Percy Bysshe Shelley's Poetry
Support for studying English GCSE and A Level
Percy Bysshe Shelley - Biography
Percy Bysshe Shelley was born (Horsham, Sussex, England) on 4 August 1792 and died on 8 July 1822 (Gulf of La Spezia, Kingdom of Sardinia – now Italy). He was a poet, essayist, dramatist and novelist.
Shelley’s parents were Timothy and Elizabeth. He had four younger sisters and an older brother. Shelley was educated at home in his early years. He enjoyed country pursuits. He attended Eton College in 1804, but he was bullied regularly. He then went to University College, Oxford in 1810. Apparently, he only attended one lecture, but read for sixteen hours a day.
He married Harriet Westbrook, but left her for Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (Shelley).
Shelley did not experience fame in his lifetime, but his popularity rose after his death in 1822. Shelley drowned when his sailing boat was caught in a sudden storm on the Gulf of La Spezia.
Annotation prompts for Percy Bysshe Shelley’s ‘Ozymandias’.
‘Ozymandias’ is about a statue of Ramesses II. “Ozymandias” is the Greek name for the Egyptian pharaoh Ramesses II (often regarded as the greatest / most celebrated / powerful pharaoh of the Egyptian Empire: 1303 BC - 1213 BC). Reigned 66 years. Egyptian pharaohs’ goal: live for eternity / be known forever – achieving a sense of immortality. Shelley (04.08.1792-08.07.1822) was one of English Romantic poets / his literary career was marked with controversy because of views on religion / atheism / socialism / free love. Poem inspired by the unearthing of a large statue of the pharaoh / its arrival in London (British Museum). First published 11.01.1818 in magazine The Examiner (London). Written in competition with Horace Smith (friend). He published his sonnet ‘Ozymandias’ a month after Shelley’s (in same magazine).
Is this poem (arguably Shelley’s most famous work) ironic? Is the statue a symbol of the decline of power over time? Or, conversely, does it represent a ruler who has transcended death and fulfilled his wishes? Could it be a statement about art? Many of the monuments erected during Ramesses’ reign still exist. He erected more statues than any other Egyptian pharaoh. He even changed / added to inscriptions on previous pharaohs' statues to glorify himself. This ensured Ramesses was worshiped as a god for centuries after his death.
Ramesses II is arguably “the pharaoh of the exodus” – accounted for in the Bible (during Moses’ time). Does this affect the poem’s meaning?
The annotation prompts are a supportive tool, intended to encourage further analysis and interpretation.