The Shakespearean tragedy Hamlet is among the best ever written, and perhaps the very best. Why do the literary critics say this? In this essay let’s examine the play to see what makes it a prizewinner.
Phyllis Abrahms and Alan Brody in “Hamlet and the Elizabethan Revenge Tragedy Formula” give some detail about the reasons for the undying popularity of this play:
No play demonstrates the power and glory of Shakespeare’s tragic vision more than Hamlet, which for over 350 years has excited us with its action, its insight, its brilliant language. Hamlet is an unparalleled adventure story, complete with suspense, intrigue, murder – even a battle at sea with pirates. It is a play of intense emotional and physical violence. Yet underlying all of this are some of the most profound explorations of the mysteries of human existence. (43)
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 literature, one would guess, reverent, serious comment on it...
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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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