life and death, the spectral and the real, the illusory and the rational, disarmingly fade” (Bridgwater 119). The “Bard’s Song” of Milton reflects this sense of disarming and disorientation as it is “a very unintelligible” warning of “the attempt of evil to usurp power over good” (Pierce 165) on Earth, meaning for Blake the evils of artistic constraint and religious falsehood including the Satan who parades as hero through the narrative of Milton’s Paradise Lost. It is this unwitting portrayal, idealized beside the distant and capricious tyrant God, that Blake summons Milton to correct, having accused the revered bard of being “of the devil’s party without knowing it,” and “writing in fetters when he wrote of Angels and God and at liberty when of Devils and Hell” (Blake ix). It is Satan, Blake’s ultimate Spectre, who is the agent of deception behind “the False Tongue!” (P3:10) or “mistaken ideas about God and Christ” (Rudd) planted by Milton’s pen while he lived beneath Beulah’s “land of shadows” in the “vegetated” or mundane world. For Blake, it is the Druidic “sacrifices, and…offerings” of corrupted religion to Satan for which “Jesus…the image of the Invisible God,/Became…prey; a curse, an offering and an atonement/For Death Eternal” (P3:12-14). He calls on Milton to, like Christ, “go into the deep her to redeem & himself perish” (P3:20), correcting his theological errors and imparting to men a “true gospel about art and ethics…that does not wholly agree with what the world had supposed that he had taught in his writings while alive” (165). To this end he appropriates the persona of Milton:

With thunders loud and terrible, so Milton’s shadow fell

Precipitant loud thundering into the Sea of Time & Space.

Then first I saw him in the Zenith as a falling star,

Descending perpendicular, swift as the swallow or swift:

And on my left foot falling on the tarsus, enter’d there… (12:45-49)

Milton’s cataclysmic fall from heaven, first as a shadow and then a falling star, is a parody of Satan’s fall from Heaven in the Bible and Paradise Lost; and as a barb at Milton’s legendary characterization of pamphleteering as writings from his left hand (though he himself had engaged in the medium), Blake has him enter his left foot. In a subtle extension of this left-sided conceit, he later has Los remove “his left sandal,” place it “on his head” as a “signal of solemn mourning” (P6:11) over Palamabron’s sin, fabricated by Satan for the purpose of seizing the Plow and Harrow.

With his Bard’s Song, Blake begins narrating “the relationship of Los the eternal prophet, his sons Rintrah and Palamabron, and Satan” the accuser, as Satan attempts “to take over the instruments of prophecy, the Plow and Harrow” (Fallon 2). Blake’s home becomes a Hell-ish scene reminiscent of the fiery bowels of Mt. Aetna in Greek myth, where Los, the Hephaestus-like spirit of imagination and revolution among Blake’s Four Zoas, wields the hammer and bellows in his forge to form “poetry with creative beating” (Gourlay). Here, Los labors to forge the instruments/Of Harvest: The Plow and the Harrow to pass over the Nations” (P4:12-13) with his sons, who personify Blake’s conflicting wrathful revolutionary and “mild and piteous” (Gourlay) poetic responses to oppression and human sacrifice through war, censorship, and industry, and he calls for spiritual and national transfiguration:

The Surrey Hills glow like the clinkers of the furnace: Lambeth’s vale

Where Jerusalem’s foundations began; where they were laid in ruins,

where they were laid in ruins from every Nation & Oak Groves rooted;

Dark gleams before the Furnace-mouth a heap of burning ashes.

When shall Jerusalem return and overspread all the Nations?

Return, return to Lambeth’s Vale, O building of human souls! (P4:14-18)

Here Blake demonstrates his fondness for the sublime and terrible in his coupling of calls for the transfiguration of the wasted landscape of England with symbols of apocalypse and renewal which make England the site of the new holy city; such a transfiguration would transform London from a site of artistic and economic coercion to a land of liberty for Blake, whose own four-fold body would be a living Temple. By crying out for the return of the “building of human souls,” then immediately evoking images of human sacrifice in “Oak Groves” and “stony Druid Temples,” and mourning among “Jerusalem’s ruins” (P4:20-21), Blake again conjoins images of the sacred and profane – Satanic worship and establishment of a sanctified New Earth. At the very site of his strenuous wrestling for the Romantic poet’s moral sublime, Jerusalem’s “walls of salvation” embrace England and cleanse her of the bloody legacy of centuries when “The Spectre of Albion frown’d over the Nations in glory & war./All things begin & end in Albion’s ancient Druid rocky shore” (P4:24-25).

