After the revolutions of the late 18th century, people had to define who they were without regard to the sanctions of religion or the Church.
The Romantics would delve into the uncharted depths of the unconscious to find the keys to their identity: they would emerge with new ways of thinking and of leading their lives.
John Keats would forge poetry of genius from a life of tragedy. His work is a unique statement of human fragility. Keats died from tuberculosis, the archetype of the artist as bohemian outsider.
Lord Byron's personal life and political ideals became the subject of scandal in his own lifetime: his self-mythologizing swagger and satirical genius ensured his place in history. Lord Byron created the figure of the self-legislating individual - a man arrogant enough to live by his own rules.
Shelley was an atheist and an exponent of free love - a man consumed by the search for experience and understanding. The search ended on 8th July 1822, when Shelley drowned off the coast of Italy. His body was cremated, but the heart emerged from the flames - a symbol of religious power for an age without religion.
First broadcast: Saturday 21 Jan 2006 on BBC TWO