While the Romantic lyric has long been understood as an exploration of human subjectivity, the era's dramatic works have been viewed as more oriented toward objective or mimetic representation. As such, scholarship on Romantic subjectivity from Harold Bloom to Andrea Henderson has bypassed dramatic and quasi-dramatic explorations of subjectivity. These explorations, however, add to the conversation about subjectivity in powerful ways by addressing the paradoxes of mimetically representing subjectivity. These difficulties spring from a question that surrounds mimetically represented subjectivity: how can a supposedly objective medium portray experience that is by definition non-objective, purely interior, and therefore incommunicable? This paradox calls for a reassessment of criticism on Romantic subjectivity, this time attending not only to the Romantic lyric with its recognized formal emphasis on interiority, but also to Romantic drama, which productively resists interiority by underscoring the paradoxes inherent to representations of subjectivity. This thesis traces the development of dramatic explorations of subjectivity in two of Byron's works, the closet drama Manfred and the trans-generic mock-epic Don Juan. Manfred attempts to mimetically portray the horrors of subjectivity by showing how the title character's solipsism leads to his demise. The work ultimately falls short of this purpose, but in so doing reveals a crucial paradox: the tragedy inherent to subjectivity lies in the very inexpressibility the play hopes to express. Don Juan, on the other hand, embraces this paradox by allowing the work's theme of Manfred-like subjectivity to leak from content to form—from the story of Juan to the very act of diegesis. This blurring of textual lines results in generic inversions, marked in Don Juan by the constant irruptions of comedy into the otherwise tragic tale. Ultimately, if Don Juan succeeds as tragedy of subjectivity, it does so by failing, tragically, at being tragedy. Such a tragedy must be understood based on a dynamic, rather than a static, conception of genre; rather than being defined based on a resemblance to recognized tragedies, Don Juan's tragic associations come from the work's constant movement between genres. As such, Don Juan's method for treating the paradoxes of mimetically portrayed subjectivity is to imagine them as the play between content and genre, substance and form.
College and Department
BYU ScholarsArchive Citation
Leinenbach, Trenton Robert, "Manfred, Don Juan, and the Romantic Tragedy of the Subject" (2016). Theses and Dissertations. 6226.
Byron, Don Juan, Manfred, subjectivity, tragedy, drama, genre