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Compare how poets present ideas about power in ‘Ozymandias’ and in one other poem from ‘Power and conflict’
In both ‘Ozymandias’ and ‘My Last Duchess’, the poets ‘Shelley’ and ‘Browning’ present the theme of power in a negative and temporary way. Shelley uses a typical Petrarchan fourteen line sonnet with a Volta on line 9 to portray his own love for romantic writing styles, but also to reflect Ozymandias love for himself. He uses caesuras and enjambment to fasten and slow down the pace of the poem, allowing the reader to reflect the ruler’s power. Additionally, the use of writing lines with and without iambic pentameter and an irregular rhyme scheme shows how human power can be destroyed and easily forgotten. Browning also uses iambic pentameter to heighten the Duke’s authority and power, but writes the poem as a dramatic monologue to emphasise the Duke of Ferrara’s obsession of power and desire for control. However, the repeated use of enjambment throughout the entirety of the poem could show how the Duke is unable to control his outburst, which contrastingly shows his lack of power. In ‘Ozymandias’, the narrator comes across a “traveller” who tells him about a ‘shattered visage’ which has a ‘sneer of cold command’, highlighting how nothing lasts forever. The metaphor and repetition of the ‘c’ sound created by the alliteration ‘cold command’ creates a harsh tone which reflects the reign of Ozymandias. The noun of ‘sneer’ depicts an image of an arrogant, disrespectful leader who believed everyone was worthless and pointless compared to him. This would make the reader feel angry towards the ruler as they would feel sympathy for those that had to be controlled by such a selfish, overconfident leader. Alternatively, from a Nihilist interpretation, Shelley’s deliberate use of a noun could show how his intention is to show how power doesn’t last forever as a ‘sneer’ is a temporary action and is forgotten very soon, which ultimately mirrors Ozymandias’ statue and status. The second hand experience from the ‘traveller’ adds to this idea as it shows that Ozymandias has now become so inconsequential that the narrator needs to be told about him to know all about his power that he once possessed. This particular quote links to the line ‘nothing beside remains’, which completely juxtaposes the line before: ‘king of kings’. The juxtaposition further supports the theory of Nihilism as it shows how something which had full authority is now a worthless, ‘half sunk colossal wreck’. This would therefore make the reader feel worried and shocked at how it’s inevitable for human power to be destroyed and forgotten so quickly. Linking to context, Ozymandias is another name for the ancient pharaoh Ramesses II (Latin name) of Egypt, who was very similar to King George III (the monarch during the time period when Shelley wrote the poem). Furthermore, Shelley main inspirations to write the poem were to beat his friend in the competition (in which he ended up winning), the French Revolution, how it was a great opportunity for him to express his hatred toward oppressive, expansionist type tyrants like King George III, and finally to show how human power is very limited and insignificant powerful rulers like Napoleon Bonaparte only posses power for a limited time.


In ‘My Last Duchess’, Browning uses the Duke’s objectification to present power in a negative way, but also as an element which allows those high in society to dictate and abuse others. The Duke of Ferrara is seen to be describing to a visitor “my last duchess” that’s “painted on the wall”, illustrating how the duke is showing off his power and importance. The adjective ‘painted’ emphasises how human power can be conveyed through the power of art. This links to ‘Ozymandias’ as the power of art (the statue) can outlive the power of humans (the ruler himself), but will not outlive the power of nature and time as the last phrase in the sonnet “stretch far away” shows how the barren wasteland has lasted longer than the statue, allowing the reader to reflect on how human power is insignificant. The possessive pronoun of ‘my’ emphasises the Duke’s obsession for power, but also how he objectifies things that he shouldn’t, which exaggerates how ruthless and forceful he was. Alternatively, from a feminist interpretation, the possessive pronoun along with the adjective of ‘last’ show the objectification of women, which reinforces the idea that women have a lack of power and significance in a patriarchal society. This also links to ‘Ozymandias’ as the ancient ruler describes himself as “King of Kings”, showing his arrogance, but most importantly supporting a Marxism and Feminist interpretation. Marxism is shown through the singular, supreme leader who controls everyone; Feminism is shown through the use of a masculine representative (King) rather than a female representative (Queen), which fully emphasises how patriarchal society was. The negativity of the power of the Duke is also represented through the reassurance he shows when he says he “chose never to stoop”, and the authority he posses when he says “I gave commands.” Both these actions show how almighty the Duke was, but also how he abused his power by dictating others, showing how power is negative and used to control others. This will make the reader feel sympathetic towards the Duchess as the phrase “then all smiles stopped together” suggests that the Duke had her killed for being too ‘flirtatious’. The reader would feel angry and annoyed by this as it shows them that the Duke has abused his power to kill someone just because of his jealousy. Linking to context, the Duke of Ferrara was suspicious of murdering his own wife so that he could marry again; moreover, women in society were known to be men’s possession due to their lack of power so the use of ‘my’ when describing the Duchess would have been normal to a reader reading at the time it was written. It was also rumoured that the Duchess was flirting heavily with Fra Pandolf (the painter), so made the Duke of Ferrara believe he could “command” his wife and murder her.
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