What Is a Literary Masterpiece?

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A literary masterpiece is a work of literature that is considered to be outstanding in terms of its artistry and technique, and is held in high esteem as an original work to be read and studied. A literary masterpiece can take the form of any written work, including a poem, short story, play or novel.

Literary masterpieces, such as the plays of William Shakespeare, have structure and meaning that apply to all of humanity and have survived the passage of time. For example, “Hamlet” masterfully portrays themes involving death and revenge that have universal appeal. Literary masterpieces often make a strong emotional impact on the reader and are influential in shaping world literature.

However, many literary masterpieces are revered more in some cultures than others. For instance, Racine’s plays are considered to be literary masterpieces in the French cultural tradition and are often taught in American universities, but they may not hold equal value in other cultures.

The Greeks developed a system of gathering together literature and forming a library of great works of their cultural predecessors. Scholars in the West adopted this practice of validating works that are considered to be the best and most worthy of being commended as having considerable artistic value. These classic works are often taught in humanities courses at universities and other schools and are referred to as the literary canon.