The poetics deals mostly with what type of play

The plot then is the first principle and as it were the soul of tragedy: character comes second. It is much the same also in painting;.


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And it is mainly because a play is a representation of action that it also for that reason represents people. Third comes "thought. It comes in the dialogue and is the function of the statesman's or the rhetorician's art. The old writers made their characters talk like statesmen, the moderns like rhetoricians. Character is that which reveals choice , shows what sort of thing a man chooses or avoids in circumstances where the choice is not obvious, so those speeches convey no character in which there is nothing whatever which the speaker chooses or avoids.

The fourth of the literary elements is the language. By this I mean, as we said above, the expression of meaning in words, and this is essentially the same in verse and in prose. Of the other elements which "enrich" tragedy the most important is song-making.

Spectacle, while highly effective, is yet quite foreign to the art and has nothing to do with poetry. Indeed the effect of tragedy does not depend on its performance by actors, and, moreover, [20] for achieving the spectacular effects the art of the costumier is more authoritative than that of the poet. After these definitions we must next discuss the proper arrangement of the incidents since this is the first and most important thing in tragedy. We have laid it down that tragedy is a representation of an action that is whole and complete and of a certain magnitude, since a thing may be a whole and yet have no magnitude.

A whole is what has a beginning and middle and end. A beginning is that which is not a necessary consequent of anything else but after which something else exists or happens as a natural result. An end on the contrary is that which is inevitably or, as a rule, the natural result of something else but from which nothing else follows; a middle follows something else and something follows from it.

Well constructed plots must not therefore begin and end at random, but must embody the formulae we have stated. Moreover, in everything that is beautiful, whether it be a living creature or any organism composed of parts, these parts must not only be orderly arranged but must also have a certain magnitude of their own; for beauty consists in magnitude and ordered arrangement. From which it follows that neither would a very small creature be beautiful--for our view of it is almost instantaneous and therefore confused --nor a very large one,.

As then creatures and other organic structures must have a certain magnitude and yet be easily taken in by the eye, so too with plots: they must have length but must be easily taken in by the memory. Chapter III A third difference in these arts is the manner in which one may represent each of these objects. And since tragedy represents action and is acted by living persons, who must of necessity have certain qualities of character and thought--for it is these which determine the quality of an action; [a][1] indeed thought and character are the natural causes of any action and it is in virtue of these that all men succeed or fail-- it follows then that it is the plot which represents the action.

It is much the same also in painting; [b][1] if a man smeared a canvas with the loveliest colors at random, it would not give as much pleasure as an outline in black and white. Chapter VII After these definitions we must next discuss the proper arrangement of the incidents since this is the first and most important thing in tragedy. From which it follows that neither would a very small creature be beautiful--for our view of it is almost instantaneous and therefore confused --nor a very large one, [a][1] since being unable to view it all at once, we lose the effect of a single whole; for instance, suppose a creature a thousand miles long.

Skilled mimics can imitate people we know, by voice, gesture, and so on, and here already we must engage intelligence and imagination together. The dramatist imitates things more remote from the eye and ear than familiar people. Sophocles and Shakespeare, for example, imitate repentance and forgiveness, true instances of action in Aristotle's sense of the word, and we need all the human powers to recognize what these poets put before us. So the mere phrase imitation of an action is packed with meaning, available to us as soon as we ask what an action is, and how the image of such a thing might be perceived.

Aristotle does understand tragedy as a development out of the child's mimicry of animal noises, but that is in the same way that he understands philosophy as a development out of our enjoyment of sight-seeing Metaphysics I, 1. In each of these developments there is a vast array of possible intermediate stages, but just as philosophy is the ultimate form of the innate desire to know, tragedy is considered by Aristotle the ultimate form of our innate delight in imitation. His beloved Homer saw and achieved the most important possibilities of the imitation of human action, but it was the tragedians who, refined and intensified the form of that imitation, and discovered its perfection.

A work is a tragedy, Aristotle tells us, only if it arouses pity and fear. Why does he single out these two passions? Some interpreters think he means them only as examples--pity and fear and other passions like that--but I am not among those loose constructionists. Aristotle does use a word that means passions of that sort toiouta , but I think he does so only to indicate that pity and fear are not themselves things subject to identification with pin-point precision, but that each refers to a range of feeling.

It is just the feelings in those two ranges, however, that belong to tragedy. Why shouldn't some tragedy arouse pity and joy, say, and another fear and cruelty? In various places, Aristotle says that it is the mark of an educated person to know what needs explanation and what doesn't. He does not try to prove that there is such a thing as nature, or such a thing as motion, though some people deny both.

Likewise, he understands the recognition of a special and powerful form of drama built around pity and fear as the beginning of an inquiry, and spends not one word justifying that restriction.

