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Lee Jamieson

'Hamlet' is Shakespeare’s Best Play (Apparently)

By November 24, 2008

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In the Sunday Telegraph (23 November), a survey of over 300 actors, writers, directors and producers declared Hamlet to be Shakespeare’s greatest play, followed closely by A Midsummer Night’s Dream and King Lear. Hamlet also came out on top in the favorite hero category.

Personally, my favorite tragedy is Macbeth and I was saddened to see that this play ranked fourth with only 9% of the votes. I was also shocked to see Much Ado About Nothing, surely one of Shakespeare’s most enjoyable plays, only receiving 5%.

So, what is it about Hamlet that is so enduring?

Certainly, Hamlet is Shakespeare’s most psychologically complex character, balancing grief and affection so perfectly – as the critic James Agate once said, “Hamlet must make us cry one minute and shudder the next”.

Something tells me that Hamlet may be a favorite from the point of view of the actor or director, but not necessarily from the point of view of the audience – Watching Hamlet, I always find myself wanting to scream, “Just get on with it, man!” at the top of my voice.

The actors and directors have voted and now it’s your turn. Vote on your favorite Shakespeare tragedy and let your voice be heard on About.com.


November 24, 2008 at 8:18 am
(1) james says:

Whew! I’d hate to see where my favorite was ranked; on second thought zilch I’m sure, as I (maybe one or two) whose favorite play is LLL. So there!

November 24, 2008 at 8:56 am
(2) Lee Jamieson says:

Sorry James! Your suspicions were well-founded – Love’s Labour’s Lost didn’t even feature!

The good news, however, is that the play didn’t feature on the ‘Least Popular’ list either … every cloud …

November 26, 2008 at 12:50 pm
(3) Maggi says:

As an English teacher, I love the time I spend on Hamlet each spring. It truly is a story that everyone can relate to. We all know about evil step parents, even if we don’t have one (or two) of our own.

Just how do we handle what life throws at us?

November 26, 2008 at 1:20 pm
(4) Tracy says:

What, no Cymbeline?

November 26, 2008 at 10:12 pm
(5) Emm says:

I don’t know… if we’re talking about tragedies, Othello and Macbeth would give Hamlet a run for its money. For all-time favorites, I’d have to say Henry IV part 1; its got the funny (Falstaff) and the chivalry (Hotspur) and the elegant speeches (“Do not think so; you shall not find it so!”). As an actor, however, Richard II is by far the most amazing. Audiences don’t seem to enjoy it so much, however.

November 27, 2008 at 5:15 pm
(6) Robert McConnell says:

I must be the only person who thinks All’s Well That Ends Well is the best of the plays. Not a dull moment in the play. Parrolles is a wonderful character who can be played many ways. The King is also marvelous. I actually played First Lord in one production. A fine small role. And the women are fine too. And the clown…I could go on and on.

November 29, 2008 at 12:23 am
(7) the bard's buddy says:

What, no love for the greatest villain and revenge play? Here’s to Richard III, my favorite!

December 2, 2008 at 12:45 pm
(8) DK says:

Wow, I’ve read nearly all of Shakespeare’s work, and I respectfully disagree with all of you. The sheer weight of Hamlet or the Play-that-shall-not-be-named (I’m supersticious, can’t you tell I’m an actor?) is enough to make me want to end my life violently (coincidence?).

I vote for Julius Caesar, followed by The Winter’s Tale and The Merchant of Venice, none of which were even close, I’m sure. Although I am quite fond of Lear and Much Ado as well, for what it’s worth.

December 3, 2008 at 9:55 am
(9) Bullit says:

I think hamlet is one of the greater written plays,
i just started reading literature a while ago.

And i can remember hamlet the most, because at that time i read it, and i could identify,

a story to remember and at that time a time to remember a story.

December 10, 2008 at 8:26 am
(10) Bullit says:

I think as i said before hamlet is one of my favorites …

I want to know because i just started reading if anyone can tell me a book that’s deffinately one to recommend.

Please let me know ??

As i allready said i love the book of hamlet, and i also read julius ceasar, and with hamlet i have learned to gain a view from another sight, but with juluis ceasar at that time it was one i could relate to most.

So when i read a novle i want te be able to identify or relate some special things to.

So please let me know if you have a suggestion.

November 14, 2009 at 10:51 am
(11) Dawood says:

Oscar Wilde: “We become lovers when we see Romeo and Juliet, and Hamlet makes us students.”

..check other notable tributes and quotes on William Shakespeare from famous peers: http://www.tributespaid.com/quotes-on/william-shakespeare

November 27, 2009 at 9:07 am
(12) Dr. HR Srinatha says:

In my eyes, Julius Caesar and Merchant of Venice are the best tragedies and comedies. In Caesar, what a magnificent characterization we find of Caesar! All characters are true to life; Brutus, Antony, I mean all. In the Merchant, how well Shakespeare understood the heart of a troubled Jew in Shylock!
The truth is that Shakespeare was a rare genius all of whose plays depict this greatness. It is just our individual choice based on our preferences that make us declare one play over the other. As a student of Shakespeare, this is how it appears to me.

December 28, 2011 at 6:41 am
(13) Unegesidney says:

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January 31, 2013 at 4:13 pm
(14) zed says:

I like 12th night essentially for its comical properties and the character of viola (who i think fell in love with a guy way beneath what she deserved!)

February 11, 2013 at 11:03 pm
(15) George says:

Macbeth was my favorite as a high schooler and remains my favorite, the biggest change in favorites was once my least favorite, The Tempest, being 43 makes a very different play to me now even though I am not a parent.

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