London: John Murray, 1821. First edition. Hardcover. Quarto (9 1/4 x 5 3/4"). Later 19th-century paper covered boards, with printed title on spine. Tipped in on inside of back cover by the binder, three unused original printed labels for the book.
First edition, first state of Lord Byron's three dramatic plays drawing on ancient lore and biblical accounts.
- "Sardanapalus" (1821) is a historical tragedy in blank verse set in ancient Nineveh and recounting the fall of the Assyrian monarchy and its supposed last king. It draws its story mainly from the "Historical Library of Diodorus Siculus" and from William Mitford's "History of Greece." Byron wrote the play during his stay in Ravenna, and dedicated it to Goethe. It has had an extensive influence on European culture, inspiring a painting by Delacroix and musical works by Berlioz, Liszt and Ravel, among others. "Sardanapalus" was written while the author was living in Ravenna with his lover, Teresa, Countess Guiccioli, and is sometimes seen as portraying the Countess and Byron himself in the characters of Myrrha and Sardanapalus. Murray published Sardanapalus on 19 December 1821 in the same volume with "The Two Foscari" and "Cain." Byron's intended dedication of the play to Goethe was omitted, but it did finally appear in the edition of 1829.
- "The Two Foscari: An Historical Tragedy" (1821) is a verse play in five acts. The plot, set in Venice in the mid 15th century, is loosely based on the true story of the downfall of doge Francesco Foscari and his son Jacopo. Byron's play formed the basis of Verdi's opera "I due Foscari." Byron wrote "The Two Foscari" in Ravenna in less than a month, between June 12, and July 9, 1821. It was published by John Murray on December 19, 1821 in the same volume as his "Sardanapalus" and "Cain." Byron originally intended to dedicate "The Two Foscari" to his friend Sir Walter Scott, but in the event he transferred that dedication to Cain and left Foscari without one. He added an appendix to "The Two Foscari" in which he launched a stinging attack on what he considered the hypocrisies of the Poet Laureate, Robert Southey. Southey responded in a letter to a London newspaper in which he dared Byron to attack him again. Byron initially wanted to challenge Southey to a duel, but then turned instead to poetry and wrote his stinging satire "The Vision of Judgment."
- In "Cain," Lord Byron dramatizes the story of Cain and Abel from Cain's point of view. "Cain" is an example of the literary genre known as closet drama. As Byron himself notes in the preface to "Cain," Cain's vision in Act II was inspired by the theory of catastrophism. In an attempt to explain large gaps in the fossil record, catastrophists posited that the history of the Earth was punctuated with violent upheavals that had destroyed its flora and fauna. Byron read about catastrophism in an 1813 English translation of some early work by French natural historian Georges Cuvier. Other influences include "The Divine Legation of Moses" by William Warburton and "A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful" by Edmund Burke.
Binding sunned along spine. Lower front corner bumped (not affecting pages throughout). Offsetting to endpapers. Minor and sporadic foxing throughout. Clear water-staining at upper right corner of pages from page 421 on. Binding in overall good-, interior in good to very good condition. g- to vg. Item #41490