Bloody Poetry

Bloody Poetry is a 1984 play by Howard Brenton centring on the lives of Percy Shelley and his circle.

Bloody Poetry
Written byHoward Brenton
CharactersPercy Bysshe Shelley
Mary Shelley
Claire Clairmont
George Byron
Dr William Polidori
Harriet Westbrook
Date premiered1 October 1984 (1984-10-01)
Place premieredHaymarket Theatre Leicester
Original languageEnglish
SettingSwitzerland, England and Italy 1816-1822

The play had its roots in Brenton's involvement with the small touring company Foco Novo and was the third, and final, show he wrote for them. The initial idea was that Brenton should write a piece based on the life of Shelley, though Brenton was more interested in looking, not at the individual, but at the quartet of Percy, Mary Shelley, Lord Byron and Byron's mistress Claire Clairmont, tying it in with Utopian themes appropriate to the revolutionary spirit of the protagonists. In his introduction to the play Brenton disclaims any interest in moralising over the actions of his characters, as he had in a programme to his earlier play Weapons of Happiness.[1][2]

The play takes as its epigraph a comment of Richard Holmes's, “Shelley's life seems more a haunting than a history.”

Stage history

Bloody Poetry was first performed at the Haymarket Theatre Leicester on 1 October 1984 in a production that later played at the Hampstead Theatre. The director was Roland Rees and the cast was:

Percy Bysshe ShelleyValentine Pelka
Mary ShelleyFiona Shaw
Claire ClairmontJane Gurnett
George ByronJames Aubrey
Dr William PolidoriWilliam Gaminara
Harriet WestbrookSue Burton

The play played at the Manhattan Theatre Club in 1987 in a production directed by Lynne Meadow[3] and was revived in 1988 at the Royal Court Theatre and in 2007 at the Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff.[4]

The play was staged by emerging company Invulnerable Nothings at The Brooklyn Art Library in 2016.


  1. Plays: 2 by Howard Brenton, Methuen, p. xiv 1996 reprint ISBN 978-0-413-61490-2
  2. "National Theatre" Retrieved on 11 October 2009
  3. Review Retrieved on 11 October 2009
  4. Review Retrieved on 11 October 2009

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