Do realism and imagination coexist side by side and equally present within the Shakespearean drama Hamlet? Let us examine the evidence from the play, along with literary critical opinion on this subject.
In “Acts III and IV: Problems of Text and Staging” Ruth Nevo explains how “all things are opposite of what they seem” at a crucial time in the play:
In the prayer scene and the closet scene his [Hamlet’s] devices are overthrown. His mastery is confounded by the inherent liability of human reason to jump to conclusions, to fail to distinguish seeming from being. He, of all people, is trapped in the fatal deceptive maze of appearances that is the phenomenal world. Never perhaps has the mind’s finitude been better dramatized than in the prayer scene and in the closet scene. Another motto of the Player King is marvelously fulfilled in the nexus of ironies which constitutes the plays peripateia: “Our thoughts are ours, their ends none of our own.” In the sequence of events following Hamlet’s elation at the success of the Mousetrap, and culminating in the death of Polonius, all things are the opposite of what they seem, and action achieves the reverse of what was intended. Here in the play’s peripeteia is enacted Hamlet’s fatal error, his fatal misjudgment, which constitutes the crisis of the action, and is the directly precipitating cause of his own death, seven other deaths, and Ophelia’s madness. (52)
According to the best of literary critics, realism is basically “representing human life and experience” (Abrams 260). In the essay “An Explication of the Player’s Speech,” Harry Levin explains how the playwright achieves an “imitation of life” in his play:
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...are. N.p.: Princeton University Press, 1972.
Pitt, Angela. “Women in Shakespeare’s Tragedies.” Readings on The Tragedies. Ed. Clarice Swisher. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1996. Excerpted from Shakespeare’s Women. N.p.: n.p., 1981.
Rosenberg, Marvin. “Laertes: An Impulsive but Earnest Young Aristocrat.” Readings on Hamlet. Ed. Don Nardo. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1999. Rpt. from The Masks of Hamlet. Newark, NJ: University of Delaware Press, 1992.
Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 1995. http://www.chemicool.com/Shakespeare/hamlet/full.html
West, Rebecca. “A Court and World Infected by the Disease of Corruption.” Readings on Hamlet. Ed. Don Nardo. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1999. Rpt. from The Court and the Castle. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1957.