Summary & Critical Appreciation of “On Shakespeare” by John Milton

“On Shakespeare” by John Milton

“On Shakespeare” is actually a tribute to Shakespeare’s genius as a writer penned by John Milton. It was written in 1630.  Like most of Shakespeare’s readers, Milton is also fully enamoured by his skill as one of the greatest writers. In the sonnet, in the beginning (Lines 1-4), he says that Shakespeare needs not build a pyramid to show his greatness. These are the great and historical words that have been written by Milton for Shakespeare. A pyramid takes decades to be built. Amazing words and expression! He says that a pyramid will take a long time to be built in the honour of a genius like Shakespeare because he has already built a monument that will last forever and ever. He calls him “My Shakespeare” that shows the regard Milton has for Shakespeare. How beautifully he has declared “My Shakespeare” and pays tribute to his greatness. He shows great regard for his bones. He thinks that his death is a decree of God that everyone is to follow willy-nilly but his death cannot separate his soul from the poet’s soul.

In the next quatrain (Lines 5-8), the poet declares Shakespeare the “Dearest Son of My memory.” Once again, the poet stresses the idea of not having something physical in the memory of a great genius like Shakespeare. He opines that Shakespeare needs not any monument like pyramid. He is alive and will remain alive forever and ever in the heart of the poet as well as his readers.

In the next quatrain (Lines 9-14), the poet proves his point of view comparing Shakespeare with other poets. He says that Shakespeare’s poetry has a fluency of thought and expression while the other poets are slow. Further he says that the reader takes from what Shakespeare wrote a meaning that may come from the gods. So, his monument is his work as a genius. Shakespeare’s words, “our fancy of itself bereaving” definitely startle a reader. He becomes the material of Shakespeare’s tomb. That’s why, Shakespeare’s memory does not demand pyramid because his words have the strength to produce the memory that will stay in memory forever and ever. Making comparisons with the kings for their pyramids, Milton says that the kings may have their pyramids but they do not have that.

To sum up, the sonnet under discussion is a master-piece in the history of literature. It is a tribute from a genius like Milton to a genius like Shakespeare. Making use of the conceit of pyramid i.e. Egyptian pyramid, Milton suggests the readers that long time should not be spent in building a monument for Shakespeare. Shakespeare has already done this job because he is living in the hearts of his readers.                                           (Words: 452)



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