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Mad Shelley

    by Kathryn Attwood


Drama Play Script: 'Mad Shelley' by Kathryn Attwood

Bullied at Eton and nicknamed Mad Shelley for his quick temper and refusal to conform, Percy Bysshe Shelley grew up to be an avowed atheist, an anti-establishment political radical and early pioneer of vegetarianism and free love. During his lifetime his writing was largely overshadowed by his notorious lifestyle but today he is regarded as one of England’s finest poets, alongside his contemporaries Lord Byron and John Keats.

The famous summer of 1816 that Percy and Mary spent with Byron on the banks of Lake Geneva and which saw the birth of Mary’s novel Frankenstein has been covered many times over the years in plays and films. What is less well known however is that when he made that trip with Mary, Percy was already married with two small children, had amassed substantial debts and was embroiled in a bitter rift with his wealthy MP father. It is Shelley’s early adult life that is the focus of this play – his ill-fated first marriage to the tragic Harriet and rocky relationship with the family who struggled to deal with his unconventional lifestyle and outrageous (for the time) views.

‘Mad Shelley’ covers the first five years of the poet’s adult life, beginning in 1810 when Percy, already a published author at the age of 18, is preparing to go up to Oxford.  It received its premiere in Horsham in 2019 with a sell-out run and was praised by critics and audience members as a ‘brilliant piece of writing’ and ‘a great piece of drama’ with ‘totally believable characters’.


(6m, 4f or 5m, 3f with doubling)

  • Percy Bysshe Shelley - 20s
  • Lizzy Shelley - 20s, Percy’s sister
  • Timothy Shelley - 50s, Percy’s father
  • Elizabeth Shelley - 40s, Percy’s mother (can be doubled with Eliza Westbrook)
  • Sir Bysshe Shelley - 70s, Percy’s grandfather
  • Thomas Jefferson Hogg - 20s, Percy’s university friend
  • Harriet Westbrook - 20s, Percy’s first wife
  • Eliza Westbrook - 30s/40s, Harriet’s sister (can be doubled with Elizabeth Shelley)
  • Allen Etheridge - any age, Sir Bysshe Shelley’s servant (can be doubled with the Master of UC)
  • Master of University College, Oxford - 50s/70s, (can be doubled with Etheridge)
  • Blunt - scout at University College, offstage male voice

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