Shelley Sunday: (essay) ‘Framing Shelley’s “Julian and Maddalo”‘

Framing Shelley’s ‘Julian and Maddalo’

Brandy Anderson

Percy B. Shelley’s ‘Julian and Maddalo: A Conversation’ can be a tricky poem to navigate. Julian serves as the primary narrator, although the dialogue switches often between Julian, Maddalo, the Maniac, and Maddalo’s daughter. The style of verse adds to the challenge of identifying the speaker of the various dialogues, so it is particularly useful to employ a narrative framework when working with this text. Catherine Emmott’s contextual frame theory can be fruitfully applied to this poem in order to identify and clarify the key elements of this often opaque narrative which is primarily told through frame recall.

‘Julian and Maddalo’ features a number of different settings from which the characters weave in and out of scenes quickly. It can be easy for a reader to lose track of where the characters are, and this fluid change of scene makes the application of Emmott’s ‘contextual monitoring’ and ‘within-frame inferencing’ a useful way to follow the story. 1 Emmott explains that these tools help readers to process the specifics and ‘all the major parameters of a context (i.e. main characters, key objects, time and place) in every sentence’. 2 The bulk of Shelley’s narrative is told within the frame of the madhouse, ‘A windowless, deformed and dreary pile’, but before that scene takes place readers are first introduced to the space through vivid imagery relayed by Maddalo, quoted by Julian, the narrator: ‘What we behold/ Shall be the madhouse and its belfry tower … / and ever at this hour/ Those who may cross the water hear that bell,/ Which calls the maniacs each one from his cell/ To vespers’. 3 4

Beyond the madhouse, the predominantly important scene is Italy itself, which essentially serves as both character and setting. Julian refers to Italy a number of times throughout the narrative, with Italy being introduced in the first line: ‘I rode one evening with Count Maddalo/ Upon the bank of land which breaks the flow/ Of Adria towards Venice’. 5 They continue to ride while they talk, with the narrator providing scenic details of their picturesque setting for their horseback ride and subsequent gondola journey; the frame switches frequently during this portion of the narrative. The only other scene in the narrative, beyond the madhouse and the numerous outdoor locations, is inside ‘Maddalo’s great palace’. 6 The open discourse between Julian and Maddalo takes place in the open landscape, where they ‘talked; and the swift thought,/ Winging itself with laughter, lingered not,/ But flew from brain to brain’; the broad thoughts of the friends complement the unrestricted openness of their outdoor surroundings. 7 This contrast of space and place and the man-made scape versus the natural scape bring to mind Dr. Tim Ingold’s words on the subject: ‘Of course, boundaries of various kinds may be drawn in the landscape, and identified either with natural features such as the course of a river or an escarpment, or with built structures such as walls and fences’. 8 The vast scapes of the beach with the seemingly boundless discourse between Julian and Maddalo provide a stark contrast to the Maniac’s tightly coiled lament within the confined space of his apartment inside the madhouse.

For the purposes of this paper, our primary focus will be on lines 482 through 539, although it will be necessary that we have brief examinations of the text proceeding and following this section. Our highlighted passage begins in the middle of the lengthy lament given by the Maniac inside the madhouse. From lines 270-519, Julian and Maddalo are ‘bound’ to the Maniac’s apartment inside the madhouse as they visit him, but they become ‘unbound’ when they later leave the scene at line 519. However, the Maniac is ‘bound’ to the madhouse throughout the entirety of the narrative because he never leaves the place, he is strongly associated with the madhouse and all its connotations. 9 The Maniac, Maddalo, and Julian are also ‘primed’ in this scene, and there are no ‘unprimed’ characters during this passage. The setting is intimate and strained. During a lively discussion occurring earlier in the narrative between Julian and Maddalo, Maddalo tells Julian that he ‘knew one like you,/ Who to this city came some months ago,/ With whom I argued in this sort, and he/ Is now gone mad’. 10 Further speaking of the Maniac, Maddalo also says,

“He came

To Venice a dejected man, and fame

Said he was wealthy, or he had been so.

Some thought the loss of fortune wrought him woe;

But he was ever talking in such sort

As you do – far more sadly; he seemed hurt,

Even as a man with his peculiar wrong,

To hear but of the oppression of the strong,

Or those absurd deceits (I think with you

In some respects, you know)” 11

Early in the narrative, long before the Maniac is even introduced, the comparison is made between Julian and the Maniac’s speech. Although Maddalo seems to primarily be commenting on the context of their discourse, technical comparisons concerning their manner of speech may also be made. For instance, the Maniac uses archaic forms of pronouns essentially not used by the other characters, with the rare exception of Julian. ‘Thine’, ‘thou’, and ‘thy’ are used frequently by the Maniac, whereas Julian is the only other character who uses ‘thine’ in his dialogue and he does so only once. 12 Julian also uses ‘thy’ as well as ‘thou’; again, he uses each word only one time throughout the entire narrative. 13 14 These repeated words work to further identify Julian with the Maniac.

