Emeritus Professor John Hardy returned to Bond University this week to launch his new book Shakespeare's Great Tragedies: Experiencing Their Impact.
It was a homecoming for Professor Hardy, a 'born and bred' Gold Coaster who was Foundation Dean of the university's former Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, now the Faculty of Society and Design.
Professor Hardy said Hamlet, Othello, King Lear and Macbeth had no parallel in world literature.
"Their most searing moment is when Lear enters with his favourite daughter Cordelia dead in his arms," Professor Hardy said.
"He asks the unanswerable question: 'Why should a dog, a horse, a rat, have life, and thou no breath at all?'
"There is no answer to this except that life can at times be so cruel."
Professor Hardy dedicated the book to his late wife Patricia.
He said the power of Shakespeare’s work lay in his unflinching depiction of life.
"While some critics have tried to compare Shakespeare's great tragedies with ancient Greek tragedies, and while Greek tragedy is impressive, Shakespeare's great tragedies outstrip the work of the ancients in a fundamental way.
"Greek tragedies invariably end with an intonation that all is for the best according to the will of the gods.
"Shakespeare's great tragedies offer no such convenient consolation. His tragedies deal with this world, forcing us to come to terms with what can happen in life."
Bond University Deputy Vice Chancellor Alan Finch paid tribute to his former colleague.
"John was something of a rarity because among us interlopers, he was a local -- a Gold Coaster born and bred," Mr Finch said.
"This unassuming and delightful bloke is also a Rhodes Scholar and was a Fellow of Magdalen College at the University of Oxford.
"He held three chairs in English literature in Australian universities and was a fellow of the Australian Academy of Humanities.
"He remains the same grounded and unpretentious individual."
Former Vice Chancellor of Bond and Newcastle universities, Professor Raoul Mortley, said Professor Hardy’s work was a foil against the ‘deconstruction’ of Shakespeare.
“It has been a delight for me to read something so ingenious and so insightful into a classic writer,” Professor Mortley said.
“It’s refreshing to see the author treated with respect for once in a while."
Professor Hardy worked at Bond University from 1988 until his retirement in 1994.
He made key appointments during that time including Professor Mortley and Professor Adam Shoemaker, now the Vice Chancellor and President of Southern Cross University.
He made one of the first appointments of an Aboriginal academic, Clifford Watego, and introduced communication and journalism degrees.
Shakespeare's Great Tragedies: Experiencing Their Impact is published by Routledge.