Aristotle’s Rhetoric

We, however, can see better why he starts there by trying out a few simple alternatives. Suppose a drama aroused pity in a powerful way, but aroused no fear at all. This is an easily recognizable dramatic form, called a tear-jerker. The name is meant to disparage this sort of drama, but why?


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Imagine a well written, well made play or movie that depicts the losing struggle of a likable central character. We are moved to have a good cry, and are afforded either the relief of a happy ending, or the realistic desolation of a sad one. In the one case the tension built up along the way is released within the experience of the work itself; in the other it passes off as we leave the theater, and readjust our feelings to the fact that it was, after all, only make-believe. What is wrong with that? There is always pleasure in strong emotion, and the theater is a harmless place to indulge it.

We may even come out feeling good about being so compassionate. But Dostoyevski depicts a character who loves to cry in the theater, not noticing that while she wallows in her warm feelings her coach-driver is shivering outside. She has day-dreams about relieving suffering humanity, but does nothing to put that vague desire to work.

If she is typical, then the tear-jerker is a dishonest form of drama, not even a harmless diversion but an encouragement to lie to oneself. Well then, let's consider the opposite experiment, in which a drama arouses fear in a powerful way, but arouses little or no pity. This is again a readily recognizable dramatic form, called the horror story, or in a recent fashion, the mad-slasher movie.

The thrill of fear is the primary object of such amusements, and the story alternates between the build-up of apprehension and the shock of violence. Again, as with the tear-jerker, it doesn't much matter whether it ends happily or with uneasiness, or even with one last shock, so indeterminate is its form. And while the tearjerker gives us an illusion of compassionate delicacy, the unrestrained shock-drama obviously has the effect of coarsening feeling. Genuine human pity could not co-exist with the so-called graphic effects these films use to keep scaring us.

The attraction of this kind of amusement is again the thrill of strong feeling, and again the price of indulging the desire for that thrill may be high. Let us consider a milder form of the drama built on arousing fear. There are stories in which fearsome things are threatened or done by characters who are in the end defeated by means similar to, or in some way equivalent to, what they dealt out.

The fear is relieved in vengeance, and we feel a satisfaction that we might be inclined to call justice. To work on the level of feeling, though, justice must be understood as the exact inverse of the crime--doing to the offender the sort of thing he did or meant to do to others.

The imagination of evil then becomes the measure of good, or at least of the restoration of order. The satisfaction we feel in the vicarious infliction of pain or death is nothing but a thin veil over the very feelings we mean to be punishing. This is a successful dramatic formula, arousing in us destructive desires that are fun to feel, along with the self-righteous illusion that we are really superior to the character who displays them. The playwright who makes us feel that way will probably be popular, but he is a menace.

We have looked at three kinds of non-tragedy that arouse passions in a destructive way, and we could add others. There are potentially as many kinds as there are passions and combinations of passions. That suggests that the theater is just an arena for the manipulation of passions in ways that are pleasant in the short run and at least reckless to pursue repeatedly.

At worst, the drama could be seen as dealing in a kind of addiction, which it both produces and holds the only remedy for. But we have not yet tried to talk about the combination of passions characteristic of tragedy. When we turn from the sort of examples I have given, to the acknowledged examples of tragedy, we find ourselves in a different world. The tragedians I have in mind are five: Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides; Shakespeare, who differs from them only in time; and Homer, who differs from them somewhat more, in the form in which he composed, but shares with them the things that matter most.

I could add other authors, such as Dostoyevski, who wrote stories of the tragic kind in much looser literary forms, but I want to keep the focus on a small number of clear paradigms. When we look at a tragedy we find the chorus in Antigone telling us what a strange thing a human being is, that passes beyond all boundaries lines ff. I could add more examples of this kind by the dozen, and your memories will supply others. Tragedy seems always to involve testing or finding the limits of what is human. This is no mere orgy of strong feeling, but a highly focussed way of bringing our powers to bear on the image of what is human as such.

I suggest that Aristotle is right in saying that the powers which first of all bring this human image to sight for us are pity and fear. It is obvious that the authors in our examples are not just putting things in front of us to make us cry or shiver or gasp. The feelings they arouse are subordinated to another effect. Aristotle begins by saying that tragedy arouses pity and fear in such a way as to culminate in a cleansing of those passions, the famous catharsis.

The word is used by Aristotle only the once, in his preliminary definition of tragedy. I think this is because its role is taken over later in the Poetics by another, more positive, word, but the idea of catharsis is important in itself, and we should consider what it might mean. First of all, the tragic catharsis might be a purgation. Fear can obviously be an insidious thing that undermines life and poisons it with anxiety.

