Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry: Explained, GUILIELMUS REX, by THOMAS BAILEY ALDRICH

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Classic and Contemporary Poetry: Explained

GUILIELMUS REX, by             Poet Analysis     Poet's Biography

"Guilielmus Rex" by Thomas Bailey Aldrich is a tribute to William Shakespeare, one of the most celebrated playwrights and poets in English literature. Through a vivid description of Shakespeare's appearance and mannerisms, Aldrich underscores the contrast between the ordinary appearance of the man and his extraordinary literary legacy.

Thomas Bailey Aldrich, a 19th-century American poet, often touched upon historical and literary subjects. In "Guilielmus Rex," Aldrich illustrates how the people of Shakespeare's time may have overlooked the greatness among them, capturing the irony of an ordinary figure who left an indelible mark on the world.


The themes of appearance versus substance, historical recognition, and timeless legacy pervade the poem.

Appearance Versus Substance: Aldrich portrays Shakespeare's external appearance as modest and unremarkable. He describes his "pointed beard," "courteous mien," and simple attire, highlighting that those who saw him would have had no indication of his inner genius. The emphasis on what they "saw or might have seen" contrasts with the hidden "light behind the brow," symbolizing his brilliant mind.

Historical Recognition: The people of Shakespeare's time failed to recognize the greatness among them. The description of passersby who gave him little notice underscores the theme of unrecognized genius. In this context, Aldrich comments on the fickleness of fame and how true greatness often goes unnoticed during one's lifetime.

Timeless Legacy: Despite his modest appearance and lack of immediate recognition, Shakespeare's works have endured, eclipsing the pomp and circumstance of England's actual kings. Aldrich refers to him as "the king of England's kings," a metaphor for his lasting influence and supremacy in English literature. While others are "mouldered, half-remembered things," Shakespeare "lives and reigns."

Structure and Style

The poem consists of four stanzas, each with a regular rhyme scheme of ABAB. This structured format mirrors the systematic observation of Shakespeare's physical appearance. The language is simple and unadorned, reflecting Shakespeare's unassuming appearance, while the tone carries a gentle reverence for the subject.

Historical and Cultural Context

Set in Shakespeare's London, the poem engages with the historical reality of a time when one of history's greatest literary figures lived and worked. Aldrich's portrayal serves as a reminder that genius often goes unnoticed, and greatness is not always marked by outward splendor.


"Guilielmus Rex" by Thomas Bailey Aldrich offers a poignant reflection on William Shakespeare's humble appearance and profound legacy. Through thoughtful exploration of themes and skillful use of structure and style, Aldrich creates a memorable portrait that contrasts the unassuming man with the literary giant he would become.

In painting this portrait, Aldrich invites readers to contemplate the nature of genius, the unpredictability of recognition, and the timeless impact of art. It's a lesson in humility and the transcendent power of creativity, echoing the very qualities that make Shakespeare's works resonate with readers and audiences to this day.

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