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While some of Shakespeare's plays (notably the four great tragedies of Hamlet, King Lear, Macbeth and Othello along with The Tempest of his romances) clearly stand out from the rest, their individual reputations among critics have varied from one generation to the next and there have always been dissenting or minority views as to their value. Although the modern poet-critic T.S. Eliot considered Coriolanus to be Shakespeare's best play, the twentieth-century playwright George Bernard Shaw saw it as one of his worst. The only generalization that can be made about the critical appraisal of Shakespeare's plays is that most scholars see the works of the mature Shakespeare who wrote after 1600 as superior to the those written in the first decade of his career. Many of Shakespeare's early comedies rely upon the formula plots and stereotypical characters of Greek and Roman Comedy and are comparatively slight pieces. It is Shakespeare's earliest tragedy, however, Titus Andronicus, that has received the harshest criticism as a bloody, botched, and premature effort at tragedy. Nevertheless, the merits of even this work are still being debated, and Titus Andronicus has undergone an upgrade over the last ten years or so.

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