Ozymandias - Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822)

  • Created by: v.a..
  • Created on: 14-04-19 15:52

Summary

Percy Bysshe Shelley's Ozymandias describes the narrator's meeting with a traveller from a foreign land.

  • A narrator describes his meeting with a traveller from a foreign land.
  • This traveller told him a story about finding the shattered remains of an ancient statue of a king in the desert.
  • The inscription beneath the statue indicates that the king was arrogant, proud and boastful.
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Shelley

  • Shelley was a Romantic poet and wrote Ozymandias in 1818.
  • Shelley was radical politically and disapproved of the British monarchy.
    • You could argue that this poem is a criticism of wielding (having and using) power in an undemocratic way and ruling as a tyrant.
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Title

  • ‘Ozymandias’ is another name for a famous ancient Egyptian Pharaoh – Ramses II – a successful warrior and builder.
  • He was considered to be one of the most powerful Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt.
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Key Ideas in Ozymandias

The poem delivers a powerful message about the ephemeral (temporary) nature of power. It also highlights the insignificance of humans compared to nature and time.

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Key Ideas - Arrogance of rulers

  • Shelley points out the arrogance of Ramses and other leaders, whose power has led to pride and the mistreatment of others.
  • The sculptor satirises (uses humour or irony to criticise) Ozymandias, shown by the phrase, “the hand that mocked them…”.
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Key Ideas - Power of art

  • By describing how nothing remains of Ozymandias but a work of art (statue) and collection of words (inscription), Shelley suggests that art, language and literature are far more enduring (lasting) than human power.
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Key Ideas - Timeless message

  • There is a certain timelessness to the poem.
  • You could argue that its messages about the abuse of power and the temporary nature of political authority are as relevant today as when Shelley was writing.
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Ephemeral (Human) Power

Ozymandias' power comes to an end. This reflects Shelley's overarching message that human power is ephemeral (temporary). Shelley uses techniques to emphasise the ephemeral nature of Ozymandias' power.

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Ephemeral (Human) Power - Ruined statue metaphor

  • The ruined statue is a metaphor for political power.
  • Just as the face of the statue is “shattered”, “decay[ed]” and a “wreck”, so too is Ozymandias’ power.
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Ephemeral (Human) Power - Caesura

  • The caesura (break in the line) after “remains” in line 12 highlights how Ozymandias’ power has come to an end.
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Ephemeral (Human) Power - Juxtaposition

  • The juxtaposition (placing two things together for comparison or contrast) of “colossal” and “wreck” emphasises the contrast between his former power and his current state.
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Negative Portrayal of Ozymandias

Shelley portrays Ozymandias negatively to show his dislike for corrupt rulers and the abuse of power. He uses literary devices to do so.

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Negative Portrayal of Ozymandias - Alliteration

  • The use of sound in the poem contributes to the speaker’s distaste towards Ozymandias.
  • For example, the alliteration of the harsh ‘c’ and ‘b’ sound in “cold command” and “boundless and bare”.
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Negative Portrayal of Ozymandias - Negative Lang.

  • The language used to describe the ruler is deeply negative. For example, “frown”, “sneer”, “wrinkled”, “stamped”.
  • This reflects the poet’s own feelings towards the king and those who rule in a cruel manner.
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Ozymandias

  • Ozymandias, who represents corrupt rulers and the misuse of power, is characterised as arrogant, proud and boastful. Shelley uses techniques to characterise Ozymandias in this way.
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Ozymandias - Imperative language

  • The imperative verb “look” indicates how controlling the king was.
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Ozymandias - Repetition

  • The repetition of "king" in “king of kings” shows how Ozymandias wished to portray himself as omnipotent (all- powerful).

It suggests he is trying to deify himself (make himself a god) and wants to be worshipped as one.

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Repetition of "King"

The quote "king of kings' is important for Shelley's characterisation of Ozymandias. Here's an analysis of the quote:

  • Deify

The repetition suggests he is trying to deify himself (make himself a god) and wants to be worshipped like one.

  • Omnipotent

The repetition shows how Ozymandias wished to portray himself as omnipotent (all-powerful).

