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[Perspectives] “The infirmity of his age”: Shakespeare’s 400th anniversary

In 1819 an article in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine asserted that William Shakespeare’s four greatest plays were Hamlet, Macbeth, Othello, and King Lear. A century later, the influential critic A C Bradley reinforced this opinion by devoting his published lectures Shakespearean Tragedy (1904) to these plays, calling them “the big four”. As we celebrate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, they have retained their pre-eminence. Although the comedies and history plays are popular, it is the great tragedies that are most admired.