An Examination of the Byronic Hero
Literature took many great strides in the eighteenth century, particularly in Britain. Many authors took age-old ideas and time-worn concepts and pushed them to their logical extremes. Lord Byron took the archetypal brooding hero, like Shakespeare’s Hamlet or Satan in Milton’s Paradise Lost, and created a character type so unique that it has been named after him. The Byronic Hero, the quintessential anti-hero, is an idea taken to its extreme that has had a lasting effect in the literary world.
Byron used this character type in many of his works, developing the basic ideas behind it along the way. Perhaps the most well-known and fully-developed Byronic Hero, Manfred, the main character in the play of the same name, exhibits traits that can be found in most Byronic heroes. “Manfred seems a tragic figure of modern existential angst, with a taint of mysterious crime, possibly of an incestuous nature. To others, he is a case study in narcissism, psychological disease, and antisocial pride. And to still others, he seems a gothic parody of this character type” (Damrosch 683). Generally, the Byronic Hero is one who, although very intelligent and powerful, has had some experience that has caused him to exile himself and shun society. Manfred, having made himself an outcast, wanders the mountaintops yearning for death, but unable to die.
And yet, for all the darkness he exudes, he still has a self-confidence border-lining on narcissism, and thinks himself above the dealings of ordinary men. “Often the Byronic Hero is moody by nature or passionate about a particular issue. He also has emotional and intellectual capacities, which are superior to the average man. These heightened abilities force the Byronic Hero to be arrogant, confident, abnormally sensitive, and extremely conscious of himself” (Denney). Even when he does finally find himself facing death, with a spirit having come to claim him, declares “I have commanded things of...