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Fragmented (Broken) Rhythm and Rhyme

Shelley does not follow a regular rhythm or rhyming scheme. This gives the poem a fragmented (broken) feel. Shelley does this to reflect Ozymandias' crumbling power. Shelley uses techniques to do so.

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Irregular rhyming scheme

  • The rhyme scheme does not follow that of a Shakespearean or Petrarchan sonnet.
  • You could argue that this fragmented structure reflects the king’s “shattered” power.
  • It could also show how temporary and breakable human structures and creations are.
  • You could argue that this rebellious mixing of different sonnet forms echoes the seditious (trying to make people rebel) nature of Shelley’s comments on political authority.
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Rhythm breaker

  • Line 10 – Ozymandias’ voice – breaks iambic pentameter. This perhaps reflects the king’s belief that he is above the law. "My name is Ozymandias, king of kings..."
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Enjambment and caesura

  • The use of enjambment (when a sentence or thought runs past the end of the line into the next) and caesura (break in the line) throughout the poem contributes to a sense of fragmentation.
    • This mirrors the broken statue and the way Ozymandias’ power has crumbled.
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Irony and Satire

There is a strong sense of irony in the poem. Ozymandias thinks his power will be immortal (last forever) but instead crumbles. Shelley satirises the statue to mock Ozymandias. Irony is created by Shelley's use of techniques.

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Irony and Satire - Statue

  • Ozymandias uses an authoritative tone.
  • He commissioned the statue to make sure he was immortalised in people’s memories.
  • But instead, he is surrounded by a “boundless and bare” desert and therefore seen by no one.
  • Those that do see him are reminded of how his power crumbled, just like his statue.
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Irony and Satire - Second hand account

  • This is a second-hand account: the speaker is telling a story that was told to him.
  • It shows the speaker has not seen the statue for himself.
  • This highlights how insignificant Ozymandias has now become and how few people have seen for themselves the statue he created to be immortalised.
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Irony and Satire - Sonnet form

  • Because the poem is 14 lines long and written in iambic pentameter (apart from one line), it is in the form of a sonnet.
  • A sonnet is traditionally a love poem.
  • The poet could be making a little joke, pointing to Ozymandias’ love for himself and his ego.
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Key Quotes - “Vast and trunkless legs of stone

  • Metaphor.
  • This describes the statue. The ruined statue is a metaphor for political power.
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Key Quotes - "Half sunk"

  • Metaphor.
  • This describes the statue. The ruined statue is a metaphor for political power.
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Key Quotes - "Shattered visage"

  • Metaphor.
  • This describes the statue. The ruined statue is a metaphor for political power.
  • Just as the face of the statue is “shattered”, “decay[ed]” and a “wreck”, so too is Ozymandias’ power.
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Key Quotes - "Sneer of cold command"

  • Alliteration.
  • The use of sound in the poem contributes to the speaker’s distaste towards Ozymandias.
    • For example, the alliteration of the harsh ‘c’ and ‘b’ sound in “cold command” and “boundless and bare”.
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Key Quotes - “My name is Ozymandias..."

  • My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: / Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”.
  • The repetition of “king of kings” shows how Ozymandias wished to portray himself as omnipotent (all powerful).
  • It suggests that he is trying to deify himself (make himself a god) and wants to be worshipped as one.
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Key Quotes - "Nothing besides remains..."

  • Nothing besides remains. Round the decay / of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare”.
  • Juxtaposition.
    • The juxtaposition of “colossal” and “wreck” emphasises the contrast between his former power and his current state.
  • Caesura.
    • The caesura after “remains” in line 12 highlights how Ozymandias’ power has come to an end.
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Powerful individuals, misuse of power and corrupti

KEY COMPARISONS

  • You may want to compare the theme of powerful individuals, misuse of power and corruption in Ozymandias to the following texts:
    • My Last Duchess.
    • London.
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Power of nature vs power of humans

KEY COMPARISONS

  • You may want to compare the theme of the power of nature vs power of humans in Ozymandias to the following texts:
    • Storm on the Island.
    • Exposure.
    • The Prelude.
    • Tissue.
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