Please chararcterize the speaker and setting of "Ozymandias" by P. Shelley and explain why the setting important.

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Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The speaker is probably the least important element of this poem, even though without him we wouldn't hear any of this story.  The speaker has not seen the statue of which he speaks; he simply tells us what someone who has seen it says about it.  His is a second-hand knowledge, yet the story impacts him enough to repeat it.

The setting, however, is integral to the theme of the work.  It is both non-descript and vivid.  The place is a desert in an antique land, stretching "boundless and bare" (presumably Egypt).  That's the non-descript.  But in the desert are the remains of a statue which he describes in detail; in fact, nearly three-fourths of the poem is used to paint an accurate picture of the ruins. That's the vivid, and it is the theme of the work, as well.

"Two vast and trunkless legs of stone" are still standing.  The original structure must have been massive, though its precise dimensions are unknowable because the rest of the statue has crumbled.  Nearby lies the giant dismembered head, half sunk into the sand.

While the head has been severed, by time and the elements and possibly some enemies, its facial features are still recognizable.  Its "frown,/and wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command" still speak of some imperial giant (presumably Ramses) showing his disdain for all who come near.  The arrogant man who erected this giant effigy is long gone;though he is still recognizable by his overwhelming sense of self, the monument is nothing but ruins.

The sole intact thing on the statue is the inscription along the bottom.  ""My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:/Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!'"  Ironically, the next line is "Nothing beside remains."  And there it is.  This pompous leader, ruler at one time of a virtual empire, is now a leader of nothing.  What people once feared and approached with trepidation is now nothing but a "boundless and bare" desert. We might once have been afraid of this impressive man and his "works," but time has whittled the colossus into a pile of rocks and rubble.

This is a picture of pride and fall, of the inconsequential nature of even colossal things, the irony of fate.

Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I liked the previous analysis.  I think that the speaker, though, might have some importance.  He is telling a story that he has heard second hand.  Perhaps, Shelley is making a statement about the nature of fame and infamy.  The fact that the speaker is someone who only knows of Ozymandias through legend and oral tradition is vitally important.  What he knows of Ozymandias is precisely the point of the poem.  The collision between Ozymandias' inflated sense of self and the decrepit and discarded condition of his monument is what the speaker knows and, by extension, is what we know.  In a way, while Ozymandias sought fame, he might have actually accomplished a degree of infamy.  It is through this speaker's point of view that we understand what was desired and what was actually relayed and experienced became two different things.  The speaker never counters the traveller's point of view.  Rather, through his lack of voice, he accepts it and it becomes clear to us, the reader, that the speaker validates that Ozymandias is only known for a broken down statue in the middle of nowhere, despite his assertion for so much more.  I think that in this light, the speaker might hold some resonant value in the poem.