Is this Shakespearean tragedy Hamlet at the top of the rating chart, or is it just near the top? This essay intends to examine various aspects of this subject, along with critical opinion.
Could the enduring reputation of Hamlet be attributed to the “ultimate form” in which the Bard of Avon expressed his ideas? Robert B. Heilman says so in “The Role We Give Shakespeare”:
It is the way of venerable texts whose authenticity has impressed itself on the human imagination: he has said many things in what seems an ultimate form, and he is a fountainhead of quotation and universal center of allusion. “A rose by any other name” comes to the mouth as readily as “Pride goeth before a fall,” and seems no less wise. [. . .] The Ophelia-Laertes relationship is strongly felt near the end of Goethe’s Faust, Part I, and the Hamlet-Gertrude-Claudius triangle echoes throughout Chekhov’s Sea Gull (24-25).
This play is ranked by many as the very greatest ever written. Cumberland Clark in “The Supernatural in Hamlet” gives the consensus regarding Hamlet that exists among literary critics of today:
At least six or seven years pass after the writing of Midsummer Night’s Dream before we find Shakespeare engaged on Hamlet, the second of the great plays with an important Supernatural element, and, in the opinion of many, the greatest tragedy ever penned. (99)
There is no more exalted ranking than the above. Richard A. Lanham in the essay “Superposed Plays” maintains that no other English tragedy has generated the literary comment which this play has produced: “Hamlet is one of the great tragedies. It has generated more comment than any other written document in English literatu...
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...iversity Press, 1965.
Lanham, Richard A. “Superposed Plays.” Modern Critical Interpretations: Hamlet. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1986. Rpt. from The Motives of Eloquence: Literary Rhetoric in the Renaissance. N.p.: Yale University Press, 1976.
Levin, Harry. General Introduction. The Riverside Shakespeare. Ed. G. Blakemore Evans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1974.
Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 1995. http://www.chemicool.com/Shakespeare/hamlet/full.html No line nos.
Wright, Louis B. and Virginia A. LaMar. “Hamlet: A Man Who Thinks Before He Acts.” Readings on Hamlet. Ed. Don Nardo. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1999. Rpt. from The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. Ed. Louis B. Wright and Virginia A. LaMar. N. p.: Pocket Books, 1958.
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