Is Hamlet the greatest play ever written? 

Hamlet is argued to be Shakespeare’s greatest play, because, while the play showcases the struggles of Danish royals, what Shakespeare has really written about are the core elements that drive all of us: grief, betrayal, love and family. In just 5 acts, Shakespeare brilliantly exemplifies just what happens when it feels like the entire world has turned against us, thus why it’s been endlessly adapted and retold. With all the intense scrutiny of the play, maybe Hamlet is about intensity itself, about the desperate, inchoate yearning inside us. So, no matter how different from the prince’s our personalities and circumstances are, we each identify with his confusion of fear and outrage. 

Hamlet himself, the danish prince is one of the most complex characters Shakespeare has ever created, debatably making Hamlet the greatest play ever written. While other characters flatly want one thing- love, revenge and the throne. Hamlet is grappling with all those desires, all while dealing with grave existential despair. It is in fact this mixture that makes Hamlet so wonderfully nuanced. He is an incredible character study by Shakespeare, one that elevates any actor that plays him and any reader that reads him. Shakespeare also drew great attention to the play, as Interpretations of Hamlet in the Renaissance period were very concerned with the play’s portrayal of madness. However, by the early Jacobean period, the play was famous for the ghost and for its dramatisation of melancholy and insanity. Shakespeare introduced madness in the Renaissance period, perfectly exemplifying how one can be driven towards insanity, just like Hamlet. Critic’s, who have reported on madness, have compared Hamlet to the ‘Earl of Essex’, who was executed for leading rebellion against Queen Elizabeth. Essex’s situation has been analysed by scholars for its revelations into Elizabethan ideas of madness in connection with treason as they connect with Hamlet. Seen in the same context, Hamlet is quite possibly as mad as he is pretending to be, at least in Elizabethan sense. The reoccurring theme of madness is widely utilised within Hamlet, leading to a variety of interpretations. For example, from a psychoanalytical critic’s point of view, Hamlet’s madness could be repressed emotions from Shakespeare himself. Shakespeare had a son called Hamnet who died at the age of 11 from an unknown cause, which could have influenced the character of Hamlet. Hamlets anger and madness towards his mother’s limited grief over his father’s death could parallel Shakespeare’s emotions of grieving over his own son’s death. Having said this, Hamlet is the play where most freudian interpretations arise from, yet again making Hamlet the greatest play ever written as it stimulated much controversy within the Elizabethan audience. Sigmund Freud, an Australian neurologist and the founder of psychoanalysis, wrote a critical essay in ‘The Interpretations of Dreams’ by A. A. Brill (1911). In this, Freud explains how Shakespeare explores the fundamental concepts of modern psychology within Hamlet. Freud devised the Oedipus complex, where children have repressed desire to be with the opposite-gendered parent, (“the child yearns for love, attention and sexual intimacy with the opposite gendered parent, however the child is also rivalry with the same-gendered parent.”)- From the International Journal of Psychoanalysis. This complex Freud devised is evidently displayed through the madness of Hamlet. Freud believes that Hamlet is forced to feign madness with various characters to conceal his repressed desire for his mother. For instance, he convinces Polonius and Ophelia he is simply insane and acts irrationally due to his father’s abrupt and callous murder. Moreover, he proves to Claudius he is insane in order to divert his attention and eliminate him. Essentially, Freud believes that Hamlet feigns madness to disguise his psychological yearning for his mother’s passionate attention. Clearly, such ideas hold incredible amounts of question, adding to the idea that Hamlet is indeed the greatest play ever written. 

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5 thoughts on “Is Hamlet the greatest play ever written? 

  1. Thank you for this fascinating post. As a Shakespearean who has taught Hamlet many times, has read it even more, and has viewed many productions, I see Hamlet as the greatest play. It is the play that never stops giving something new.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Brilliant analysis and reflection on Hamlet, Alice. It is one of my favorites too because of all you have told. The topics Shakespeare deals with such as madness, jealousy, power abuse, corruption, love… are timeless, profoundly human. Language and thought are so beautifully expressed with such strength only Shakespeare possessed. I remember the last time I reread Hamlet in London before watching Benedict Cumberbatch’s play, which I also loved for its modernity and originality while still being faithful to the original play. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I read Hamlet long back as student, but your post has inspired me to read again. Hamlet in many was is a modern play written in 16 century, exploring the dilemmas the corruption and grief. Wonderful post, thanks for sharing Alice!

    Liked by 1 person

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