'Shakespeare' by Matthew Arnold
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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.
Editor 1 Interpretation
"Shakespeare" by Matthew Arnold: A Literary Criticism and Interpretation
Can one really encapsulate the greatness of William Shakespeare in a few mere pages of prose? Matthew Arnold certainly thought so, for he wrote a compelling essay titled "Shakespeare" in which he poured out his admiration for the Bard's genius. In this literary criticism, we shall delve into Arnold's ideas on Shakespeare, exploring his insights and highlighting the key themes that he drew out from Shakespeare's works.
The Genius of Shakespeare
Arnold starts off by acknowledging the widespread consensus on Shakespeare's greatness. He writes, "What praise is it to say of Shakespeare that he is the greatest poet of our world? But it is to point to the fact that wherever the English tongue is spoken, and wherever men have any feeling for poetry, Shakespeare is of all poets the one who strikes them as having the strongest, the most inexhaustible, the most splendid genius." Arnold's opening remarks set the tone for the essay, for he does not intend to argue for Shakespeare's greatness; rather, he aims to analyze the sources and characteristics of Shakespeare's genius.
Arnold contends that Shakespeare's genius was rooted in his "sweetness and light" - that is, his ability to combine "magnificence" with "amenity". By "magnificence", Arnold means the grandeur, the larger-than-life quality of Shakespeare's works, which encompassed both the heroic and the tragic. By "amenity", Arnold means the gentler, more human side of Shakespeare's works, which encompassed both the comic and the pastoral. For Arnold, Shakespeare's greatness lay in his ability to blend these two contrasting elements, to create a harmony between them and thereby capture the full range of human experience.
Arnold goes on to argue that Shakespeare's genius was also marked by his "objectivity". By this, he means that Shakespeare was not beholden to any particular ideology or worldview, but rather had a "disinterested" approach to his characters and their actions. Arnold admires Shakespeare's ability to depict human nature in all its complexity, without passing judgment or taking sides. He writes, "The objectivity of Shakespeare's handling of his material is, I think, a very striking feature of his work. He is, in this sense, the most objective of poets."
Shakespeare's Tragic Sense
One of the most compelling themes that Arnold draws out from Shakespeare's works is his "tragic sense". Arnold argues that Shakespeare had a unique understanding of tragedy, one that was not simply a matter of plot or character, but rather a deep insight into the nature of existence itself. Arnold writes, "Shakespeare's tragedy is a vision of the world, and of man's place in it, which is lofty and austere; a vision of a world which is unfriendly to man, and in which he has to make his way as best he can."
Arnold contends that Shakespeare's tragic sense was rooted in his awareness of the "infinite mystery" of life. For Shakespeare, life was a "riddle", a puzzle that could never be fully solved. Arnold writes, "Shakespeare's tragic sense of life is simply the expression of his feeling for the mystery of life; and all great poetry is the expression of this feeling." Arnold argues that Shakespeare's tragic sense was not a pessimistic worldview, but rather a recognition of the limitations of human understanding.
Arnold goes on to explore the different forms that Shakespeare's tragic sense took in his works. He examines the tragic heroes of Macbeth, Hamlet, and King Lear, and shows how they exemplify Shakespeare's vision of a world that is hostile to human aspirations. Arnold also notes that Shakespeare's tragic sense was not limited to his tragedies alone, but was present in his comedies as well. He points to the character of Jaques in As You Like It, who delivers a melancholic speech on the transience of human life. Arnold argues that Shakespeare's tragic sense was a pervasive theme in all his works, and that it reflected his deep understanding of the human condition.
Arnold's essay on Shakespeare is not only an analysis of the Bard's genius, but also a celebration of his artistry. Arnold admires Shakespeare's mastery of language, his ability to create characters that are vivid and memorable, and his skill in crafting plots that are both intricate and coherent. Arnold writes, "Shakespeare's language is the greatest of the possessions he has bequeathed to us...It is the richest, the most flexible, the most musical, and the most subtly significant language which we possess."
Arnold also writes at length about Shakespeare's creation of characters, noting how each one is unique and individual, with their own distinct personality and voice. Arnold argues that Shakespeare's characters are not merely ciphers or symbols, but rather lifelike entities that spring to life on the page. He writes, "Shakespeare's characters are not typified, they are not abstractions, they are not even generalized, they are individuals."
