Bloom, Harold. Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human. New York: Riverhead Books, 1999.
Literary critic Harold Bloom believed that Shakespeare invented the very concept of ‘personality’ as we understand it today. This book develops that argument, devoting a chapter to each of Shakespeare’s plays.
Bradley, A. C. Shakespearean Tragedy. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, reprint edition 2007.
This influential work created a new way to think about Shakespeare’s tragedies. Bradley imagined Shakespeare’s characters as real people, with offstage lives, as a way to explore Shakespeare’s skill in creating psychological portraits. This approach has gone in and out of fashion over the years, but it remains compelling.
Eliot, T. S. “Hamlet and His Problems.” In The Sacred Wood. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, reprint edition 1997.
Poet and critic T.S. Eliot dared to suggest that Hamlet is an artistic failure: in this essay he argues that Hamlet is mysterious because Shakespeare could not find a way to express Hamlet’s emotion in a way the audience can access. Understandably controversial, Eliot’s essay remains an important starting-point for many conversations about Hamlet.
Frye, Northrop. Fools of Time: Studies in Shakespearean Tragedy. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, reprint edition 1996.
This series of lectures by one of the twentieth century’s most important critics argues that all Shakespeare’s tragedies share the central theme of ‘being in time’: the suffering caused by the unique human understanding that death is the inevitable end of life. Frye subdivides the tragedies into three types, each with a different approach to ‘being in time,’ and analyses them with reference to the plays.
Greenblatt, Stephen. Hamlet in Purgatory. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001.
Stephen Greenblatt tries to imagine the experience of death and grief in Shakespeare’s lifetime, when religious upheaval had radically changed English people’s beliefs about the afterlife. Combining historical scholarship and empathy, Greenblatt offers a fascinating new way to read Hamlet.
Husain, Adrian A. Politics and Genre in Hamlet. New York: Oxford University Press, reprint edition 2007.
This short essay considers the Renaissance political theories that might have shaped Hamlet. Husain argues that the play’s genre is not fixed but in transition, reflecting a political transition in Shakespeare’s England.
Kerrigan, William. Hamlet’ s Perfection. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996.
Kerrigan’s readable study focuses on the way Hamlet’s character grows over the course of the play. He argues that Hamlet’s mysteries and complexities make it the perfect literary reckoning with the complex historical moment in which it was written.
Kinney, Arthur F. Hamlet: Critical Essays. Oxford, UK: Routledge, Inc., 2001.
This collection of ten essays examines Hamlet from many different angles. Topics include the stage history of the play, race in Hamlet, and the play’s reception by readers in the twentieth century.
Wilson, John Dover. What Happens in Hamlet. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1951
What Happens in Hamlet is a classic of Shakespeare criticism, and still one of the most influential studies of Hamlet. Dover Wilson explores each of the play’s many mysteries—Hamlet’s madness, why Hamlet is so angry with Gertrude, and so on—and offers compelling explanations for most of them.