Blake did not see Satan as the sole agonist of his own internal division, as Palamabron represents his artist’s imagination and revolutionary’s passion, and is “the strongest of Demons” (P5:46) among the Zoas. An atmosphere of anguish and anger permeates Los’ forge as a wheedling, mewling Satan weeps and goes “before Los accusing Palamabron:/exculpating with mildest speech” for Los’ favor and control of the Harrow which is Palamabron’s birthright (P5:35). Sympathetic but grotesque creatures surround Palamabron, their contorted forms echoing his grief and fury as Los urges no “false pity” or “officious brotherhood,” and believing “Satan’s blandishments,” capitulates to his manipulations:

Mean time Palamabron’s horses

Rag’d with thick flames redundant, & the Harrow madden’d with fury.

Trembling Palamabron stood, the strongest of Demons trembled:

Curbing his living creatures; many of the strongest Gnomes

They bit in their wild fury, who also madden’d like wildest beasts.


For Sutherland, Palamabron’s Harrow “in the Bard’s song seems to represent the artist’s engraving tool” though he points out that “the Bard himself” – Milton – who is “clearly a less fragmented artist than Palamabron” (146) employs a plow: “And man, unmans: follow me with my Plow: this mournful day…” (P6:20). Both are the artist’s tools, “forged by all four of the basic sons of Los (or by the reintegrated Los/Blake) in London” (146). If the Harrow indeed represents Blake’s engraving tool, the “energetic wrath…the fiery furnace of hatred…the energy that is his eternal delight” (Stauffer 138) through his doppelganger Palamabron is doubly understandable as his means of artistic expression is ransomed by Satan – Rose’s “phantom of our own Self, whose intimate relationship with, and deep effect upon our spirit casts us into hell or transports us into Heaven” (127).

Milton’s Shadow” (37:6) like Blake’s arm awaiting the Muses’ inspiration “down the Nerves of [his] right arm/From out the portals of [his] brain” (P3:5-6), embodies the Burkean sublime and terrible in the foetal body of Satan. Still captive to what Blake sees as his corrupted Christian doctrine, Milton “in his corporeal fleshly configuration” descends “as a re-born mortal entity from Eden” (Miner 26) and condenses “all his Fibres/Into a strength impregnable of majesty and beauty infinite…the Covering Cherub” (Blake 37:6-8), “Blake’s Burkean context” of “’dreadful majesty and beauty…outside’” but “moralizing Self-hood” beneath “bloody foetal nerves” (Miner 26). Outward beauty masks the trickster Satan, who remains the “guardian at the gate of Paradise who prevents exiled humanity from reentering” (Eaves 156). To Blake, he is lord of “The Monstrous Churches of Beulah, the Gods of Ulro dark,/Twelve monstrous dishumanized terrors./Synagogues of Satan” disseminating the doctrine of atonement and “other dangerous false versions of the divine, especially those calling for human sacrifice” (Gourlay).

Stauffer characterizes both “Blake and Shelley” as poets who “imagine anger as a remover of masks and the despoiler of illusions that constitute an unacceptable status quo” (141). While Blake’s Milton uses overarching themes of the sublime and terrible in response to a constellation of episodes and agonists of oppression, Shelley wrote his “Mask of Anarchy” in direct response to an event that would become emblematic of militarized oppression by English monarchy. In what came to be known as the Peterloo Massacre of August 16, 1819, a gathering at Manchester’s St. Peter’s Field of “peaceful campaigners for parliamentary reform,” including women and children, was “broken up by the Manchester Yeomanry” and “between 10 and 20 people killed and more injured” (Mather par. 1). “Despite the seriousness of the event” it had begun with the festive air of masquerade, “a party atmosphere…men, women and children, dressed in their best Sunday clothes” as “the procession was accompanied by bands playing music and people dancing alongside” (par. 5). The procession with its hopes to effect change on behalf of the oppressed and impoverished working classes, had all the markings of the “carnival spirit, with its freedom, its utopian character oriented toward the future” (Bakhtin 33) in Manchester’s “melting pot of social and political anxieties, including famine, unemployment, poverty, poor living conditions, a general lack of suffrage, and misrepresentation by Parliament” (Hopper 134).