It would be good to flush this feeling from our systems, bring it into the open, and clear the air. This may explain the appeal of horror movies, that they redirect our fears toward something external, grotesque, and finally ridiculous, in order to puncture them. On the other hand, fear might have a secret allure, so that what we need to purge is the desire for the thrill that comes with fear. The horror movie also provides a safe way to indulge and satisfy the longing to feel afraid, and go home afterward satisfied; the desire is purged, temporarily, by being fed.

Our souls are so many-headed that opposite satisfactions may be felt at the same time, but I think these two really are opposite. In the first sense of purgation, the horror movie is a kind of medicine that does its work and leaves the soul healthier, while in the second sense it is a potentially addictive drug. Either explanation may account for the popularity of these movies among teenagers, since fear is so much a fact of that time of life.

For those of us who are older, the tear-jerker may have more appeal, offering a way to purge the regrets of our lives in a sentimental outpouring of pity. As with fear, this purgation too may be either medicinal or drug-like. This idea of purgation, in its various forms, is what we usually mean when we call something cathartic. People speak of watching football, or boxing, as a catharsis of violent urges, or call a shouting match with a friend a useful catharsis of buried resentment.

This is a practical purpose that drama may also serve, but it has no particular connection with beauty or truth; to be good in this purgative way, a drama has no need to be good in any other way. No one would be tempted to confuse the feeling at the end of a horror movie with what Aristotle calls "the tragic pleasure," nor to call such a movie a tragedy. But the English word catharsis does not contain everything that is in the Greek word.

Let us look at other things it might mean. Catharsis in Greek can mean purification. While purging something means getting rid of it, purifying something means getting rid of the worse or baser parts of it. It is possible that tragedy purifies the feelings themselves of fear and pity.

These arise in us in crude ways, attached to all sorts of objects. Perhaps the poet educates our sensibilities, our powers to feel and be moved, by refining them and attaching them to less easily discernible objects. There is a line in The Wasteland , "I will show you fear in a handful of dust. The poetic imagination is limited only by its skill, and can turn any object into a focus for any feeling. Some people turn to poetry to find delicious and exquisite new ways to feel old feelings, and consider themselves to enter in that way into a purified state.

It has been argued that this sort of thing is what tragedy and the tragic pleasure are all about, but it doesn't match up with my experience. Sophocles does make me fear and pity human knowledge when I watch the Oedipus Tyrannus , but this is not a refinement of those feelings but a discovery that they belong to a surprising object. Sophocles is not training my feelings, but using them to show me something worthy of wonder.

The word catharsis drops out of the Poetics because the word wonder, to rhaumaston , replaces it, first in chapter 9, where Aristotle argues that pity and fear arise most of all where wonder does, and finally in chapters 24 and 25, where he singles out wonder as the aim of the poetic art itself, into which the aim of tragedy in particular merges. Ask yourself how you feel at the end of a tragedy. You have witnessed horrible things and felt painful feelings, but the mark of tragedy is that it brings you out the other side.

Aristotle's use of the word catharsis is not a technical reference to purgation or purification but a beautiful metaphor for the peculiar tragic pleasure, the feeling of being washed or cleansed. The tragic pleasure is a paradox. As Aristotle says, in a tragedy, a happy ending doesn't make us happy.

At the end of the play the stage is often littered with bodies, and we feel cleansed by it all. Are we like Clytemnestra, who says she rejoiced when spattered by her husband's blood, like the earth in a Spring rain Ag. Are we like Iago, who has to see a beautiful life destroyed to feel better about himself Oth. V, i, ? We all feel a certain glee in the bringing low of the mighty, but this is in no way similar to the feeling of being washed in wonderment. The closest thing I know to the feeling at the end of a tragedy is the one that comes with the sudden, unexpected appearance of something beautiful.

In a famous essay on beauty Ennead I, tractate 6 , Plotinus says two things that seem true to me: "Clearly [beauty] is something detected at a first glance, something that the soul What is the effect on us of this recognition? A playwright must understand and know the established artistic and theatrical conventions of the theatre.

From the SparkNotes Blog

A playwright must appreciate the working procedures, materials, and technical aspects of a production. Because the script is the starting point of the theatrical production, the process through which it comes into being is of primary importance. There are many ways to write a play. Sometimes a playwright starts with an idea. Another playwright may begin with a single character in mind.

Some playwrights base their work on spectacle. Plays can be tightly structured or episodic. Regardless of the original inspiration, the work of the playwright is not just to set forth an idea, to create characters, or tell a story. A playwright recreates and restates the human experiences and the universal mirror of mankind.

The script is the heart of the theatrical event. It must be respected. Playwriting and creating drama for each playwright is distinctively different. Plays can develop out of any combination of starting points and patterns. The processes by which drama is created for each playwright can be varied in the steps used to create the text. The basic steps involved in the development of drama include :. Determine the Genre and Style of the work. Outlining Basic Action of the work and Creating Plot. Establish the Structure of the Play and Overall Framework.

