how many have you read?

rollover books for details

  • Dante | Inferno
  • Thoreau | Walden
  • Sophocles | Oedipus Rex
  • Kafka | Metamorphosis
  • Melville | Moby-Dick
  • Shakespeare | Hamlet
  • Homer | The Odyssey
  • Austen | Pride and Prejudice
  • Bronte | Jane Eyre
  • Steinbeck | Of Mice and Men

the number 5 pick

In this clip, Kendra Levin, an Associate Editor, Viking Children's Books, talks about Shakespeare's classic. Click here to watch the complete twenty-minute video program, The Ten Essential Penguin Classics, highlighting each of the essential books.


ISBN 9780140714548 | $6.00 |

I feel that I have spent half my career with one or another Pelican Shakespeare in my back pocket. Convenience, however, is the least important aspect of the new Pelican Shakespeare series. Here is an elegant and clear text for either the study or the rehearsal room, notes where you need them and the distinguished scholarship of the general editors, Stephen Orgel and A. R. Braunmuller who understand that these are plays for performance as well as great texts for contemplation." (Patrick Stewart)

Kendra sent us these thoughts about why Shakespeare's play is essential, and you can also read her essay "I (Heart) Hamlet" on the Penguin Blog...

Why It's a Classic:
All Shakespeare's works are classics, but Hamlet is unique because Hamlet himself is utterly unique in English literature. He was the origin of what we now call the "anti-hero," and he struggles with issues that transcend the era of the play's writing. Hamlet was startlingly ahead of its time—it employed Freudian theories hundreds of years before Freud was born, and contains numerous words, expressions, and ideas still in common use today. On top of all that, it's a fantastic story about life and death.

What It Influenced:
Writers all over the world have been influenced by Hamlet, from Elizabethan times to present day; I'm hard-pressed to think of a major literary voice who hasn't.

Another Great Book By This Author:
Shakespeare was a true master of storytelling and language, from the sublime to the ridiculous. His best-known tragedies and comedies are all amazing, but I also recommend the histories; Henry IV Part 1 is right up there on my own personal top ten list. Then there are the really can't lose with anything by Shakespeare!

Contemporary Example of the Theme/Story:
Hamlet is notoriously difficult to adapt, but David Wroblewski recently wrote an excellent modern adaptation in his novel The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. Viking Children's Books author Lizabeth Zindel has a fun, gender-bending Hamlet adaptation called A Girl, A Ghost, and the Hollywood Hills coming out in 2010.

Is the Movie Version Any Good?:
My favorite on-screen Hamlet is Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (1990), written and directed by Tom Stoppard. It's the most clever and ingenious interpretation of the play I've seen in a film—and I wasn't crazy about Mel Gibson, Kenneth Branagh, or Ethan Hawke as Hamlet.

Related Forgotten Classic:
Fans of Shakespeare's work should check out the Spanish playwright and poet Lope de Vega, who in many ways did for Spanish theatre what Shakespeare did in England.

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