This article is a close reading of Shelley's Queen Mab in light of the tensions between theories of language as organic-the pervasive view of the English Romantic poets-and theories of language as arbitrary, which can be allied with Locke and the empiricists. The paradox of linguistic expression is recast as a dialectic between free utterance (parole) and language as code or law (langue), because for Shelley freedom is equated with organicism and tyranny with arbitrary linguistic structure. Rousseau's doubling of Prometheus into two antithetical characters-the bringer of language and the prophet of linguistic doom-in order to preface and explain his Discours sur les sciences et les arts, functions as a commentary on the paradoxical combination of the organic and the conventional, the free and the restricted in verbal communication. Queen Mab, set against the backdrop of this Rousseauvian paradox,is analyzed for the ways in which it thematizes language through various explicit comments about arbitrary or conventionalized language and imaginative or organic uses of language, and also through certain figures for different kinds of verbal expression and reception. The apparent disjunctions in Queen Mab between imagination and reason, affective and rational discourse, are crucial to the aims of the poem: the bringing of reform without the institution of new dogma.

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