Throughout the narrative, the Maniac is in a thoroughly agitated state, telling Julian and Maddalo that ‘Those who inflict must suffer, for they see/ The work of their own hearts, and this must be/ Our chastisement or recompense”. 15 The Maniac is heartbroken and he spends his time hunched over his piano in a damp and dark solitary ‘cell’ wailing about his lost love. He blames himself for feeling too much. This excess of feeling is what he inflicts on others, he claims, so this is why he is being punished. Just who the Maniac is addressing in this section is unclear. He could be speaking to both Julian and Maddalo, his only two companions in the scene. However, he could also be addressing his lost love; although she is not physically there, the Maniac’s mental state is clearly troubled and it would not be much of a leap to suggest that he may be talking to her.

Emmott applies types of ‘frame assumptions’ when analyzing complicated pieces of text such as this. Type 1 frame assumptions refer to the way that ‘readers will generally use basic default assumptions from the real world, unless there is reason to do otherwise’, for instance, ‘we may assume that if a character speaks, others in the immediate physical context will hear him/her, unless we are specifically told to the contrary’. 16 Type 2 frame assumptions ‘are different due to different circumstances’, ‘if we know that an individual is profoundly deaf or is wearing a personal stereo, then he/she may be assumed not to hear’. 17 Rather than employing the the more common frame assumptions of Type 1, the Maniac’s behaviour, and who he is addressing, could better be categorized by using Type 2 frame assumptions. Knowing the anguish and unsettled mind of the Maniac, it certainly would not be a stretch to suggest that he is, in fact, talking to his lost love even though she is not bound to the scene and has no logical way of hearing him.

Dr. Brownen Thomas provides further useful tools when analyzing or trying to contextualize dialogue where speech tags are not readily identifiable. Thomas speaks of ‘this experience of being immersed in a conversation that is already underway, and of trying to match up utterances that appear fragmentary or disconnected’ and the ‘disorientation’ that follows. 18 Thomas further suggests that in order to ‘make sense of such exchanges, we rely on pronouns and terms of reference in order’. The Maniac’s unusual use of ‘thine’, ‘thou’, and ‘thy’ are pronoun clues which identify him as the speaker, if we discount the much rarer use of those words made by Julian. Again, however, the reader still is not sure who the Maniac is referring to when he uses those pronouns.

It is fairly safe to say that the Maniac is not directly addressing Maddalo, but it would make sense to assume that the Maniac is primarily addressing Julian since Julian is the narrator as well as the one who Maddalo said shares a likeness to the Maniac. ‘I would that thine were like to be more mild/ For both our wretched sakes, – for thine the most/ Who feelest already all that though hast lost/ Without the power to wish it thine again’ the Maniac says, and if we assume that he is indeed addressing Julian, this could be taken as further evidence suggesting a comparison of their personalities. 19 Julian is obviously much more optimistic than the Maniac, but of course the Maniac is said to have been so embittered in life and much altered at the time of this narrative that he very well may have matched Julian’s optimistic nature in his younger days.

Ever the idealist, Julian says, ‘I love all waste/ And solitary places; where we taste/ The pleasure of believing what we see/ Is boundless, as we wish our souls to be’; this character trait not only allows readers a glimpse into Julian’s mind, but it also implies a look into how the Maniac could have been before the story takes place. 20 A further echo of how the Maniac most likely felt before his emotional transformation is heard in Julian’s earlier words to Maddalo:

‘Those who try may find

How strong the chains are which our spirit bind;

Brittle perchance as straw. We are assured

Much may be conquered, much may be endured

Of what degrades and curses us. We know

That we have power over ourselves to do

And suffer – what, we know not till we try;

But something nobler than to live and die.’ 21

This speech serves as more ‘non-episodic’ information given towards the beginning of the narrative that the reader should remember later in the story in order to construct a discriminating look at the character of the Maniac. 22 Emmott’s contextual frame theory has a term for this character progression within a narrative where ‘the notion of an enactor (from Emmott 1992, 1997) is usually applied to different text-world and world-switched versions of a single character’. 23 One ‘enacter’ of the Maniac would be the version that we only hear about from Maddalo, the ideal Maniac that predates the narrative and is seemingly similar to Julian; the other enacter of the Maniac is the one we see interact with Julian and Maddalo within the narrative, the cynical Maniac who Maddalo warns could be a projection of Julian in the future. Additional contrast of Julian’s optimism versus the Maniac’s cynicism is seen when the Maniac says, ‘And as slow years pass, a funereal train,/ Each with the ghost of some lost hope or friend/ Following it like its shadow, wilt thou bend/ No thought on my dead memory?’ 24

