Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Poetry, Revised Edition)
“On Shakespeare” develops the primary theme of immortality through artistic creation. A commonplace idea in Renaissance and seventeenth century poetry, it is pervasive in Shakespeare’s sonnets, which celebrate a poet’s power to endow the subject with immortality. The theme also commonly appears in the poems prefatory to various folio editions of Shakespeare’s poetic works. Its widespread use, however, does not mean that it lacked special meaning for Milton. From his student days at Cambridge University, Milton made fame through art a motif in his lyric poetry, and he later introduced the theme into his prose works as well. As one who sought fame through poetic achievement, he found it congenial to proclaim that Shakespeare had already attained it. However, Milton surpasses the conventional treatment of the theme by adding another minor but pervasive motif in Renaissance poetry, that of metamorphosis or transformation. Evidence of Shakespeare’s genius is to be found in the bard’s ability to transform readers, to take them out of themselves with wonder and admiration and, metaphorically, render them marble. Milton realized that the power of transformation traditionally represented a divine attribute and a source of inspiration.
A further significant theme emerges from Milton’s characterization of Shakespeare’s creative imagination. Though his references to Shakespeare are limited, Milton became an early proponent of the view that...
(The entire section is 377 words.)
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