Great Books 102: Renaissance to Modern

Shakespeare's Hamlet: How Not to Be a Prince


The author T.S. Eliot praised Hamlet as “the ‘Mona Lisa’ of literature.” In this tragedy, Shakespeare explores the soul of a potential leader. Near the beginning of the play, Hamlet, the crown prince of Denmark, is told by his father’s ghost that he was murdered by his brother, Claudius, the current king of Denmark. As Hamlet attempts to fulfill the ghost’s commandment to seek revenge, tragedy ensues. The author of the play reveals that Hamlet lacks the classic virtues of temperance and prudence.


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Recommended Readings

Discussion Questions

  • Why should a leader seek to develop the virtues that Hamlet lacks?
  • What is Hamlet’s orientation toward those who try to advise and help him?
  • What does Hamlet teach about uncontrolled passion?

Q & A Session

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Stephen Smith is the Temple Family Professor in English Literature at Hillsdale College. He received his B.A. from the University of Notre Dame and his M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Dallas.