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Reviewed by Deepak Menon for Readers' Favorite
Before writing another word, I must proclaim that, in writing this biographical play, Nigel Patten has exceeded himself by writing a classic which is a “true mirror of the times”! 5 STARS!! In the play the playwright describes the events that take place in the spring of 1822 when the 32 year old poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley, his 27 year old second wife, Mary, and her half-sister Claire rent a dilapidated villa off the Tuscany coast, just before Shelley's death. Shelley, the eccentric genius, is described in detail, both in the build up narrative as well as during dialogues, painstakingly quoted or derived from monumental research by the playwright. Shelley's delicate, negligent disheveled appearance, his engaging personality, intellectuality, a childish simplicity coupled with great refinement, his vehement manner and the spasms in his side and chest, reveal the paradox that was Shelley. He manifests a persecution complex at times verging on insanity, suffers anxiety symptoms, depressions, and paranoid fears. Mary, increasingly withdrawing from life because of the deaths of several children, still lives with love for Shelley untainted. She understands Shelley and is disquieted by him, a shadow of his former self. Shelley, true to his theories of free love, is sexually intimate with both Mary and Claire who love him and had vowed to share him with each other.
The play has fascinating interplay between Mary and Claire, who also had a child fathered by Lord Byron. The dialogue of the play is powerful and thought provoking. Shelley says: “I detest all society, almost all at least, and Lord Byron is the nucleus of all that is hateful and tiresome in it.” The play opens up myriad other unknown aspects of Shelley's character. Influenced by redoubtable people ranging from Plutarch to Blake, and despite being a professed atheist, he is paradoxically attracted to Jesus, whom he describes as a nonconformist. Shelley detests the monarchy and the Church, both of which he feels violate the most sacred ties of nature and society. Conversely, he exhibits many gracious attributes, by even giving praise to Byron.
Perhaps the Shelley we get to know in the play is best described by Mary herself in a dialogue after his death in a boat accident: “Percy would save anything that had life. His integrity and sweetness of disposition are unequaled by any human being that ever existed!” I recommend this play as a “Must Read” in its genre.