The Shelley-Godwin Archive is pleased to announce the public release of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound fair copy notebooks, Bodleian MSS. Shelley e.1, e.2, and e.3. Beyond the fair copy of what is arguably Shelley’s greatest poem, these notebooks contain fair copies of his lyric poems “Ode to Heaven” and “Misery.—A Fragment,” as well as his draft translation of Plato’s Ion.
As with our earlier release of the Frankenstein manuscripts, these manuscripts all appear as high quality page images accompanied by full transcriptions, and they are encoded in a schema based upon the Text Encoding Initiative’s guidelines for “Representation of Primary Resources,” enabling researchers, editors, and students to pursue a variety of scholarly investigations. Our encoding captures important aspects of the composition process, tracing the revisionary evolution of primary manuscripts and enabling users to see and search for additions, deletions, substitutions, retracings, insertions, transpositions, shifts in hand, displacements, paratextual notes, and other variables related to the composition process.
Prometheus Unbound, itself, was first published in 1820 in a volume entitled Prometheus Unbound: A Lyrical Drama in Four Acts, With Other Poems (hereafter 1820). No poem caused Shelley (PBS) more pains to compose or occupied him for so long. It took him almost a year and a half to write the principal parts of the poem, beginning in late August or early September 1818 and ending in December 1819. But he appears to have been planning the poem as early as March 1818, and to be revising it as late as May 1820.
The intermediate fair copy of Prometheus Unbound located in e.1-e.3 served as PBS’s safekeeping copy; and he recorded in it revisions made to the poem after the press transcript had already been sent to England from Italy. Mary W. Shelley transcribed for the press most or all of Acts 1-3 between 5 and 12 September 1819, and all of Act 4 in mid-December 1819. As was his usual practice, PBS appears to have corrected the press transcripts, making a series of small final revisions to prepare the poem for the press. It is by now a commonplace that he was extremely dissatisfied with the published text of 1820, the only edition of Prometheus Unbound to appear during his lifetime, for which he was not allowed to read proof. But the “formidable list” of errata he prepared for that text has been lost or destroyed—as has been the press transcript itself, which best would have reflected his intentions for the printed text. The last surviving manuscript of Prometheus Unbound in PBS’s hand, these notebooks are the necessary starting point for all those who desire to better their understanding of Shelley’s greatest poetic achievement.
For this release, the S-GA team invested in refining the design of the site to improve users’ experience of navigating the rich contents of the Archive. Most notably, the contents of S-GA can all be accessed by Manuscript (with page images ordered by their sequence in the manuscript), or by Work (with page images ordered by their linear sequence in the work, e.g., Acts and scenes). The Frankenstein manuscript page images have been refactored so that they can be accessed in all of the complicated arrangements and rearrangements through which they have descended to us over time.
Our next planned release for S-GA in late Spring 2016 will increase its contents by an order of magnitude, with several thousand as yet untranscribed page images. We continue to work behind the scenes on opening the Archive to participatory curation.