The Development of Characters presented in the work. The Creation of Dialogue and the Language of the Characters. Establishing Spectacle: The visual and Environmental elements of the work. Research of Subject Matter and Relevant issues presented in the play. Most successful playwrights follow the theories of playwriting and drama that were established over two thousand years ago by a man named Aristotle.

In his works the Poetics Aristotle outlined the six elements of drama in his critical analysis of the classical Greek tragedy Oedipus Rex written by the Greek playwright, Sophocles, in the fifth century B. What the play means as opposed to what happens the plot. Sometimes the theme is clearly stated in the title. Or it may be the theme is less obvious and emerges only after some study or thought. The abstract issues and feelings that grow out of the dramatic action. The events of a play; the story as opposed to the theme; what happens rather than what it means.

The plot must have some sort of unity and clarity by setting up a pattern by which each action initiating the next rather than standing alone without connection to what came before it or what follows. In the plot of a play, characters are involved in conflict that has a pattern of movement. The action and movement in the play begins from the initial entanglement, through rising action, climax, and falling action to resolution. These are the people presented in the play that are involved in the perusing plot.

Each character should have their own distinct personality, age, appearance, beliefs, socio economic background, and language. The word choices made by the playwright and the enunciation of the actors of the language. Language and dialog delivered by the characters moves the plot and action along, provides exposition, defines the distinct characters. Each playwright can create their own specific style in relationship to language choices they use in establishing character and dialogue. Music can encompass the rhythm of dialogue and speeches in a play or can also mean the aspects of the melody and music compositions as with musical theatre.

Each theatrical presentation delivers music, rhythm and melody in its own distinctive manner. Music is not a part of every play. But, music can be included to mean all sounds in a production. Music creates patterns and establishes tempo in theatre. In the aspects of the musical the songs are used to push the plot forward and move the story to a higher level of intensity. Composers and lyricist work together with playwrights to strengthen the themes and ideas of the play. The spectacle in the theatre can involve all of the aspects of scenery, costumes, and special effects in a production.

The visual elements of the play created for theatrical event. Further Considerations of the Playwright. Above and beyond the elements outlined above the playwright has other major considerations to take into account when writing. The Genre and Form of the play is an important aspect. Some playwrights are pure in the choice of genre for a play. They write strictly tragedy or comedy. Other playwrights tend to mix genre, combining both comedy and tragedy in one piece of dramatic work.

Drama is divided into the categories of tragedy, comedy, melodrama, and tragicomedy.

The Poetics - 6 (Aristotle on the Art of Poetry)

Tragedy is an imitation of an action that is serious, complete, and of a certain magnitude. The tragedy is presented in the form of action, not narrative. It will arouse pity and fear in the audience as it witnesses the action. It allows for an arousal of this pity and fear and creates an affect of purgation or catharsis of these strong emotions by the audience.

Tragedy is serious by nature in its theme and deals with profound problems. These profound problems are universal when applied to the human experience. In classical tragedy we find a protagonist at the center of the drama that is a great person, usually of upper class birth.

He is a good man that can be admired, but he has a tragic flaw, a hamartia, that will be the ultimate cause of his down fall. This tragic flaw can take on many characteristics but it is most often too much pride or hubris.

The protagonist always learns, usually too late, the nature of his flaw and his mistakes that have caused his downfall. He becomes self-aware and accepts the inevitability of his fate and takes full responsibility for his actions. We must have this element of inevitability in tragedy. There must be a cause and effect relationship from the beginning through the middle to the end or final catastrophe. It must be logical in the conclusion of the necessary outcome. Tragedy will involve the audience in the action and create tension and expectation. With the climax and final end the audience will have learned a lesson and will leave the theatre not depressed or sullen, but uplifted and enlightened.

It is tied up in rebirth and renewal, this is the reason most comedy end in weddings, which suggest a union of a couple and the expected birth of children. In comedy there is absence of pain and emotional reactions, as with tragedy, and a replaced use of mans intellect. The behavior of the characters presented in comedy is ludicrous and sometimes absurd and the result in the audience is one of correction of behaviors.

The comic devices used by playwrights of comedy are: exaggeration, incongruity, surprise, repetition, wisecracks, and sarcasm. Melodrama is drama of disaster and differs from tragedy significantly, in that; forces outside of the protagonist cause all of the significant events of the plot. All of the aspects of related guilt or responsibility of the protagonist are removed.

The protagonist is usually a victim of circumstance.

Aristotle's Poetics Summary

He is acted upon by the antagonist or anti-hero and suffers without having to accept responsibility and inevitability of fate. In melodrama we have clearly defined character types with good guys and bad guys identified. Melodrama has a sense of strict moral judgment.