Arnold also praises Shakespeare's skill in plotting, noting how he was able to weave together multiple strands of narrative into a cohesive whole. Arnold writes, "Shakespeare's plots are always, I think, very ingeniously constructed; and they are, moreover, singularly free from improbability and incongruity."
In conclusion, Matthew Arnold's essay on Shakespeare is a masterful analysis of the Bard's genius. Arnold's insights into Shakespeare's tragic sense, his artistry, and his ability to combine "magnificence" with "amenity" are all deeply perceptive and illuminating. What makes Arnold's essay so compelling is not merely his admiration for Shakespeare, but his willingness to engage critically with his works. Arnold is not content to simply laud Shakespeare's greatness; he seeks to understand it, to unpack its sources, and to apply a critical lens to his works. This is what makes "Shakespeare" such a valuable work of literary criticism, and why it continues to be read and studied today.
Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation
Poetry is a classic poem written by Matthew Arnold, a renowned English poet and cultural critic of the Victorian era. This poem is a masterpiece that reflects Arnold's views on the role of poetry in society and its significance in shaping human life. In this analysis, we will explore the themes, structure, and literary devices used in Poetry to understand its meaning and significance.
The poem begins with the speaker's assertion that poetry is the most important thing in the world. He argues that poetry is not just a form of entertainment but a means of understanding the world and ourselves. The speaker claims that poetry has the power to elevate our spirits and connect us to the divine. He says, "The best poetry makes us feel as if we are in the presence of something greater than ourselves."
Arnold then goes on to describe the qualities of great poetry. He says that great poetry is characterized by its simplicity, clarity, and truthfulness. It is not ornate or flowery but rather straightforward and honest. The speaker argues that great poetry is not just beautiful but also meaningful. It has the power to move us emotionally and intellectually.
The poem then takes a turn as the speaker laments the decline of poetry in modern society. He argues that poetry has lost its significance and has become a mere commodity. He says, "We have bartered our souls for the cheap pleasures of the market." The speaker believes that poetry has become a product to be bought and sold rather than a means of enlightenment.
Arnold then goes on to describe the consequences of this decline in poetry. He says that without poetry, we are left with a world that is dull and lifeless. He argues that poetry is essential to our humanity and that without it, we are reduced to mere machines. The speaker says, "We are left with a world that is flat, stale, and unprofitable."
The poem ends with the speaker's call to action. He urges us to rediscover the power of poetry and to make it a central part of our lives. He says, "Let us be true to one another and to ourselves, and let us rediscover the power of poetry." The speaker believes that by embracing poetry, we can reconnect with our humanity and find meaning in our lives.
The themes of Poetry are numerous and complex. One of the central themes is the power of poetry to elevate our spirits and connect us to the divine. The speaker argues that poetry is not just a form of entertainment but a means of understanding the world and ourselves. He believes that great poetry has the power to move us emotionally and intellectually.
Another theme of the poem is the decline of poetry in modern society. The speaker laments the fact that poetry has become a commodity to be bought and sold rather than a means of enlightenment. He argues that without poetry, we are left with a world that is dull and lifeless.
The structure of Poetry is also significant. The poem is written in free verse, which allows Arnold to experiment with different rhythms and patterns. The poem is divided into four stanzas, each with a different focus. The first stanza introduces the theme of the poem, while the second and third stanzas explore the qualities of great poetry and the consequences of its decline. The final stanza is a call to action, urging us to rediscover the power of poetry.
Arnold also uses several literary devices in Poetry to convey his message. One of the most prominent devices is imagery. Arnold uses vivid and evocative language to describe the power of poetry. He says, "The best poetry makes us feel as if we are in the presence of something greater than ourselves." This image conveys the idea that poetry has the power to transport us beyond our everyday lives and connect us to something greater.
Arnold also uses repetition to emphasize his message. He repeats the phrase "we are here as on a darkling plain" several times throughout the poem. This repetition emphasizes the idea that without poetry, we are lost in a dark and lifeless world.
In conclusion, Poetry is a masterpiece that reflects Matthew Arnold's views on the role of poetry in society and its significance in shaping human life. The poem explores the themes of the power of poetry, the decline of poetry in modern society, and the need to rediscover the power of poetry. The structure of the poem and the literary devices used by Arnold add depth and complexity to the poem. Poetry is a timeless work that continues to inspire and enlighten readers today.
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