Samuel Gladden, "Shelley's Agenda Writ Large: Reconsidering Oedipus Tyrannus; or, Swellfoot the Tyrant"
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Throughout Oedipus Tyrannus; or, Swellfoot the Tyrant, Shelley employs the same devices he poses as the instruments of revolution in his so-called visionary works—specifically, the body and sexual transgression; but in this satire, he demonstrates how these devices may be appropriated by tyrants just as potently as by revolutionaries. In Swellfoot, Shelley poses these instruments in a manner inconsistent with his own broader agenda of liberty-through-love in order to demonstrate their innate political power; that is, by exposing the tyrannical uses to which these devices may be put, Shelley departicularizes them from what might otherwise be dismissed as naïve idealism. Instead, Shelley demonstrates how the body and its transgressions affect change at the level of politics and, consequently, in individual lives—whether for good or bad, whether in the interest of liberation or oppression. In Swellfoot the Tyrant, Shelley begins to justify his belief that love is the law that governs the universe; that is, his satire remarks on the ways in which both Iona Taurina's transgressive engagements and her relationship with her husband function to affect the tenor of Swellfoot's regime and, in a broader context, how these engagements (fail to) reconfigure the political landscape of the play. In short, Shelley's Swellfoot the Tyrant spectacularizes the processes through which intimate relationships inform political realities, and thus the satire privileges the realm of the erotic as the experiential space from which the moral law of the universe might be re-written.
Robert Kaufman, "Intervention & Commitment Forever! Shelley in 1819, Shelley in Brecht, Shelley in Adorno, Shelley in Benjamin"
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For Romantic and Modernist studies, as well as for the history of critical theory, Kaufman uncovers and analyses the significance of Left Modernist and Frankfurt School rediscoveries of Shelley. The essay also considers the crucial role that Shelley's work plays vis-a-vis the new directions taken in the work of these Modernist artists and critics precisely during the periods often seen as having laid the foundations for the subsequent Modern/Postmodern divide, as well as for our own understandings of the Romantic legacy.
Mark Kipperman, "Shelley, Adorno, and the Scandal of Committed Art"
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Kipperman explores the notion that poetry is politically useless, using as an example Shelley's Mask of Anarchy. He uses T. Adorno's attack on "committed art" to argue that a genuinely "political" work must be judged historically, by the standards of its era; the explicitly "political" statement may have less political "import" than, for example, Shelley's implicit faith in the power and moral goodness of the masses. Such an appeal to universal Promethean virtue, shared by proletarian and stormtrooper, may indeed strike us, at the very close of the twentieth century, as so naive as to warp the very real commitment of Shelley’s art. Shelley’s poem, as a sophisticated ballad, may scandalize in its appeal to an unlikely pacifist remedy, which exposes the work’s origin in a paralyzed and distant intellectual’s hope to lead a nationalist moral apocalypse. As a ballad and a subversive “masque,” however, it is a scandal to literary form and decorum in its analysis of oppression and its attribution of Promethean virtue to the hungry, the homeless, and the despised. Shelley’s allowing the poor to define freedom as bread even anticipates Adorno’s Marxist dictum that all culture begins “in the radical separation of mental and physical work” (“Cultural Criticism” 26). Its utopianism is not a sign of political irrelevance.