I.d number: 09004503
Submission date: 11-3-2013
Lecturer: John McDonagh
Word count: 1,265
Question: Both Percy Bysshe Shelley’s ‘A defence of poetry’ and Thomas Love Peacock’s ‘The four ages of poetry’ are essays that debate the utilitarianism of poetry. Compare and contrast their approaches.
Utilitarianism can be described as a theory which suggests a theory of good and a theory of right. From the utilitarian theory of right comes the idea the righteousness comes from goodness. Both Shelley and Peacock can be categorized as poets of the romantic genre. Romanticism in poetry, having dated from the eighteenth century in Europe, highlights an individual’s expression of emotion and imagination, particularly in opposition to classicalism, social forms and convention. This essay will hope to highlight Shelley and Peacocks use of satire, and the similarities and dissimilarities between how each poet approaches the utilitarianism of poetry. Firstly, it is important to acknowledge the similarities in both Shelley and Peacock’s approach to the utilitarian poetry; however, it is the dissimilarities in their techniques which cause their works to differ. It is widely considered that Peacock’s work had great bearing on Shelley’s ‘Defence of Poetry’. As well as Shelley introducing new ideas and views on romanticism was based on the original ideas introduced in Peacock’s ‘The four ages of poetry’. One can assume that ‘The four ages of poetry’ was the basis for Shelley’s ‘Defence of poetry’. ‘’A year after Peacock had given up his life as a free poet he published an essay, ‘The Four ages of poetry’ which on the surface is a devastating attack on poetry as being out moded and superfluous intellectual activity in a modern and progressive society’’ From this quote, it is evident the Peacock is behaving typically of a romantic poet and attacking the previously engrained conventions of classical poetry. He is paradoxically questioning poetic tradition in his ‘The Four ages of poetry’. Peacock’s scepticism of social traditions and conventions are expressed through ‘The four ages of poetry’, in a satirical manner. ‘’His style is witty, paradoxical and satirical’’. In contrast, from an analysis of both works it is clear that Shelley lacks the ‘’witty playfulness of Peacock as he lacks his sense of paradox and his subtle alterations between ironically and serious statement’’ Although aspects of Peacock’s ideas can be seen to have a clear effect on Shelley’s, ‘Defence of Poetry’ essay, it can also be considered that Shelley’ essay is in fact a rebuttal to Peacock’s, ‘The four ages of Poetry’. ‘’Shelley’s essay is a sustained response to Peacock’s liberal critique of the coleridgean eleration of poetry and the poet’’ Another point which stems from this is the different approaches each poet’s essay took. Peacock’s, seemingly, carefree, sarcastic approach in, ‘The four ages of poetry’ is a satire of contemporary poetry whereas; Shelley’s approach to responding to Peacock with ‘Defence of Poetry’ essay is far more serious in tone and technique. In order to achieve a firm understanding on this one must carefully analyse both essays. Peacock’s ‘The four ages of poetry’ is a dual stranded piece of literature. Initially the essays deal with classical poetry. The latter half deals with the more modern, romantic era of poetry. Peacock utilizes the main eras in history as a metaphor for the four ages of poetry. These being the Iron Age, the Golden age, the Silver age and the Brass age. In the latter half of his essay Peacock, refers to modern/ romantic poetry as the ‘Dark ages’. It is evident that Peacock is using the poetic technique of metaphors to graft his critique through each era of poetry. Peacock refers to the people of the Iron Age as brutes and as ignorant. He describes the poets of this era as exaggerating their people as heroes, almost demeaning what a hero is. He also states that the people of the said time were...