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 when published and throughout the century following, selling ten thousand copies on its first day of sale. 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 acts and his later war 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 grand opera The Pacha's Bridal (1836) with music by Francis Romer and a libretto by Mark Lemon, the opera Il corsaro (1848) by Giuseppe Verdi, the overture Le Corsaire (1845) by Hector Berlioz, and the ballet Le Corsaire (1856) by Adolphe Adam were based on this work. Edward Elgar composed the song "Deep in My Soul" in 1908 with lines from "The Corsair".
Many Americans believed that Lord Byron's poem "The Corsair" was based on the life of the privateer/pirate Jean Lafitte.
French painter Eugène Delacroix depicted in a watercolor a scene from the work, "Episode from The Corsair", in 1831, showing Gulnare visiting the imprisoned pirate Conrad in his cell. Henry Fuseli did a sketch in 1815 entitled "Conrad Rescues Gulnare" based on The Corsair. Henry Singleton and Richard Corbould produced paintings based on the work.
In 1840, American editor and author N. P. Willis named his new periodical The Corsair after Byron's poem.
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."