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From the poem "Shakespeare" by Matthew Arnold, who are the "others" mentioned in the first line, and how does this create contrast?

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David Morrison eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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"Others" could generally refer to other people—that is, everyone who isn't Shakespeare. But more specifically, it could refer to other poets, other writers like Matthew Arnold himself. "Others abide our question," says the speaker—in other words, other writers are willing to be questioned and to provide answers to those questions in their art. But Shakespeare does not need to, for in his work he displays what Keats famously referred to as "negative capability"—that is, the remarkable ability to explore the complexities of life without putting forward a precise philosophy or system of ideas. Shakespeare simply stands back and lets his characters speak; he offers no solutions to life's myriad problems, no neat resolutions of thorny moral issues.

Lesser mortals—Arnold among them—may continue to "ask and ask," to probe the Bard's works in search of a point of view, but they will always come away with more questions than answers, awed and beguiled in equal measure by the "immortal spirit" that is Shakespeare and the inexhaustible complexity of his artistic vision.

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Pauline Sheehan eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Matthew Arnold wrote his poem Shakespeare as a tribute to William Shakespeare who, in his estimation was a poet in a class of his own. In his opening line "Others abide our question. Thou art free" there has been much discussion as to Arnold's precise meaning. It is naturally assumed that the "Others" he refers to are poets other than Shakespeare himself; Shakespeare being such an authority that this distinguishes him from any other writer of poetry and creates the contrast. Arnold is not intending to write only from his own perspective but as an authority on Shakespeare, thereby representing all sectors of an educated society when he asks "our question." The fact that Shakespeare is "free" reveals how he is treated differently from other poets and not subject to expected constraints perhaps placed on poetry in general.    

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