Aristotle*s Poetics (384

Aristotle’s Poetics
(384-322 B.C.E.)
• Aristotle was the pupil of Plato (who studied
under Socrates)and the teacher of Alexander
the Great.
• Plato thought that drama, especially tragedy,
was dangerous because it encouraged
• In Poetics (335 B.C.E.) Aristotle defends
• Mimesis— “imitation” or “representation”
• Katharsis— the purgation of emotions (pity & fear or
pathos) which leaves the viewer both relieved and
• Peripeteia– reversal of fortune
• Anagnorsis—recognition of the truth (fate that
cannot be avoided)
– Four types: recognition by signs (like a scar); poet’s voice
rather than the plot’s necessity; sight of something
awakens a feeling from memory; process of reasoning
– BEST: discovery by natural means
• Hamartia– a tragic flaw, weakness of character
or error in judgment, which causes the
downfall of the hero
• Hubris— excessive pride or arrogance
• Energeia— “movement-of-spirit”
– Praxis—to do something (motivation)
– Poiesis—to make something
– Theoria—to grasp & understand some truth
• Mythos— “plot” (MOST important)
• Ethos— “character”
• Dianoia— “thought” or abstract reasoning to the
perception & formulation of emotion; thought
defines all the objects of human motivation
• Lexis— “diction” or “speech” (command of
• Melos— “melody” (music and chorus)
• Opsis— “spectacle” (scenery and costume); a
superior poet will not rely on this.
Key Concepts
“Tragedy, then, is an imitation of an action
that is serious, complete, and of a certain
magnitude; in language embellished with each
kind of artistic ornament, the several kinds
being found in separate parts of the play; in
the form of action, not of narrative; through
pity and fear effecting the proper purgation
for these emotions.”
Key Concepts
• Aristotle divides his analysis into 6 basic parts:
Character delineation
Thought & language
Speech (last three are components of the whole)
Key Concepts
• The writer of tragedy imitates a serious and
complete action, of a certain magnitude,
represented by what characters on stage say
and do.
• “Action” is the motivation from which deeds
emanate, or the rational purpose of the play.
Key Concepts
• The element of pathos is essential to the
• Plot is the arrangement of carefully selected,
carefully sequenced, tragic incidents to
represent one complete action.
Key Concepts
• The plot consists of parts or types of incidents in the
beginning, middle, and end of the play.
– Quantitative Parts: Prologos, Parados, Episodes, Choric
Odes, and Exodos
– Organic Parts: Peripeteia (reversal of fortune), Anagnorisis
(knowledge of the truth), Pathos (or scene of suffering;
moment of passion which may be aroused by spectacular
means, or may also result from the inner structures of the
Key Concepts
• Plots vary in kind.
– Complex vs Simple—Complex plots include
reversal and recognition; simple plots do not
include these elements.
– Ethically motivated vs pathetically motivated.
Key Concepts
• The story must seem probable.
• Plot is divided into two main parts:
– Complication—the part of the play which extends
from the Prologos to the turning point
– Unraveling or Denouement—the part of the play
which extends from the turning point to the end
Key Concepts
• A play can be unified only if it represents one
action, and the best plays are unified by a
single plot and a single catastrophe.
• The central action of the play springs from
character and thought, manifested in the
• The chorus most directly represents the action
(or purpose) of the play.
Key Concepts
• Characters should be carefully delineated to
contrast sharply with one another, should be
full of life individually, should vary ethically,
should be probable, consistent, and should
reflect the central action of the play in the
development of character.
Key Concepts
• The tragic hero should be a ruler or leader, whose
character is good and whose misfortune is brought
about by some error or frailty.
• Character has 4 aims:
– Must be good (have good moral aims)
– Propriety (note Aristotle’s view on women in chapter XVI—
it is inappropriate for women to be clever or show valour)
– True to life yet more beautiful (idealized)
– Consistent
Key Concepts
• Language should be elevated and in verse (which in
fifth century, B.C.E., was reminiscent of our blank
verse today) and should reflect rhetorical strategies
or persuasion (primarily represented in the Episodes
and Choric Odes).
• Character speeches should only be used when some
maxim or significant choice is stated.
Key Concepts
• The special quality of man’s pleasure in tragedy
comes from the purgation of the passions of fear and
pity felt by the audience as they watch the fate of the
tragic hero unfold, recognizing in it the universal
human lot.
• The use of deus ex machina ("god out of the
machine"; is a plot device whereby a seemingly
inextricable problem is suddenly and abruptly solved
with the contrived and unexpected intervention of
some new character, ability, or object) is evidence of
a poor poet.

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