WAS IT A MISTAKE TO WRITE HAMLET? T.S. Eliot’s rules for literature lead him to some unusual judgments. For example, he concludes that: “CORIOLANUS may be not as “interesting” as HAMLET, but it is, with ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA, Shakespeare’s most assured artistic success.” Eliot winds up by implying that Shakespeare should not have written HAMLET. Not only shouldn’t he have written it, but Eliot finds it baffling that he even tried to attempt it: “We must simply admit that here Shakespeare tackled a problem which proved too much for him. Why he attempted it at all is an insoluble puzzle….” Kids, Eliot’s judgmental approach was not unusual when I was studying literature some fifty years ago. Of the several critics whose essays we were assigned on Milton, all but one (the great C.S. Lewis) thought it was a great mistake for Milton to have written PARADISE LOST.

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  1. Mary Jane Schaefer says:

    In graduate school, we read by assignment a book of essays by T.S. Eliot. I wish I could remember the title. Anyway, I thought it was a terrible book, full of cranky quibbles and totally unenlightening. When I had an interview with my professor, William E. Buckler, I asked him why we were reading this book. Perhaps he took this as a personal attack. His reply was, “Because WE don’t burn books.” At the time I was taken aback by the illogic of this. Now, in retrospect, I think he was just trying to put me in the hot seat where he thought I was putting him. But I had naively thought he would have an answer, what he thought this book was going to contribute to our literary educations. His reply seemed absurb. Were there no alternatives between assigning a book and burning it?

  2. Mary Jane Schaefer says:

    Anyone who wishes that Hamlet had never been written is either jealous, crazy, or both. In this case, probably both.

  3. Philip says:

    Jealous, crazy, or perhaps wishing to draw attention to himself.

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