David Tennant as Hamlet in a 2009 production.
BBC Wales, Royal Shakespeare Company
Hamlet, the tormented prince of Denmark, embodies our own struggles: between reason and violence, courage and inaction. He is a modern character in an endlessly quotable play.
Wheel of life and death.
Why is a medieval Tibetan text about death so enduringly popular?
Refugees from Mariupol sit in a bus crossing the Ukraine-Russia border on March 15.
Written more than 200 years ago, Kant’s Toward Perpetual Peace sets out a plan for peace we can still aspire to achieve.
Aomawa Baker as Andromache in a production of The Trojan Woman in Los Angeles.
The Trojan Women is a genocide narrative. In this play, the great Athenian dramatist Euripides explores the enslavement of women, human sacrifice, rape and infanticide.
Ruth Hollick collection. State Library of Victoria
From the author of The Yellow Wallpaper, Herland is a feminist classic: darkly comic and rich with irony.
Nationaal Archief, CC0
Shamefully under-read in English yet a giant of Spanish literature, Nada is unsentimental but deeply human.
Hugo Weaving (left) and Richard Roxburgh in Sydney Theatre Company’s Waiting For Godot in 2013.
AAP Image/Sydney Theatre Company, Lisa Tomasetti
Samuel Beckett’s first play was once most notorious for the audible yawns, walkouts (and fights) during interval. But it is a play of great insight into the condition of waiting.
Giovanni Cariani, Portrait of Two Young Men. The bulk of the sonnets are addressed to a young man known as the ‘fair youth’.
Addressed to a ‘fair youth’ and later, ‘a dark lady’, the sonnets are less well known than Shakespeare’s plays. A journey into them is an unsettling and beguiling literary adventure.
In this influential novel, two Persians travel to Paris and report their bemusement at its customs. Questions such as the dilemmas of tolerance and the social nature of our identities are explored.
Atelier de Nicolas de Largilliere, portrait of Voltaire at 24.
A gem of restrained outrage, Voltaire’s novella speaks powerfully to us in this time of pandemics, floods, conspiracy theories and growing incivility.
First published 150 years ago, this work is shaped by Victorian-era sexual and racial stereotypes. But at a time when other evolutionists stressed humanity’s uniqueness, Darwin emphasised our ‘lowly nature’.
Walt Disney Animation Studios, Walt Disney Productions
First published in 1865, Lewis Carroll’s children’s book has never been out of print. It continues to appeal to adults who prefer childhood.
Written by Kenneth Grahame as a story for his young son, The Wind in the Willows has also been read as a social satire and a gay allegory.
National Film & Sound Archive
Miles Franklin’s masterpiece features an untamed, unapologetic heroine, positing a choice between career and love rather than women ‘having it all’.
A new Netflix adaptation of Rebecca stars Lily James and Armie Hammer. The novel on which it is based, first published in 1938, explores domestic entrapment.
A new film version of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden opens today. First published in 1911, the novel foregrounds Edwardian beliefs about the importance of gardens that still resonate.
A scene from the Decameron painted by Carlo Coppede in 1916.
Written between 1348 and 1353, the Decameron is a prescription for psychological survival, a way of mentally distancing from today’s death counts and grim economic forecasts.
A statue of Marcus Aurelius in Rome’s Piazza del Campidoglio.
Jean-Pol Grandmont/Wikimedia Commons
The Meditations, by Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius, has been described as an ageless, secular gospel. Written in a time of pandemic, it speaks powerfully to us today.
H. G. Wells helped pioneer science fiction with his 1898 book The War of the Worlds. Many iterations later, it still scares and fascinates us.
The Leopard (Il Gattopardo) has been regarded as a classic of European literature since soon after its publication in 1958. It recounts the decline and fall of Sicily’s aristocracy.