Like Blake’s Milton, Shelley’s Mask of Anarchy portrays a host of spectral characters reminiscent of the Gothic undead other, whose “masks figure evil’s dependence on disguise, a false of state of affairs foisted on humanity as truth” (Stauffer 141) for the sake of elite powers of consanguine religion and state. Shelley conveys a pathos of frustration and ineffectuality regarding the Peterloo event, speaking almost as a disembodied narrator who “lay asleep in Italy” and was only notified by “a voice from over the sea,” denying him any means but “visions of Poesy” (1:1-4) ) to address the tragedy. Like Blake, Shelley appears also have been influenced by Milton, whose Masque Presented at Ludlow Castle was “an important guide…as quite probably were Jonson’s various masques” by which “anger begins with satire and ends as antimasque” (Stauffer 155). With his grotesque parade of characters, Shelley paints a scene of Gothic terror in his own “theatre of warfare and desolation” in which soldiers of the monarchy become the “hordes of banditti, lurking in the fastness of mountain, or in the recesses of forest, ready to pour down upon the weak and unguarded” (Castle, Masquerade 139). The first wayfarer he meets, “Murder,” wears “a mask like Castlereagh” and is flanked by “seven bloodhounds” he fattens with human hearts (Shelley 2:5-8). This spectre is just the first in the poem’s “mythography” populated with “images and sources of evil” he masks “to reveal rather than disguise” (Stauffer 156). Unlike Blake’s spectre Satan, Murder adopts Castlereagh’s “mask not to fool the English people, but to publicize the allegiance of Castlereagh as his right-hand man” (157). “Always politically-minded, Shelley “enacts” his “particularly intense version of the Romantic struggle with anger” over the massacre as yet another failed attempt at “promised revolution and revelation” which “brought forth reaction and Terror instead” (Stauffer 139). His allegorical voyage back to Britain becomes the a carnivalesque Canterbury Road “O’er fields and towns,/from sea to sea” back “to London town” (Shelley 13:50-54), the symbolic battlefield on which he will wield his weapon of warfare against institutionalized deception and violence, Ingpen’s “Satire upon Satire” wielded as many “small knives” (Stauffer 383) through the poet’s pen:

Next came Fraud, and he had on,

Like Eldon, an ermined gown;

his big tears, for he wept well,

Turned to mill-stones as they fell.

And the little children, who

Round his feet played to and fro,

Thinking every tear a gem,

Had their brains knocked out by them. (Shelley 4:14-5:21)

Shelley, “a firm pacifist” esteeming satiric invective over violence or vengeance, “often attacked the blood lust and servility of soldiers…made blind to their blue collar backgrounds by illusions of power” (Veleski 5). In the Peterloo Massacre, Murder has been allowed to quell an otherwise peaceful revolution through the collusion of Fraud wearing the mask of Eldon, beside Sidmouth as Hypocrisy, who “Clothed with the Bible, as with light,/And the shadows of the night,” cries gem-like crocodile tears which turn to millstones and crush children’s heads “as they fell” (Shelley 4:15-5:24). These millstones are the very encumbrances Christ warned must not be placed around the necks of those seeking him, being alchemically transfigured to instruments of crushing power out of symbols of obscene wealth. Among the members of The Mask of Anarchy‘s “ghastly masquerade, Shelley calls out “Bishops, lawyers, peers, and spies” (7:27-29), all actually preceding Anarchy as “figures of deception and vice” and “corruption hiding beneath the mask of virtue” (Stauffer 141). As with Blake, false religion, death and apocalypse were central to his enactment of “falsehood….redefined as a grotesque and destructive indulgence to be expelled from the poet’s ultimate vision, but which may operate in the plot” (Stauffer 155).

