How has Hamlet's thick and textured plot, rich characters, and thought-provoking poetry led it to endure the course of time and be praised as one of history's greatest plays?

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iandavidclark3 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Shakespeare's most famous tragedy enjoys the rare distinction of sustained popularity. While the play owes its consistent relevance to several factors, I'd like to highlight a few specific ones. First of all, the play's plot and characters wrestle with universal questions and problems that remain relevant across generational divides. Hamlet proves to be a particularly enigmatic figure, as he struggles to come to terms with his mother's marriage to his uncle, his vow to avenge his father's murder, and his increasingly distressing suicidal impulses. Furthermore, readers continue to debate whether or not Hamlet is crazy, and so the protagonist's questionable sanity lends an intriguingly ambiguous and complex layer to not only the character, but to the plot of the play. It helps that Shakespeare renders all of these components in rich poetry, as the musicality of the language makes the already compelling material even more memorable. The famous "To be or not to be" speech, for instance, transforms Hamlet's flirtation with suicide into a poetic occasion, making his distress a poignant meditation on the meaning of existence. All in all, the play continues to be important because it not only grapples with important and universal issues, but also because it does so with some of the best poetry in the English language.