The addressee seems to change and become more clear, however, when the Maniac appears to turn his mournful ramblings towards his missing lover. He wails, ‘Alas, love!/ Fear me not – against thee I would not move/ A finger in despite. Do I not live/ That thou mayst have less bitter cause to grieve?’ 25 His love is so great for her that he wants to die without her, yet he still remains because he knows his death would cause her pain. And yet, his bitterness, or passive aggressiveness, towards her is clear:

I give thee tears for scorn, and love for hate;

And that thy lot may be less desolate

Than his on whim thou tramplest, I refrain

From that sweet sleep which medicines all pain.

Then, when thou speakest of me, never say

“He could forgive me not.” ‘ 26

The Maniac seems to addressing his lost love, but since she is not there, his only audience, besides the readers, are Julian and Maddalo. He may not have spoken so frankly if she had been there, bound to the frame, to hear his words. In fact, he tries to ‘hide/ Under these words,/ like embers, every spark/ Of that which has consumed me’. 27 From lines 482–510 the Maniac is the only character who is ‘textually overt’ (meaning he is the one who is speaking and the focus is on him), while Maddalo and Julian remain ‘textually covert’, but still primed since the Maniac is speaking to them. 28 It could be argued that perhaps the Maniac and Julian should be the only two primed characters, and that Maddalo would be unprimed at this moment of the text, if the Maniac is addressing Julian directly and not Maddalo. However, we can assume that Maddalo is involved in the discourse and is listening as actively as Julian, therefore he would remain a primed character as well.

The Maniac continues to wish for death, or at the very least, some alleviation of his pain:

‘Quick and dark

The grave is yawning – as its roof shall cover

My limbs with dust and worms under and over,

So let Oblivion hide this grief – the air

Closes upon my accents as despair

Upon my heart – let death upon despair!’ 29

At this point, the Maniac becomes textually covert, Maddalo continues to be textually covert, and Julian becomes textually overt as the narrative switches back to his point-of-view. 30 However, Julian, Maddalo, and the Maniac are all still primed as Julian observes:

He ceased, and overcome leant back awhile;

Then rising, with a melancholy smile,

Went to a sofa, and lay down, and slept

A heavy sleep, and in his dreams he wept,

And muttered some familiar name, and we

Wept without shame in his society. 31

Then Julian goes on to comment, ‘I think I never was impressed so much;/ The man who were not must have lacked a touch/ Of human nature’ before he and Maddalo leave the Maniac in the madhouse. 32 The frame switches briefly to outside the madhouse where Julian and Maddalo are both primed, while their attendants are unprimed, but all of them, the two friends and attendants, are bound to this new scene. The Maniac has become unbound, and unprimed, at this point of the text because he does not follow the two out of the madhouse or into the next frame. The frame once more quickly switches to inside Maddalo’s home where Julian admits, ‘neither cheer nor wine/ Could give us spirits, for we talked of him/ And nothing else, till daylight made stars dim’. 33

Julian tells readers that he and Maddalo continued to speak of the Maniac and his troubled state throughout the night and into the next morning. He relays that:

We agreed his was some dreadful ill

Wrought on him boldly, yet unspeakable,

By a dear friend; some deadly change in love

Of one vowed deeply, which he dreamed not of;

For whose sake he, it seemed, had fixed a blot

Of falsehood on his mind which flourished not

But in the light of all-beholding truth. 34

An allegorical look could be taken when examining this next piece of text. For the Maniac, ‘she’ refers to the woman who left him, but if we apply this sentiment to Julian, as Maddalo alluded to earlier, ‘she’ could take on the identity of Julian’s idealism personified. If Julian allows his optimistic idealism in the potentials of man to be corrupted by Maddalo’s cynicism, he could also find himself in a similarly anguished state as the Maniac. The ‘he’ whom Julian refers to could be applied to himself as well as to the Maniac:

And having stamped this canker on his youth

She had abandoned him – and how much more

Might be his woe, we guessed not; he had store

Of friends and fortune once, as we could guess

From his nice habits and his gentleness;

These were now lost – it were a grief indeed

If had changed one unsustaining reed

For all that such a man might else adorn. 35

Further comparisons between the two are drawn when Julian calls the Maniac a poet before he goes on to quote Maddalo: ‘I remember one remark which then/ Maddalo made. He said – “Most wretched men/ Are cradled into poetry by wrong; They learn in suffering what they teach in song.” ‘ 36 The connection between Julian and the Maniac is so strong, in fact, that Julian goes on to say how much he wished he were in a position to remain in Venice so that he ‘might reclaim him [the Maniac] from this dark estate’ because in friendships, Julian ‘had been most fortunate,/ Yet never saw I one whom I would call/ More willingly my friend’. 37 Julian seems to be acknowledging his peculiar kinship with the Maniac.

