Any one of these authors created the face that launched a thousand books — or more precisely thousands of books. More books have been written about the literary works of Shakespeare, Dante, Goethe, Cervantes, and Dickens (and in that order) than any other author. The characters that these authors created are larger than life, transcending time and place. Since their creation, these fictional characters have influenced and had a lasting impact on mankind. Through Shakespeare’s Hamlet, or Goethe’s Faust, or Cervantes’s Don Quixote, or Dicken’s Oliver Twist we gain a better understanding of the human condition and the eternal search for meaning. To paraphrase Hamlet, the great characters of literature are “the mirror held up to nature;” when we look into the eyes of Lear or Cordelia we see something of ourselves, ushering in a more profound self awareness and the willingness to grow as human beings.
For further reading: The Literary Life by Robert Hendrickson, Harcourt Brace (1994). 101 of the Most Influential People Who Never Lived by Alan Lazar, et al, Bristol Park Books (2006).