Mimesis is a Greek word meaning imitation or representation. It originates from the root word mime, which means an imitator, a mimic actor. "Mimesis is a dramatic entertainment among the ancient Greeks of Sicily and southern Italy and the Romans, consisting generally of farcical mimicry of real events and persons" (Barnhart 770).
In Plato's Republic, mimesis is used to designate imitation, but in a derogatory way. The term is given a rigorous, postitive meaning in Aristotle's Poetics where it is used to describe a process of selection and representation appropriate to tragedy: 'the imitation of an action'. Mimesis has frequently been associated with the term realism, and with the capacity of language to reflect reality.
Erich Auerbach's best known work, Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature, was first published in German in 1946. The book consists of a wide-ranging discussion taking texts from Shakespeare's Hamlet, and other authors' works to explore the classical doctrine of levels of representation. "The analyses in turn, serve to trace the development in Western literature of Auerbach's own highly individual conception of realism: a serious, even tragic, presentation of everyday life, with full attention both to its sensuous immediacy and to the specific qualities of a particular historical moment" (Hart 68).
Auerbach, Erich. Mimesis, The Representation of Reality in Western Literature.Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1953.
Barnhart, Clarence. The New Century Handbook of English Literature. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, Inc., 1956.
Drabble, Margaret. The Oxford Companion to English Literature. Fifth Edition. London: Oxford University Press, 1985.
Hart, Thomas. World Literature in the 20th Century. New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 1974.
Veitch, Jonathan. American Superrealism. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1997.
Wynne-Davis, Marion. Prentice Hall Guide to English Literature. New York: Bloomsbury Publishing Ltd., 1990.