Is there mimesis in "Hamlet"?

2 Answers | Add Yours

robertwilliam's profile pic

robertwilliam | College Teacher | (Level 2) Senior Educator

Posted on

Mimesis is simply the imitation of life in art: holding the mirror up to nature, as Hamlet himself says in his advice to the players. Acting and theatre are key to "Hamlet", as the exceptional Shakespearean critic Anne Barton points out in her writings on the play.

Where does mimesis appear then? You could look almost anywhere:

  • Claudius, who can smile and smile (acting!) and still be a villain.
  • The ghost, who might be some "goblin damned" acting like Hamlet's father in order to trick him.
  • Hamlet himself acts - and does a speech for the players...
  • The players, who perform a play at Hamlet's request.
  • Polonius claims to have acted Julius Caesar when he was at university.
  • Rosencrantz and Guildenstern pretend to be genuinely concerned about Hamlet; in fact, they are only acting.
  • And, not least, Hamlet's "antic disposition" - his madness - which even he¬†admits is "put on" in the play (though critics disagree about whether it stays under his control).
  • And, if you know anything about revenge tragedy, you might consider Hamlet's failure to revenge (a failure to act, be active) as a failure to act like a revenger.

Any point in the play where someone uses art or craft to seem like something they are not can be said to be mimetic. And the acting impulse runs right through the very heart of "Hamlet" - all plays, after all, are mimetic, holding the mirror up to nature.

We’ve answered 318,915 questions. We can answer yours, too.

Ask a question