The narrative ends with Julian and Maddalo’s daughter as the primed characters and the only two bound to the scene set inside of Maddalo’s palace. Maddalo’s daughter explains the fate of the Maniac while Julian listens and prods her with question after question. The narration stops being a flash back in the ending sentence when the narrator leaves the frame recall and seemingly jumps back into the present. The narrative ends on a curious note with the narrator finding out the detailed fate of the mysterious Maniac, yet he refuses to divulge his knowledge to the readers, saying instead, ‘she told me how/ All happened – but the cold world shall not know.’ 38

Catherine Emmott’s contextual frame theory works well when studying this poem and trying to keep track of the numerous frame switches and abrupt changes in dialogue. It would be more useful, however, if the contextual frame theory involved additional tools to allow more indepth character analysis. This would specifically be useful when examining the characters of Julian and the Maniac and how they relate to each other.


Primary Text:

Shelley, Percy Bysshe, ‘Julian and Maddalo’, The Poetical Works of Shelley, ed. by Newell F. Ford (Boston: Houghton, 1974)

Secondary Texts:

Bronwen, Thomas, ‘Stuck in a Loop? Dialogue in Hypertext Fiction’, Narrative, Vol. 15, No. 3 (Oct 2007), pp. 357-372 <> [accessed 25 November 2015]

Emmott, Catherine, Narrative Comprehension: A Discourse Perspective (NY: Clarendon Press Oxford, 1997)

Emmott, Catherine, ‘Reading for Pleasure’, Cognitive Poetics in Practice, ed. by Joanna Gavins and Gerard Steen (London: Routledge, 2003) pp. 145-159

Ingold, Tim, The Perception of the Environment: Essays on Livelihood, Dwelling and Skill (NY: Routledge, 2000)

Stockwell, Peter, Texture: A Cognitive Aesthetics of Reading (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2009)

Reference Text:

Bakhtin, Mikhail, Speech Genres & Other Late Essays, trans. by Vern W. McGee, ed. by Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1986)

1Emmott, Catherine, “Reading for Pleasure”. Cognitive Poetics in Practice, p. 147.

2lbid, p. 147.

3Shelley, Percy B.,’Julian and Maddalo: A Conversation’, l. 101.

4lbid, ll. 106-111.

5Shelley, Percy B, ‘Julian and Maddalo’, ll. 1-3.

6lbid, l. 559.

7lbid, ll. 28-30.

8Ingold, Timothy, The Perception of the Environment: Essays on Livelihood, Dwelling, and Skill, p. 192.

9Emmott, Catherine, Narrative Comprehension: A Discourse Perspective, p. 197.

10 lbid, ll 195 – 198.

11lbid, ll. 231-241.

12Shelley, ‘Julian and Maddolo’, l. 411.

13lbid, l. 58.

14lbid, l. 57.

15. lbid, ll. 482-484.

16Emmott, Catherine, Cognitive Poetics in Practice, p. 147.


18Thomas, Brownen, ‘Stuck in a Loop? Dialogue in Hypertext Fiction’. Ohio State University Press. Vol. 15, No. 3 (Oct. 2007), p 367.

19lbid, ll. 485-488.

20Shelley, ‘Julian and Madalo’, ll. 14-16.

21Shelley, ‘Julian and Maddalo’, ll. 180-187.

22Emmott, Catherine, Narrative Comprehension: A Discourse Perspective, p. 192.

23Stockwell, Peter, Texture: A Cognitive Aesthetics of Reading, p. 165

24Shelley, Percy B, ‘Julian and Maddalo’. ll. 489-492.

25lbid, ll. 491-495.

26lbid, ll. 496-501.

27lbid, ll. 503-505.

28Emmott, Catherine, Narrative Comprehension: A Discourse Perspective, p. 217

29Shelley, ‘Julian and Maddalo’. ll. 505-510.

30Emmott, Narrative Comprehension. p. 124.

31lbid, ll. 511-516.

32Shelley, ‘Julian and Maddalo’. ll. 517-519.

33lbid, ll. 523-524.

34Shelley, ‘Julian and Maddalo’. ll. 515-521.

35lbid, ll. 532-539.

36 lbid, ll. 540-546.

37lbid, ll. 574-577.

38lbid, ll. 616-617.


Image is sketch drawn by Shelley, Bodleian Library, Oxford.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s