—Walter Pater, The Renaissance, Studies in Art and Poetry. Conclusion.
Excerpt of “La Gioconda,” from Walter Pater’s Studies in the History of the Renaissance, describing Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa
Never have I loved a piece of criticism as much as Pater’s. Beautifully written as to give justice to great works of art. I may not agree with Oscar Wilde on some things, but Pater’s great decadent essays should be savored.
The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark
(Act 3, scene 2, 17–24)
Echoing the classical authors, Hamlet’s passage stresses the playwright’s presentation of dramatic action in a verisimilar manner, without exaggeration or distortion, without bombast or excessive sentimentality. In the theatrical mirror we see our virtues and vices reflected back to us in their true shape: that’s the theater’s moral function.
Oscar Wilde, in The Decay of Lying (1899-1901) references this passage in his essay not in support of realism in art, but as a trite, erroneous device used by critics who lack imagination and the appreciation of lying:
“No doubt there will always be critics who…will gravely censure the teller of fairy tales for his defective knowledge of natural history, who will measure imaginative work by their own lack of any imaginative faculty… To excuse themselves they will try and shelter under the shield of him who made Prospero the magician…They will call upon Shakespeare — they always do — and will quote that hackneyed passage forgetting that this unfortunate aphorism about Art holding the mirror up to Nature, is deliberately said by Hamlet in order to convince the bystanders of his absolute insanity in all art-matters.”