Aristotle's Observations on Tragedy

Updated: Mar 31

His observations on poetry

HIS OBSERVATIONS ON TRAGEDY:


1. Its Origin:

Poetry being imitative art imitates two kinds of actions: the noble actions of the good men or the evil actions of the bad men. From the first was born the epic and from the latter the satire. From these in turn arose tragedy and comedy. Tragedy has a relation to the epic as comedy to the satire. The epic and tragedy are superior comparing to satire and comedy. Between them, tragedy is superior to the epic, according to Aristotle. Hence, the big space divided it into Poetics.


2. Its Characteristics:

Aristotle defines tragedy as ‘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 affecting the proper purgation of these emotions.' A tragedy should of length which can be easily embraced by the memory but it should have long enough to unfold the sequence of events- the beginning, the middle, and the end naturally and fully. The other two characteristics are- artistic ornaments (rhythm, harmony, and song) and form of action (narrative verse- the speeches and actions make the tale).


3. Its Constituent Parts:


· Aristotle finds 6 constituent parts in tragedy, which are plot, character, thought, diction, song, and spectacle.

· The plot or ‘the arrangement of the incidents’ is the chief part of tragedy’.

· ‘Character’, he says, ‘determines men’s qualities, but it is by their actions they are happy or the reverse.' The tragedy is written not merely to imitate men but to imitate men in action.

· To accomplish them he employs the medium of diction or words ‘embellished with each kind of artistic ornament’ of which one is a song.

· It is by their means that he expresses the ‘thought’ of his characters and meaning on his play in general

· For spectacle or stage presentation, the last of the six parts is ‘connected least with the art of poetry.'

4. Its Structure of the plot:

Plot being ‘the soul of the tragedy’, the artistic arrangement of its incidents is of prime importance. Here, Aristotle speaks of the three unities.


i) Unity of action: ‘the structural union of the parts being such that, if any one of them is displaced or removed, the whole will be disjointed and disturbed.’

ii) Unity of time: Tragedy he says ‘endeavors, as far as possible, to confine itself to a single revolution of the sun, or but to slightly to exceed this limit; whereas the epic action has no limits of time.’

iii) Unity of place: this was deduced to be a practical consequence of the unity of time and is not mentioned in the book. It’s the conformity between the scenes of the tragic event or events and the time taken by them to happen.

The plot is finally divisible into two parts: complication and denouement. The former ties the events into a tangled knot and the latter unties it.

5. Simple and Complex Plots:


Plot

i) Simple plot

ii) Complex plot- peripetia (Reversal of a situation) and anagnorisis (Recognition or discovery)


6.Tragic Hero:

According to Aristotle, a hero character should fill the following statement: ‘a man who is not eminently good and just, yet whose misfortune is brought about not by vice or depravity, but by some error or frailty.' (Vice- moral weakness, depravity- corruption)

His Observations on Comedy

Source:

English Literary Criticism: An Introduction by Charles Edwyn Vaughan

An Introduction to English Criticism by B. Prasad

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