AD's English Literature : “Mimesis” : Mode of Critical Literary Theory

“Mimesis” : Mode of Critical Literary Theory




Mimesis has almost the same meaning as mime but the concept of imitation in this case has wider connotations. Originally, Greek artists were the first to establish mimesis (imitation of nature) as a guiding principle for art, even as Greek philosophers debated the intellectual value of this approach. The repeated depiction of the nude human figure in Greek art reflects Greek humanism—a belief that 'Man is the measure of all things,' in the words of Greek philosopher Protagoras. Architecture is another Greek legacy that the West has inherited, as Greece established many of the structural elements, decorative motifs, and building types still used in architecture today. Aristotle in poetics, states that tragedy is an imitation of an action, but the uses the term comprehensively to refer to the construction of a play and what is put into it. We should use mimesis to mean representation, which relates to verisimilitude. The outstanding work in this topic is Eric Auerbach’s Mimesis (1957).

As a literary genre, the term signifies the attempt by one writer to rework the structure and theme of an earlier writer’s work recast a contemporary mood. The form is most prominent in verse, and the most notable examples date from the late Renaissance period, culminating in the wok of the Restoration and Augustan poets, who frequently wrote imitations of the famous classical poets, Juvenal and Horace being the most cultivated. By this means satire could be updated for instance but the framework of similarities to an age long past could be invoked for special effect. The from is distinct from a translation and allows considerably more poetic license. The Latin original (imitation) and its Greekcounterpart (mimesis) have a stricter intellectual connotation, referring to the whole of the representation of reality through the written word.


Literary theory during and after the romantic period regarded imitation is sense as a somewhat inferior practice, derivative lacking in originality. Prior to that and for many centuries it had been regarded as a wholly respectable practice. Aristotle advocated it, so did Cicero and Horace. The idea was that a writer should learn everything he could from the masters who were his predecessors. This point of view prevailed during the medieval and Renaissance periods and continued into the 17th century.  




Ref: 1. History of English Literature- Albert,      

     2. The Concise Cambridge History of English Literature

      3. Microsoft Students’ Encarta Eric Bentley




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