#Shelley200 Roundtable: Revolutionary Shelley

We are pleased to present the recording of our second #Shelley200 event, a ‘Revolutionary Shelley’ roundtable chaired by Dr Amanda Blake Davis and Dr Anna Mercer and featuring Dr Julie Camarda, Graham Henderson, Dr Jacqueline Mulhallen, and Professor Michael Scrivener.

This event was livestreamed on 4th August 2021, Shelley’s 229th birthday, and included questions upon Shelley’s revolutionary legacy and a wide-ranging discussion of his poetics, politics, and more. Along with the recording, we are pleased to include a summary of the event composed by Shelley Conference Postgraduate Helper, Ana Stevenson.

One of the key points that this discussion raised was accessibility. The speakers elaborated on qualities that make Shelley accessible, such as his uses of a wide range of literary forms, from poems to ballads, plays, pamphlets, and essays. His morals and political attitude also inspired renowned supporters such as Gandhi, Marx, the Suffragettes, and many others who opposed tyranny and inequality. As Camarda pointed out, his sense of time has an eternal quality. Shelley possesses a multigenerational appeal, talking to the people from his own troubling times, ours, and many in between. According to Mulhallen, Shelley’s poetry is enjoyable even if the reader is not familiar with the references used by the author. Shelley is not a revolutionary poet, but an empathy poet, which is revolutionary itself. His attitude regarding violent protest was also widely discussed. He opposed any manner of violence, using words to promote his ideas. Yet there are examples where the use of violence in his writing proves that the mere description of it can be an act of violence itself, such as in The Cenci, as Camarda discussed in detail.

When talking about aspects of Shelley’s character, the panel moved to discuss his reputation, including considering the representation of Shelley in films. Henderson talked about how this kind of feature does Shelley a disfavour by providing an erroneous personification of the poet. Scrivener was more optimistic in believing that, although this sort of character does not exactly represent Shelley, it keeps his name in circulation and hopefully inspires people to discover Shelley for themselves. As the event came to an end, the speakers and attendees were invited to discuss which of Shelley’s works they consider to be the most revolutionary. Ozymandias and Prometheus Unbound were the most popular choices, but many other titles also appeared, showing that the term “revolutionary” can hold different meanings to different people and that Shelley’s revolutionary appeal reaches his readers in many different ways. — Ana Stevenson, Shelley Conference Postgraduate Helper