Compare Shakespeare's "Sonnet 18" with Shelley's "Ozymandias."

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What an interesting question! These poems certainly both share a common theme and preoccupation: that of immortality and how far it can be ensured through art. However, they approach this theme from different angles, and ultimately draw different conclusions.

Both poems share the same form—they are sonnets, comprising fourteen lines, although they are not quite the same type of sonnet. Sonnet 18 is in Shakespeare's own peculiar form, now called a Shakespearean sonnet, whereas "Ozymandias" blends the Shakespearean sonnet form with the Petrarchan, the rhyme scheme shifting between the two as the sonnet progresses.

In Sonnet 18, the poet emphasizes the fact that his beloved, unlike the ephemeral "summer" and the "buds of May," will never "decline" from his height of fairness. On the contrary, he will enjoy an unfaded, "eternal summer," for one simple reason: the "eternal lines" set down by the poet will ensure that the beloved is remembered. For as long as this piece of art endures, it will "give life" to the beloved and keep his memory alive. There is a strange irony in the fact that, by reading this sonnet still today, we prove Shakespeare's thesis true; but, at the same time, we do not know the beloved's name. We remember him and his beauty, but not who he was.

In "Ozymandias," we certainly do know who the immortalized being is. We know his name and that he was "King of Kings." Through the art he had commissioned, we remember the "visage" of this person and also something of his personality. However, Shelley takes a different attitude to Shakespeare. Perhaps because Ozymandias has created this statue himself, rather than it being art born of love, there is a suggestion that it does not do what he wanted it to—we remember Ozymandias, perhaps, but not in the way he intended. His "works" no longer exist—his pride in them is unfounded. This statue, "sunken" and half-destroyed, is all that remains of Ozymandias; so, he is immortal but not in perhaps the way he would have wished.

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Shakespeare's sonnet XVIII and Shelley's "Ozymandias" may well be the two most famous sonnets in the English language. The first muses on whether to compare the poet's beloved to a summer's day, something which is by definition ephemeral. The comparison, for this reason, favors the beloved, whose "eternal summer shall not fade." At this point, the reader might object that of course it will, though people last longer than summer's days, they are not eternal. The final couplet provides the solution: so long as anyone reads poetry, Shakespeare's sonnet will survive, giving life to the beloved. This is a favorite theme of Shakespeare's to which he returns often in the sonnets. Sonnet LV, "Not marble nor the gilded monuments" is one which addresses the idea of immortality in terms more similar to those of "Ozymandias."

Shelley's poem is set in the desert, a setting as far as possible from the blooming profusion and variety of a summer's day in England. Instead of "the darling buds of May," we have sand and stone. The King who had the statue erected in his honor, however, made the same boast as Shakespeare, though it has not been realized. Since the King is based on the historical Ramasses II (many of whose works actually survive), it may have taken 2000 years for the statue to fall, but this is not material to the message of the poem. Shelley called poets "the unacknowledged legislators of the world" and would happily have acknowledged Shakespeare's claim on immortality even as he disparaged that of temporal rulers. Both agree that poetry, not tyranny, is the way to cheat death.

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This an interesting question, as the poems would seem to have more points of contrast than of comparison. Nevertheless, some commonalities are as follows:

Both poems are sonnets, and both focus on one particular figure who is of interest to the narrator. Shakespeare's Sonnet 18, "Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer's Day," shines a spotlight on the speaker's beloved. In Shelley's "Ozymandias," the sonnet focuses on the ancient tyrant Ozymandias, who has left behind nothing but a broken statue of himself.

Both sonnets are concerned with the passage of time and the transformation time brings. Sonnet 18 is defiant about time, arguing that the beloved's "eternal summer" (youth and beauty) will never fade because it is being immortalized in verse.

"Ozymandias" focuses on how the passage of time has changed how we understand the tyrant Ozymandias. Nothing is left of his kingdom but sand. Nothing is left of him but a broken statue These facts transform the meaning of the lines carved on his statue. They are supposed to convey to the mighty that they should "despair" as they view Ozymandias's unmatchable power and wealth: instead, they actually convey to the mighty that they should despair because they will end up in ruin like the once-great tyrant.

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