The Corsair

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First edition title page

The Corsair is a tale in verse by Lord Byron published in 1814 (see 1814 in poetry) by John Murray in London, which was extremely popular and influential in its day, selling ten thousand copies on its first day of sale.[1] The work was dedicated to Thomas Moore.


Its poetry, divided into cantos (like Dante's Divine Comedy), narrates the story of the corsair or privateer Conrad, how he was in his youth rejected by society because of his actions and his later fight against humanity (excepting women). In this tale the figure of the Byronic hero emerges, "that man of loneliness and mystery", who perceives himself a "villain", an anti-hero.

The opera Il corsaro by Giuseppe Verdi, the overture Le Corsaire by Hector Berlioz, and the ballet Le Corsaire by Adolphe Adam were based on this work.

Many Americans believed that Lord Byron's poem "The Corsair" was based on the life of the privateer/pirate Jean Lafitte.[2]


The plot centers around the main character of Conrad, the Corsair, a pirate or privateer. The first canto recounts Conrad's plan to attack the Pacha Seyd and to seize his possessions. His wife, Medora, however, is determined to convince him to abandon his plan and not embark on the mission. He sails from his island in the Aegean Sea to attack the pasha on another island.

The second canto describes the attack. Disguised, Conrad and his brigands begin their assault against Pacha Seyd by surrounding and infiltrating his palace. The attack goes well and according to plan. But Conrad then hears the cries of the women in the pasha's harem whom he tries to free. The diversion from the plan enables the pasha's forces to mount a counterattack. They are able to kill most of the attackers and to seize Conrad. Gulnare, the pasha's slave, sneaks to Conrad's prison cell where she informs him that she will make an attempt to save him. This is in gratitude for his attempt to save her.

In the third and final canto, Gulnare initiates the escape plan by seeking to hoodwink Syed into freeing Conrad. The plan does not succeed. The pasha threatens to kill her and Conrad. Gulnare tries to convince Conrad to kill Seyd. She secretly has a knife taken to his cell. Conrad, however, refuses to kill the pasha in cold blood without a fair fight. She then kills the pasha herself. They are both able to escape. Conrad takes Gulnare home with him. Upon his return, he discovers that his wife Medora has died due to grief and despair, believing that Conrad had died. In the final scene, Conrad departs from the island alone, not marrying Gulnare: "He left a Corsair's name to other times,/Linked with one virtue and a thousand crimes."


  1. ^ "Literary Daybook, Feb. 1 -". February 1, 2002. Retrieved June 13, 2018.
  2. ^ Ramsay (1996), pp. 138–9.


  • Drucker, Peter. 'Byron and Ottoman love: Orientalism, Europeanization and same sex sexualities in the early nineteenth-century Levant' (Journal of European Studies vol. 42 no. 2, June 2012, 140–57).
  • Garrett, Martin: George Gordon, Lord Byron. (British Library Writers' Lives). London: British Library, 2000. ISBN 0-7123-4657-0.
  • Garrett, Martin. Palgrave Literary Dictionary of Byron. Palgrave, 2010. ISBN 978-0-230-00897-7.
  • Guiccioli, Teresa, contessa di, Lord Byron's Life in Italy, transl. Michael Rees, ed. Peter Cochran, 2005, ISBN 0-87413-716-0.
  • Grosskurth, Phyllis: Byron: The Flawed Angel. Hodder, 1997. ISBN 0-340-60753-X.
  • McGann, Jerome: Byron and Romanticism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002. ISBN 0-521-00722-4.
  • Oueijan, Naji B. A Compendium of Eastern Elements in Byron's Oriental Tales. New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 1999.
  • Ramsay, Jack C. (1996), Jean Laffite: Prince of Pirates, Eakin Press, ISBN 978-1-57168-029-7
  • Rosen, Fred: Bentham, Byron and Greece. Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1992. ISBN 0-19-820078-1.

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