Ranking of the Play Hamlet
Literary critics give the highest ranking to the Shakespearean tragedy Hamlet. This essay will explore critical opinion and the reasons for the Bard’s exceptional rating.
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.
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This is seen in the fact of over 20 characters with speaking roles; and in their variety of occupations from king to grave-digger; and in the 20 different scene changes; and in the differentiation in speech, actions, etc. between every single individual character. The proliferation of “parts” is readily seen in the first two scenes. Let us observe the great variety therein: The play begins with the changing of the guard at the castle of Elsinore. Recently the spectral likeness of dead King Hamlet has appeared to the sentinels. Tonight the ghost appears again to Barnardo, Marcellus and Horatio, a very close friend of Hamlet. Horatio and Marcellus exit the ramparts of Elsinore intending to enlist the aid of Hamlet, who is home from school, dejected by the “o’erhasty marriage” of his mother to his uncle. There is a social gathering of the court, where Claudius conducts some items of business, for example dispatching Cornelius and Voltemand to Norway to settle the Fortinbras affair, and bidding Laertes farewell. Hamlet is there dressed in black, the color of mourning, for his deceased father. His first words say that Claudius is "A little more than kin and less than kind," indicating a dissimilarity in values between the new king and himself. The large variety of “parts” in just the opening scenes testify to the accuracy of Heilman’s assertion.
Another reason for the lofty ranking of Hamlet is