Lord Byron's Poems

Psychology of Imprisonment in "The Prisoner of Chillon"

Byron's "The Prisoner of Chillon"[1], a dramatic monologue narrated by a prisoner, Francois de Bonnivard, was written immediately after the poet's famous sailing expedition on Lake Geneva with Percy Shelley. When visiting the thirteenth-century Castle of Chillon, Byron must have heard of and felt a great interest in the pathetic story of the Genevan patriot. He celebrates the "Eternal spirit of the chainless mind" in his prefatory "Sonnet on Chillon" [2], which lets us see that the poet regards Chillon as the symbol of political liberalism.

Unlike "Sonnet on Chillon," which was added later to the poem, "The Prisoner of Chillon" does not deal with the specific historical facts about Bonnivard as such critics as William H. Marshall, Robert F. Gleckner, Jerome J. McGann and Newey Vincent aptly point out [3]. In the narrative verse, Byron mainly presents the psychological condition of an individual mind in confinement.

In the first three stanzas, a detailed account of his incarceration is given. Owing to the "Persecution's rage" (20), the prisoner and his brothers are imprisoned. But we are also told in the same stanzas that they are "Fettered in hand, but...

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