Shakespeare

Poem Shakespeare by Matthew Arnold Explains

About the poem Shakespeare 

The poem Shakespeare is Matthew Arnold’s one of the most popular, read, as well as anthologized sonnets that were written in the 1840s as well and published in 1849 when the poet was just in his 20s.

  • As everyone, who is familiar with (English) literature, knows quite well that Mr. William Shakespeare is a major literary figure, the greatest dramatist or playwright in the world of English Literature had (already) established (himself) as a favorite poet of critics before the beginning of Matthew Arnold’s poetic career
  • Matthew Arnold himself was a great scholar and literary figure of the Victorian era; he was so impressed by the artistic abilities of Shakespeare that he composed this well-known sonnet in his honor
  • Arnold in his poem Shakespeare has expressed great reverence for this great Elizabethan poet and dramatist; the poet (means, Arnold) is fully bowled over by him as well as that he is the most superior playwright with respect to his contemporaries
Others abide our question. Thou art free.
We ask and ask—Thou smilest and art still,
Out-topping knowledge. For the loftiest hill,
Who to the stars uncrowns his majesty,

Planting his steadfast footsteps in the sea,
Making the heaven of heavens his dwelling-place,
Spares but the cloudy border of his base
To the foil'd searching of mortality;

And thou, who didst the stars and sunbeams know,
Self-school'd, self-scann'd, self-honour'd, self-secure,
Didst tread on earth unguess'd at.—Better so!

All pains the immortal spirit must endure,
All weakness which impairs, all griefs which bow,
Find their sole speech in that victorious brow.

Matthew Arnold’s poem Shakespeare Summary and Analysis 

Matthew Arnold starts this poem with the praise of Shakespeare. The poet quickly distinguishes him from the rest as well as acknowledges his uniqueness. According to him, anyone can question other poets as well as artists about their works; (moreover) they are even very eager to reply to those people who might try to understand their works. But, the case of Shakespeare is different from other poets/artists.

The reason is that he is not only “free” himself but his “art” as well. According to Arnold, the critics do question his works, he does not reply to them.  But, he only answers with a smile and continues his “art still”. In this way, he provides everyone an opportunity or chance to form his own interpretation or opinion of his work(s).

So, a person can find his own meaning among the multiple edges as well as variations a single art piece of his packed or filled with.

Matthew Arnold regards the knowledge of Shakespeare as “Out-topping”. It is not only beyond the reach of mortals but also unquestionable. This Victorian poet compares (I) the Artistic Abilities, as well as (II) Knowledge of this outstanding Elizabethan poet and dramatist to that of a mountain top that is covered with clouds, meeting the sky, and the ordinary being is able to observe or see as well as appreciate the unapproachable far from. 

Moreover, One can (also) see the aforementioned comparison as the differences being pointed out between “others” as well as Shakespeare. The poet Matthew Arnold highlights it once again by saying that this poet and dramatist is similar to the mountain whose feet meet the seas and his crown reaches or touches the sky.

Whereas the mere mortals that comprise the “others” are only offered or given with the “cloudy border”; and, it is just a few indistinct parts of his skill or art.

Moreover, Matthew Arnold praises or appreciates the vastness of Shakespeare’s works and majestic abilities by saying that his imaginative capabilities rise like the stars as well as shine/sparkle alongside the beaming rays of the sun, (just) as the lofty mountain.

This poet & playwright of the Elizabethan era was a self-educated as well as a self-made person. That is why this poet is in awe of Shakespeare’s talent and abilities as well as discusses the value or importance of his self-taught education and his own experiences which were his only guidance. 

Matthew Arnold continues to say that though William Shakespeare was a God-like/Superhuman creature walking on earth; his fellows completely failed to understand him.

But, for the poet of this poem, it was for the best. Here, he is critical of Shakespeare’s works being objected to as well as his worthy or valuable art not being properly appreciated. 

He further (the poet) says that every man has to endure all the difficulties/problems of life as well as all the griefs. But, such is not the case with William Shakespeare. Because he is taught from his own sorrows has the majestic capability of remaining detached from personal views.

Moreover, his works are known for portraying (I) the common as well as (II) relatable aspects of every human being. So, one can see Shakespeare’s works as a triumph over all the pains which have been suffered/faced by humankind.

Matthew Arnold’s poem Shakespeare Settings

  • Matthew Arnold wrote the poem, Shakespeare, in the form of a sonnet. It is a means to honor William Shakespeare who is even now popular for his sonnets as well as plays
  • It is notable that this sonnet by Arnold does not follow the regular rhyme scheme as well as is certainly not written, but like the Shakespeare’s sonnet(s), the irregular rhyme provides this poem with the setting of a natural speech
  • One will not be able to associate this sonnet with a specific physical location; moreover, it is set in the form of thoughts that are full of praise for William Shakespeare

Ques: Why did Matthew Arnold use the medium of his sonnet entitled Shakespeare ?

Ans: Arnold used the medium of his sonnet entitled Shakespeare in order to praise or eulogize Shakespeare by telling the readers about his life as well as time.

Ques: What does Matthew Arnold try to show the readers in the last three lines of the poem Shakespeare ?

Ans: The poet, in his poem Shakespeare, tries to show the readers of this poem the few odds William Shakespeare passed or faced to rise to prominence in his art. The great Elizabethan poet and dramatist endured (I) pains and (II) grief or sorrow. Moreover, whenever there came a time of weakness in his life, this person never gave up on himself. All his self-denial paid off. Consequently, Shakespeare became triumphant after all.

Ques: What are the opening lines of Matthew Arnold’s sonnet Shakespeare ?

Ans: Matthew Arnold’s poem Shakespeare opens with these lines:
       “Others abide our questions. Thou art free.
        We ask and ask – Thou smilest and art still
        Out-topping knowledge.”

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