Are Hamlet & King Lear The Best Shakespeare Plays?

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William Shakespeare is a poetic, metaphoric, and rhythmic writer whose cleverness and talent is still celebrated and performed across stages today. Plays and sonnets also live on in classrooms, serving as middle school and high school English lessons and drama club inspiration.

Surely, his most popular is likely show-stealing Romeo & Juliet. The deathly love story is considered an epitome of true love even though poison manages to sweep lives. Macbeth, also a common favorite, is packed with witches and black magic. Shakespeare’s plots and ploys are truly something unique.

In total, I have read nine of Shakespeare’s plays. Romeo & Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Twelfth Night, Macbeth, Hamlet, King Lear, Othello, A Winter’s Tale, and All’s Well That End’s Well. Out of this extensive list, two of the plays rank high on my list of favorites.

Hamlet and King Lear.

Why?

Hamlet is a character who deserves compassion and sympathy from the reader, something he did not receive within the story as he was viewed as a troubled individual. His life wasn’t the easiest to live and the relationships he formed were not the healthiest, especially with Ophelia. There was a lot of complexity to Hamlet’s character.

His step-father/uncle lacked kindness toward him, seeking his death. Moreover, he had to become acquainted to his father reappearing in a ghostly form.

Numerous times Hamlet was insulted and criticized for mourning the death of his father. King Claudius would often spat at him for missing his father so much, calling him unmanly, which essentially criticized the small ounce of manliness in which he felt. Certainly, I think Claudius impacted Hamlet on a mental level, causing him to suffer from a mental illness. Of course losing his father did not help his maturity and mental capability.

I sympathize with Hamlet on a certain level because I think, as a reader, we have a job at acknowledging the trauma in which he had to suffer. Not all of the tragedy in which Hamlet experienced, or any of the characters in general, was brought on by Hamlet himself. In some ways, Hamlet was innocent. Sure, his own action escalated into murder, but he wasn’t the only killer.

If Hamlet was encouraged to properly mourn his father, would the story have unfolded any different?

If Hamlet was encouraged to mourn his father and was not scolded for lacking manliness, it might mean that his uncle/new father was not out to get him after all. It might mean that their relationship resembled more of a tighter bond. Not totally perfect, but better than it is initially. But Hamlet still may have been affected mentally and emotionally because his father did die and then reappeared in a ghostly form, a form in which Hamlet had to get to know all over again.

Hamlet might be one of the most though provoking characters written by Shakespeare. What appeals to me the most about this story, is that I think there is more to the growth, maturity, and downward spiral of Hamlet. I think sympathy is something he wants to draw from the audience and the characters of the castle, which might not be all that common of behavior from Shakespeare characters, as many of them were spiteful and thrived off of revenge.

Aside from the thick plot of Hamlet, King Lear is also another Shakespearian favorite of mine.

While it is another story focusing on love, it deals with the theme differently than other plays. King Lear isn’t based on love between a male and female with one huge chase. Instead, it is family based. However, what makes the plot thicken, is that the “love” is not necessarily true and similar to Hamlet, mental illness is a big contributor to the exposition, climax, and resolution.

As King Lear wishes to dethrone, he plans to split the land among his three daughters. However, Goneril, Reagan, and Cordelia must shower their father in love, feeding him flattery. The flattery is meant to express how much they love him in trade for the land. Only two daughters fall for the game, while the other is against the ploy.

The “love” in this play is clearly fake, yet still falls to devastation in the end. I think there is also a lot of mental illness problems revolving around King Lear, who felt the urge to make his daughters fight and argue over him. He wanted his daughters to feed him constant flattery, which is typically not the behavior a father seeks out from his children. This eventually leads to corruption and madness for the king, which was predicted and expected from the first Act.

Just like Hamlet, King Lear also has a lot of complexity to his being, which I think makes these two stories intriguing. Also in comparison to Hamlet, the reader sort of feels bad that King Lear feels the need to allow his daughters to shower him in admiration. A sense of sympathy is pulled from the audience as they wish the King to realize who his truest daughter is, Cordelia.

She was the one who loved her father most, coming to his rescue when the anger and madness inside of Lear is unleashed at the end of the play. A daughter’s love is often proven in times of tribulations.

What is your favorite Shakespearian read and what makes it your favorite? What does the theme and message offer compared to Shakespeare’s other successful plays?

 

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5 thoughts on “Are Hamlet & King Lear The Best Shakespeare Plays?”

  1. You do see this sometimes Sierra. Some folks are front runners; meaning some popular plays may be fabulous, but a portion of the popularity is people swayed by others. Happens in all areas of life.

    Like

  2. Lovely post.
    I think Hamlet contains some of Shakespeare’s best ideas, and writing. “To be or not to be”, for one. The tragic scene with Ophelia and the flowers, for another. Personally, though, my favourite play is Richard II, for the sheer beauty of the “let us sit upon the ground and tell sad stories of the death of kings” speech.

    Liked by 1 person

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