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English Literature

Percy Bysshe Shelley: Ozymandias

Context

Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) is one of the most famous poets in all of English literature. He was one of a group of poets who became known as The Romantics.

Born in Horsham, Sussex, he came from a wealthy family and was in line to inherit both riches and his grandfather's role as an MP. He went to Eton College and then Oxford. He was expelled from university for writing about atheism (not believing in God) which led to him to fall out with his father who disinherited him. In the same year, 1811, he eloped and married aged 19. His bride, Harriet Westbrook, was only 16. They moved to the Lake District where he continued to write.

Three years later, Shelley left for Europe with another woman, Mary Godwin (who later became Mary Shelley and wrote Frankenstein). Shelley had children by both women. In 1816, Harriet Shelley's body was recovered from a lake - it was thought she had killed herself. Three weeks later, Shelley married Mary.

Shelley drowned at sea during a sailing trip to Italy.

Shelley was well known as a 'radical' during his lifetime and some people think Ozymandias reflects this side of his character. Although it is about the remains of a statue of Ozymandias (another name for the Egyptian pharaoh Rameses II) it can be read as a criticism of people or systems that become huge and believe themselves to be invincible.

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