The first half go the poem is set on directly attacking the current King of England and his successor, George IV. The King is described as being ‘old, mad, blind’ and ‘dying, all characteristics of a weak monarch and therefore a weak country. Just like George Ill, England and its people are ‘dying’. The Napoleonic wars had left much of the English population poor, unemployed and in misery. However, George Ill seems “blind” to this, ignoring the suffering populous and crushing any hopes of liberty and change. It is this arrogance of power that Shelley is most critical of.
Through violent metaphors Shelley describes the rulers of the country’ as ‘leech-like’, sucking every ounce of blood out of the English population, again blind to what they have done. Thus, it is obvious that this poem represents the decay of the English way of life. What was once a place of freedom, has became a place where the ruling classes ignore the suffering of the English people to fulfill their own selfish desires. The ‘old’ King fails to relate to his subjects and thus continues to set a bad example to his successors, developing the idea that there is little hope of change any time soon.
As the poem continues, Shelley lists the flaws in England’s social fabric. The army for example has become a tool used by the elite to ‘prey’ upon the citizens, quashing any sign of liberty. Without a strong King, the country has fallen to the power of the army, who are using the lack of control to take advantage over the citizens. The line ‘makes as a two-edged sword to all who wield’ is particularly powerful. ‘Two edged sword’ In particular implies that whether the citizens fight in the war or just live under King George’s rule they will fall victims to death.
This idea of little of no hope further emphasizes Shelley denouncement of the English monarchy. In addition to the army, Shelley expresses his lack of faith in several other key institutions, the law and religion. The corrupted monarchy has lead to ‘sanguine laws which tempt and slay and rulers who are ‘Crestless’ and ‘Godless’. Here Shelley is trying to explain how the laws of England have become harsh and worthless, while religion has lost all its morality. With these key institutions corrupted, Shelley paints an almost apocalyptic image of England, where all hope has been lost.
One of the most significant part of ‘England in 1 819’ is how Shelley has structured it. The thematic structure (to a certain extent) is set out so that the first six lines deal with England’s rulers, the King and his successors, and the final eight deal with the rest of the country. This gives Shelley the ability to build up a strong argument; first presenting everything that is wrong with the rulers and then the effects it is having upon England. Furthermore, Shelley also does some non-uniform things with the rhyme scheme of the poem.
England in 1819″ is written in the form of a sonnet, with fourteen lines and iambic pentameter. However, unlike the majority of English sonnets, Shelley uses an unusual rhyme scheme, in this case BAOBAB, CDC, C, AD. By doing this Shelley inverts a traditional sonnet form. By breaking away from the tradition rules of a sonnet, Shelley creates almost a revolution in poetry. This form reflects his desire for the general populous to break away from the tradition rule of the nobility. The use of a sonnet in this context also contrasts the the Shakespearean sonnet.
Traditionally ending with a rhymed couplet, Shelley ends his poem with two rhymed couplets. This seemingly offers 2 separate endings. One Of which expresses restriction with the words ‘sealed’ and ‘unrepeated’ and the other that expresses possibility with ‘may’ and ‘day. Thus, Shelley is saying that England has 2 possible futures; one of suffering and constraint and one of freedom and fulfillment. However it is up to the people to choose the future they want. In addition, the sounds in the poem play a key role in the development of the anti monarchy argument.
The poem is filled with the alliteration of consonant sounds. For example, ‘despised and dying’, ‘mud’ and ‘muddy’ and ‘starved and stabbed’. By using this kind of emphasis on the consonants, Shelley phrases and arguments become far more dramatic and threatening. The sounds Of alliteration such as “despised and dying” produce a gratifying effect to the ear and also emphasis key words in the line. This allows for readers of the poem to remember all the negatives that Shelley has mentioned in the poem and therefore have more of a desire to fight for liberty.
The desire for liberty is thoroughly expressed towards the very end of the poem. In a startling burst of optimism, Shelley expresses his hope that a “glorious Phantom” may spring forth and “illumine our tempestuous day’. Here, in my opinion, Shelley is indirectly calling for a revolution. These lines seem to allude to the idea of a Phoenix. They suggest that there is hope that England, as a nation, will be so far gone that it will rise again from the ashes of its own destruction. Ultimately here, Shelley concludes his poem by suggesting the spark of a new revolution.
To conclude, Shelley ‘England in 1819’ is a poem built upon liberation. Through his description of 181 9 England, Shelley creates an argument for the hatred of the ruling classes and the monarchy. With England becoming a place of suffering and poverty, Shelley hoped that through the presentation of his own political views the future of England would be changed. This poem is therefore much more than just a piece of literature, it is a plea for the people of England to stand up for what they and Shelley believe in; a fair and equal democracy.