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Tragic Plot Structure (& Character Arc)

(according to Aristotle’s Poetics, written about 350 BCE)

Desis Lusis
Greek for “tying,” it comprises all the action leading up to the climactic peripeteia. Greek for “untying” it entails all the action from the start of the
climactic peripeteia onward to the final dénouément.

Greek for “reversal,”
it is the turning point
in the plot where
events start moving
toward the
conclusion, generally
Rising Action when the situation
turn from good to bad
for the tragic hero.
Greek for
“recognition” or
“discovery,” it Falling Action
describes the moment
when the tragic hero
becomes aware of
his/her error in
judgment or lack of
Exposition Complication Catastrophe Scene of
Background The event that gets Greek for Suffering
information that sets the plot going. “overturning,” it is the
stage for dramatic final event in the The final scene of a
action, letting dramatic action, the tragedy, often the
audience know where ultimate end of the saddest part of the
and when the action is “untying.” play and generating
taking place, who the biggest release of
main characters are, emotion (catharsis).
The Three Unities—Time, Place, & Action:
• Time: The action of the play could logically take place in a 24-hour period.
• Place: The play limits the action to one locale or setting. Dialogue can provide information for events that take place off-stage.
• Action: The play deals with a single, central story line focused on one main character.

Memesis: Greek for “imitation of action.” Aristotle states that through this concept, the plot must follow the laws of probability or necessity. The plot is therefore much
more believable. Thus, the drama is able to elicit the audience’s pity and fear.

Deus ex machina: A well-written plot will employ mimesis and thus avoid deus ex machina (god from the machine) plot devices.

Comic Relief: A standard element in Shakespearean tragedies, a scene that suspends the dramatic pitch momentarily with lightness or humor. This keeps the audience
from tiring of the intense emotions built during tragic scenes and allows them to go deeper into pity and fear, bringing about greater catharsis.