Percy Bysshe Shelley's Poetry
Support for studying English GCSE and A Level
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.