Just as generation and transmutation are symbolized in The Bard’s and Satan’s “bloody foetal Nerves” in Milton (Miner 26), Shelley too invokes images of the terrible and sublime in blood, anxiety, and transforming fire. In The Mask of Anarchy, pharisaical legalism and religiosity commingle incestuously with the spirit of Anarchy, who “Clothed in arms like blood and flame,/hired murderers, who did sing/Thou are God, and Law, and King” (15:58-61). Using the “pomp” of nationalism and mindless ritualism, his “Lawyers and priests, a motley crowd” bow “To the earth their pale brows” in worship to “Anarchy, the Skeleton.” These Satanic worshipers “seize upon the Bank and Tower,” enslaving mankind for the interests of Parliament, King, and monarchical posterity.

Like Blake, for Shelley the restraints of Newtonian time and space were failed constructs for poetic expression. Shelley’s “father Time is weak and gray” and like Palamabron trembling before Satan’s accusations before Los, “idiot-like…stands,/ Fumbling with his palsied hands” while daughter Hope, behind the skewed mask of Despair, lays “down in the street,/Right before the horses’ feet” (25:98-9). Like Los’ temporarily rejected heir to the Harrow, Time’s daughter waits to be trampled along with the vanquished, mortal revolutionaries at Peterloo. Anarchy, like Milton’s Shadow cloaked in bloody tissue and the deceptive penumbra of Satan, descending in a cloud before Blake, armored Yeoman descend on Peterloo in clouds and lightening “like the vapour of a vale” (26:105), swelling into a dragon-like swarm and spilling blood in “a shower of crimson dew” (29:116).

While Anarchy has his way with the ineffectual crowd, Venus, Shelley’s own mythical but passive “Starry-One” (Blake 35:30), remains distant and disinterested in the “prostrate multitude” and figure of Hope/Despair standing “ankle-deep in blood” (32:26-27). England’s “own indignant Earth,” depicted as a womb “shuddering with the mother’s throe” (35:139-142) howls, bereft of her children. Shelley, whose “skepticism” and “image of the failed Revolution” in France undergirded “his visionary poetics” (Porello 82) calls upon the “Men of England, heirs of Glory” and “Nurslings” of their “one mighty Mother” (37:147-149). Like the subject of Blake’s “The Chimney Sweep” they must shake off their own “mind-forg’d manacles” (71) and “Rise like Lions after slumber” to “Shake [the] chains” (Shelley 38:51-53) of enslavement “to the earth like dew” (38:153). They must reclaim their own “otherwise lucid mind” (Castle, Masquerade 53) and reject the false virtues of the corrupt church and state ransoming he workers’ “Loom, and plough, and sword, and spade” for “their defence and nourishment,” while their own posterity fall to poverty, war, disease, and famine when “the winter winds are bleak” (41:165-42:171).

Shelley, in a startling “prophetic revelation,” the kind which “both attracted and horrified the poet” and student of myth and fable (Stauffer 143), in Orwellian prefiguration likens the collective tolerating their own bondage to farm animals: “Asses, swine” who “have litter spread/And with fitting food are fed,” and with “savage mean” and “wild beasts within a den” (50:201-206). He then invokes Burkean images of enclosure and nightmare – of “Vacuity, Darkness, Solitude, and Silence” (Burke 65) to convey his conflicted pathos of anger and grief for the lower classes’ “bodily representations of experiences,” their “tortured faces” and “faces in love” (xi) too frightened to rise “from their living graves.” In the zombies’ nightmare thrall of “superstition…echoing from the cave of Fame” (53:215-16), they are unable to rouse and “demand—tyrants would flee/Like a dream’s dim imagery” (52:210-212).

