William Shakespeare’s plays have long been regarded as works of literary merit due to their complexity and thematic depth, as well as their universal appeal and ability to stand the test of time. One of Shakespeare’s most renowned plays, The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, subsequently referred to as Hamlet, is an ideal example as it satisfies the requirements of literary works of merit. Complexity is a characteristic of literary merit found in Shakespeare’s works, and most evidently, in his characters. Hamlet, for example, is considered to be the epitome of complex characters, as he displays many layers throughout the play.
It’s obvious that this tragic character is indecisive and unsure at times, including when he contemplates suicide, in his relationship with women, and when to kill his uncle, King Claudius. For example, in Act Two, Scene Two, Polonius, advisor to Claudius, reads aloud a love letter written by Hamlet to Ophelia, his supposed love interest. In this letter, Hamlet declares his love for Ophelia, and tells her never to doubt his love. However, when talking personally to Ophelia in the next act, Hamlet tells her that he never loved her.
Yet, at Ophelia’s funeral in the final act of the play, Hamlet tells the attendees that he had more love for Ophelia than does forty thousand brothers for each other. This happens to be one of many examples of Hamlet’s complexity, mostly due to his “feigning” of madness throughout the vast majority of the play. This characteristic of complex characters is one reason why Shakespeare’s works are considered to be of literary merit. Another characteristic of literary merit that Shakespeare’s works display is thematic depth, especially in Hamlet. A major theme in this tragedy is that of revenge, which can be seen frequently throughout the play.
There is the obvious plot of revenge in the play as Hamlet tries to avenge Claudius of King Hamlet’s death. There exist two other plots as Laertes attempts to avenge Polonius’ and Ophelia’s deaths, as well as Prince Fortinbras avenging his father’s death. A thematic depth is composed as these three separate scenarios are woven together, calling the value and necessity of revenge into question. Another prominent theme in Hamlet is death. From the appearance of the dead King Hamlet’s ghost in the opening scene to the carnage of the final scene, the knowledge of life and the mystery of death are examined.
Hamlet’s “to be or not to be” soliloquy is a perfect illustration as he ponders over the idea of suicide. Because Shakespeare is able to bring up discussion and call certain ideas into question with such themes, his works are thematically deeper, making them of literary merit. Despite having been composed over four hundred years ago, William Shakespeare’s plays have stood the test of time and have proven valuable in many academic fields, other than English. The cause of this is Shakespeare’s ability to provide insight into the human condition, as well as his ability to include universal themes in his plays, so as to gain more appeal.
Shakespeare’s plays explore ideas that are prevalent in the human condition, such as vengeance, romance, and jealousy, which creates universal appeal and paves the way for the analysis of the human condition in the sub-fields of humanities: psychology, sociology, anthropology, etc. In the case of Sigmund Freud, the founding father of psychoanalysis, his The Interpretation of Dreams, explores the foundation of Hamlet on the Oedipus Tyrannus (Oedipus Rex). Freud explains that Hamlet’s hesitation at avenging his uncle is due to the repression of his subconscious desires.
Another example of this cross-curricular analysis of Shakespeare’s works can be seen in Laura Bohannan’s essay, “Shakespeare in the Bush,” in which Bohannan attempts to tell the story of Hamlet to a group of Nigerian villagers. This essay, along with Hamlet is used by students of both anthropology and linguistics as a way of understanding the effects of perspective on one’s perception and expectations. Therefore, because Shakespeare’s works have stood the test of time, and continue to be valued in many academic fields, his works are of literary merit.
Ultimately, William Shakespeare’s works, specifically Hamlet, have all demonstrated their literary merit because of their complexity and thematic depth, along with their value and ability to stand the test of time. Works Cited Bohannan, Laura. Shakespeare in the Bush. Print. Freud, Sigmund, A. A. Brill, Daniel T. O’Hara, and Gina Masucci MacKenzie. The Interpretation of Dreams. New York: Barnes ; Noble Classics, 2005. Print. Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince Of Denmark. Ed. Barbara A. Mowat and Paul Werstine. New York, NY, USA: Washington Square, 1992. Print.