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Shelley’s Medusa: ‘Eyes of Pain’ in The Cenci of 1819

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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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Keywords: English Romantic literature; Leonardo da Vinci; Mary Shelley; Medusa; Percy Bysshe Shelley; The Cenci; gender studies; sexuality studies

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Colorado Mountain College

Publication date: April 30, 2012

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  • Horror Studies intends to serve the international academic community in the humanities and specifically those scholars interested in horror. Exclusively examining horror, this journal will provide interested professionals with an opportunity to read outstanding scholarship from a variety of disciplinary perspectives, including work conceived as interdisciplinary. By expanding the conversation to include specialists concerned with diverse historical periods, varied geography, and a wide variety of expressive media, this journal will inform and stimulate anyone interested in a wider and deeper understanding of horror
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