Like Blake, Shelley viewed constraint as akin to death, and false knowledge as madness. He called upon England’s downtrodden to cease being “clothes, and fire, and food/For the trampled multitude” (55:21-22) – to clothe themselves instead in the raiments of “Justice, “Wisdom” and “Peace,” waking from their nightmare of fear that “God will damn for ever..who think those things untrue/Of which Priests make such ado” to seek the face of “Liberty” (57:230-60:244) . He anticipates the resurrection of “the great Assembly…fearless and free” to “witness the solemnity” (65:262-269) Blakean Spectres of the Dead who stain England’s visionary landscape with “blood and treasure wasted” (59:39), who are the shades of those who thought themselves “following Christ” by giving “their substance to the free” (61:247-248). The Gothic undead still suffer in “the workhouse and the prison,” standing “pale as corpses newly risen” (68:275-6) over the bones of those crushed beneath the mill-stone and “the tramp of horses’ heels,” and rivers of “English blood” flowing from vampiric “horsemen’s scimitars” into “a sea of death and mourning” (76:310-78:315). At the poems’ close, “the bold, true warriors/Who have hugged Danger in wars…turn to those who would be free” and away from the “such base company” (88:356-359) as those refusing Liberty. Like flames licking at Los’ forge, the blood of the valorous dead “steam[s] up” from Shelley’s pen “like inspiration,/Eloquent, oracular,” from “A volcano heard afar” (89:361). In a call hard to discern between a trumpet call and whisper, he pleads over “Oppression’s thundered doom,” like Los’ hammer blows “Heard again—again–again” (90:365-67) to “Rise like Lions after slumber…Shake your chains to earth like dew,” for “Ye are many, they are few” (91:368-72).

Both Blake and Shelley “hated falsehood and hypocrisy” (Stauffer 143) and were “deeply ambivalent” pacifists writing “in the highly-charged Romantic era of revolution and reaction, negotiating the claims of politics and art…to gather, process and distribute outrage” (161) at the status quo through the nonviolent means of poetry. Shelley’s reputation was one of meekness and indefatigable good humor personally, but a man of “rebellious courage” for whom “the basis of [his] satire,” as an extension of his politics, was “violence rather than laughter” (138-9). He acknowledged “the importance of anger as a revolutionary emotion but [saw] revenge as a ‘pernicious mistake” (Shelley, Prose 232). Blake was decidedly more irascible and “almost universally judged to be a madman” by contemporaries, but modern critics and scholars consider him “our most revolutionary visionary” and “our greatest modern prophet” (Sutherland 142). His techniques of “subversion and negation of Christian moral, ecclesiastical, and theological traditions” set him at odds with both the church and monarchy of his day, in spite of being a deeply religious man whose life and art was “profoundly centered on Jesus.” He saw his “great task” as an artist to open the “eye of imagination,” embodying and expressing outwardly his view of “the Eternal worlds” (142) as an inseparable component of a universe in which love and revolution, beauty and terror exist coequally as expressions of the moral sublime.

Both Milton and The Mask of Anarchy reflect the complex minds and emotions of their Romantic authors. Each contains images and language of the sublime and terrible, Milton an epic in blank verse form fashioned after its namesake’s Paradise Lost whose Milton and Palamabron strive against Blake’s spectre and shadow self, Satan, in so strenuously that their bodies endure immeasurable pain and suffering, rendering them the open, grotesque body until released in a state of exquisite completion in the classic closed body of a still-alienated but vindicated William Blake. The Mask of Anarchy, a rhyming sonnet of four-line stanzas written in iambic tetrameter, is equally reflective of its author’s “particularly intense version of of the Romantic struggle with anger” and “revolutionary outrage” (Stauffer 139). Just as Blake may have satirized the likes Hayley, Napoleon and Cromwell to make a political and artistic statement, Shelley’s response to the Peterloo Massacre of 1819 was to transform “specific, historical figures of Castlereagh, Eldon, and Sidmouth into abstract figures” (Hopper 138) in hopes of fomenting peaceful revolution through sublime terror. The Mask could as well have been written by Polidori or DeQuincey (or even Mary Shelley) as Spenser or Shakespeare, with its terrifying carnivalesque imagery and inexorably building, emotionally charged atmosphere ending in a stanza one cannot distinguish from a Light Brigade charge order or a Phantom’s operatic unmasking. Both Blake’s and Shelley’s employ “exaggeration, hyperbolism, excessiveness…considered fundamental to the grotesque style” (Bakhtin 303). Both used conceits of masquerade and monstrosity for their “metaphorical and double-edged significances,” highlighting the nightmarishly surreal nature of real events and ideas, through anxiety and suffering in “the body” as the site of “arising of the grotesque effect” (Bardascino par. 3). Both are quintessentially Romantic works which reestablish and confirm their authors’s genius and humanity, the era’s fulsomeness as a time of political, artistic and personal revolution, and for their passionate insistence on preserving all these things, elevating Romantic poets as in Shelley’s own words, “the unacknowledged legislators of the World” (A Defence of Poetry 768).

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