British History 2:
From the French Revolution to World War II
Topic: "Majesties and Royal Highnesses"
by Laura Cenicola & Mareike Aumann
- The poem 'England in 1918' is written in form of a sonnet. It consists of fourteen lines written in iambic pentarmeter. The sonnet does not follow the traditional Petrarchan set up, where the first eight lines and the final six lines are devided. The first six lines deal with the rulers of Great Britain and the last eight lines with everyone else. In fact the sonnet is turned upside down. The rhyming pattern does not fit to what one might expect from a traditional 19th century sonnet either. For a traditional Petrarchan sonnet the rhyme sceme for the octet would be abbaabba, the sextet could either be cdecde, cdcdcd or cdcdee. Shelley's sonnet mixes the octet and sextet styles.
- The sonnet conveys a rather dark picture of England. The country is in bad condition and there are huge errors in the social fabric. England's structure is as out of order, as is the structure of the poem. The Royal Family, especially the king who should take care of his people can´t do so because he is 'old, mad, blind and dying'.The princes are, who could help, are 'clinging like leeches' to their country, sucking out all its blood, not caring for the people either. The population is in really bad condition, being 'starved and stabbed', oppressed, hungry and hopeless, left to themselves. Even the army does not protect the people, instead it turns against them and therefore is a threat to liberty. Laws have become useless, religion has lost all its moral, and Parliament is the 'time's worst statute unrepealed'.
- The sonnet refers to king George III and is related to him surrendering to madness in November 1810.
- Who or what the 'glorious phantom' might be is not explicitly mentioned. It could possibly be related to the liberty that was won in France, due to the French Revolution.
- The author obviously feels bad about the horrible conditions his country suffers from. He is upset and frustrated, which becomes obvious by of furious and violent metaphors. For example he compares the princes to 'leeches' that suck the blood out of their country and its people. The English people are 'starv'd and stabb'd' and the army is a 'two-edg'd sword'.
- Shelley was strongly opposed to political power. He was a passionate advocate for liberty, which this sonnet expresses well. Due to his committment of politics he wrote a series of angry political poems, criticizing the arrogance of those who had the power in Britain. Though Shelley was a romantic poet he was concerned with the real world as well.