Shelley’s Medusa: ‘Eyes of Pain’ in The Cenci of 1819
The Cenci of 1819 is English Romantic writer Percy Bysshe Shelley’s clearest expression of his fascination with the Medusa figure. This article asserts that the Medusa represented a particular sort of symbolic economy, one that his anti-heroine Beatrice Cenci appropriates in taking on the Medusa’s features. The petrifying gaze is the most obvious of these features, but close attention is also paid to the abjection of hair and skin in Shelley’s tragedy. Beatrice’s Medusa-likeness is powerful not just because it horrifies but because it grants her a limited access to symbolization and the agency to revise social, filial, psychic and political relations since these are composed through various orders of representation. At the very least, this suspends the claims of Beatrice’s rapist father to perfect sovereignty, for Count Cenci only has his position and power by virtue of existing social and political forms and in this sense he is dependent on – perhaps even vulnerable to – someone who lives on the edges of language.
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Document Type: Research Article
Affiliations: Colorado Mountain College
Publication date: April 30, 2012
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