Aristotle*s Poetics (384
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Aristotle’s Poetics (384-322 B.C.E.)
Background • 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 irrationality. • In Poetics (335 B.C.E.) Aristotle defends tragedy.
Vocabulary • Mimesis— “imitation” or “representation” • Katharsis— the purgation of emotions (pity & fear or pathos) which leaves the viewer both relieved and elated • 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
Vocabulary • 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
Vocabulary • 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 metaphor) • 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: – – – – – –
Plot-making Character delineation Thought & language Speech (last three are components of the whole) Song Spectacle
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 whole. • 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 play).
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 dialogue. • 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.