"Past masterpieces are fit for the past; they are no good to us." Analyze.  

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William Delaney | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The fact that a masterpiece (of literature or any other art form) has survived to the present is proof that it is of value to some people living today. Emerson says in one of his essays that every work of art has to stand in judgment before each new generation, and if the young people do not value it, then that work will pass into oblivion. It is true that some works were only significant to their own times, but works like Homer's Iliad and Odyssey have survived for millenia because each generation of readers has found them interesting and edifying. The same is true of Hamlet, although that play has survived for only some four hundred years. It survives, not because it is taught in English literature classes, but because many people all over the world value its eloquence, it portrayal of human character, its interesting and thought-provoking interior monologues which have had a great influence on modern fiction, and because of its other merits. Some writers survive for only a few generations at most and then fade into oblivion. This could be happening to Tennyson, Sir Walter Scott, and even Robert Burns (it is a matter of opinion); but Shakespeare seems secure for at least a few more centuries.

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