No doubt, Shakespeare’s tragic drama Hamlet is composed of both realistic and poetic or imaginative elements. Let us explore the presence of both with the play.
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:
Since the theater perforce exaggerates, amplifying its pathos and stylizing its diction, it takes a specially marked degree of amplification and stylization to dramatize the theatrical, as Schlegel realized. Conversely, when matters pertaining to the stage are exhibited upon the stage, to acknowledge their artificiality is to enhance the realism of everything else within view. The contrasting textures of the Player’s fustian and Hamlet’s lines, like the structural contrast between the prevailing blank verse and the rhyming couplets of the play-within-the-play, bring out the realities of the situation by exposing its theatricalities. By exaggeration of drama, by "smelling a little too strongly of the buskin” in Dryden’s phrase, Shakespeare achieves his imitation of life. (42)
Having been briefly exposed to the realism within the play, let us with Richard A. Lanham in “Superposed Plays” consider the poetic or imaginative side of Hamlet:
The real doubt comes when we ask, “What poetic do we bring to the Hamlet play?” As several of its students have pointed out, it is a wordy play. Eloquence haunts it. Horatio starts the wordiness by supplying a footnote from ancient Rome in the first scene, by improving the occasion with informative ref...
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.../other/essayson.htm#demag-ess N. pag.
Pitt, Angela. “Women in Shakespeare’s Tragedies.” Readings on The Tragedies. Ed. Clarice Swisher. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1996. Rpt. 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.
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