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Themes

The speaker of "The Prisoner of Chillon" is imprisoned, originally, for refusing to back down. Yes, this could look like stubbornness, but it's a trait we're meant to admire: the speaker's father and brothers all die for their beliefs, and the speaker and his two remaining brothers are thrown into a dungeon for holding to the same cause. We're never told what the beliefs actually are – you can insert your own favorite cause or political belief, if you like. The point isn't the actual cause the speaker's family was fighting for; the point is that they believed in something strongly enough to die for it.

Questions About Principles

  1. The speaker is imprisoned for holding to his principles – how do his principles continue to affect his behavior after he's in prison? After his brothers die?
  2. Why does the speaker feel responsible for his brothers? Is he right? Why or why not?
  3. Why does the speaker not want to die?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

Although we know that the historical prisoner of Chillon, François Bonnivard, was imprisoned for taking a stand against the ruling Duke of Savoy, Byron leaves the details of his speaker's beliefs a blank in order to give the poem a more universal appeal.

"The Prisoner of Chillon" is not about a particular political stance; by leaving the prisoner nameless and his beliefs unspecified, Byron makes the poem about perseverance and principled resolve more generally.

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