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Did Aristotle Make Theatre or Did Theatre Make Aristotle?

While Aristotles Poetics is an invaluable contribution to defining Western Theatre today


and understanding its roots, he did not spawn it, and it would have existed without him.
When medieval theatre deviated from the Greek structure and instead taught lessons
through miracle, morality, and mystery plays, it survived. Without the massive return to that
Greek structure that would come later during the Neoclassicist period, Shakespeare included
many of the elements to which Aristotle referred even if they were at times bent or skewed.
Aristotle himself based his Poetics on all things organic, believing that the art created would be
best if it was in line with the natural order of things, or at least the natural order of things as
presented in the play. His set of personal opinions just turned out to be very good ones that were
logical and made sense. This is quite fitting, since a good deal of what Aristotle said was logical
and made sense, which is why we still talk about it and him today.
The way I see it, Western Theatre today is not a collection of branches stemming from
Aristotle, but rather, he saw the natural way things were working best, wrote them down, and
effectively put a PVC barrier around the already growing tree that was drama to help it grow
straight for the rest of Greek Theatre. But the theatre tree soon grew past the end of the PVC, and
progressed naturally.
Natural progression is not always linear, and the branching out of drama, neoclassicism
and romanticism, Jacobean and Victorian styles, modern and post-modern sub-genresthe
similarities and differences all of these share are like branches of a tree, which may sometimes
overlap and intertwine. Its nice that Aristotle helped it along, but the rules put down by
Aristotle were there before him, and had he not written about them, or had his writings on
tragedy been lost, someone else would have written them down eventually, because they speak to
the things which mean the most to all human beings, and there have been many people just as
insightful as Aristotle throughout history.
So, while Aristotle did not spawn the theatre, he guided it and protected it while it was
early in its development as an art form, like sheltering a spark on tinder from a wind until it
becomes a self-sustaining fire. Its pretty great for theatre in the end that he came along when he
did, said what he said, and that his students were smart enough to write it down for us. If we
want to look back at the roots of theatre before it began to branch out, we need not dig through
all the Greek tragedies, because Aristotle already did that for us, and put all the good stuff
together in the form the handy dandy Poetics.