Influences of Godwin, Plato & Rousseau on P. B. Shelley

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     Shelley is much devoted to Godwin, Plato and Rousseau for his thought and poetry Godwin's book 'Political Justice' has profoundly influenced Shelley's iconoclastic rationalism and his opinions on politics and morals.

      Influence of Godwin: Godwin's idea of man is that man is perfectible; that is, capable of moral improvement and the development of his character is subject more to nature's environment than heredity Godwin didn't believe in the existence of Government and opposed the worship of wealth, religious tyranny and diseased law, but he believed in "free love" and advocated a universe where men could live happily together and in peace. Shelley too, influenced by his ideas, attacks wars, tyranny commerce, wealth and religion - in short all the existing vices of his present world—and describes a Utopian future in Queen Mab.

      Tinges of Godwinian theory is seen in Prometheus Unbound too, where he celebrates the perfectibility of human nature and foretells a golden age which too is bound by guilt or pain, "nor yet exempt from chance, and death and mutability"

      Influence of Plato: Just as Shelley is devoted to Godwin for political and moral ideas, so also he is devoted to Plato for his platonism of "one Spirit", the "supreme Power". Just as Keats was a Hellenist without knowing any Greek, so also Shelley was a Platonist even before he had read Plato. To Shelley, Plato was not only a philosopher but a poet too. In his Defence of Poetry, he says, "Plato was essentially a poet—the truth and splendor of his imagery and the melody of his language are the most intense that is possible to conceive."

      The ideas he borrowed from Plato fall under four groups—general religious and philosophic ideas, cosmic speculations, social and political ideas, and the theory of love.

      (i) General Religious and Philosophic Ideas: Shelley's religious system is more Greek and Platonic than Christian and Biblical. Like Plato, Shelley believes in a 'Supreme power' and is conscious of the unity of the world and of all life and the underlying spirit which he celebrates in most of his poems, especially in Adonais.
"The one remains, the many change and pass". The struggle between the powers of good and evil is the main theme of The Revolt of Islam, a concept of Plato.

      (ii) Cosmic Speculations: Plato's teachings that the entire universe is the self-evolution of an absolute intelligence, is seen reflected in Shelley's Hymn to Apollo where he considers the sun as the supreme source in the universe, not of light and force only; but also of intelligence. Even in Prometheus Unbound, he personifies Moon and Earth.

      (iii) Social and Political Ideas: The concept of dualism between Prometheus who stands for the soul of man and Jupiter who represents the baser side of man which we find in Prometheus Unbound is based on Plato's conception of a constant duel in man's nature between the good and evil forces.

      (iv) Theory of Love: Plato's teachings on theory of love have two aspects—his philosophy of beauty; and love, an inspiration in human life. Shelley's idea of 'Intellectual Beauty' is the same as Plato's 'philosophy of beauty' To Shelley, when Intellectual Beauty's departs, this world becomes a 'dim vast veil of tears vacant and desolate'. On the other hand if human heart is its temple, then man would become 'immortal and potent'. Thus Platonism was a treasure-house from which he borrowed valuable ideas.

      Influences of Rousseau: Rousseau too has influenced Shelley much, for Harold Bloom believes, "Without Rousseau, Shelley would not have written the Hymn to Intellectual Beauty and perhaps not Mont Blanc either. Rousseau, more than even Wordsworth, was the prophet of natural man, and the celebrator of the state of nature". Shelley not only fights for the natural man and against religion but against his own desire in Prometheus Unbound. Shelley's spirit and his temperament made him more a disciple and heir of Rousseau than of Godwin or Wordsworth. Rousseau's ideas are vividly seen in Shelley’s Ode to the West Wind and even in his lyrical drama.


Q. 1. "Shelley was greatly influenced by Godwin, Plato and Rousseau". Illustrate the idea citing examples from the prescribed poems.
Q. 2. "Shelley derived his notions from Plato, Godwin and Rousseau and was equally enthralled by them". Discuss.
Q. 3. Write a brief account of the influences of Godwin, Plato and Rousseau on Shelley

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