Aristotle's Poetics Summary

Aristotle's Poetics seeks to address the different kinds of poetry, the structure of a good poem, and the division of a poem into its component parts. He defines poetry as a 'medium of imitation' that seeks to represent or duplicate life through character, emotion, or action. Aristotle defines poetry very broadly, including epic poetry, tragedy, comedy, dithyrambic poetry, and even some kinds of music. According to Aristotle, tragedy came from the efforts of poets to present men as 'nobler,' or 'better' than they are in real life. Comedy, on the other hand, shows a 'lower type' of person, and reveals humans to be worse than they are in average. Epic poetry, on the other hand, imitates 'noble' men like tragedy, but only has one type of meter - unlike tragedy, which can have several - and is narrative in form. Aristotle lays out six elements of tragedy: plot, character, diction, thought, spectacle, and song. Plot is 'the soul' of tragedy, because action is paramount to the significance of a drama, and all other elements are subsidiary. A plot must have a beginning, middle, and end; it must also be universal in significance, have a determinate structure, and maintain a unity of theme and purpose. Plot also must contain elements of astonishment, reversal (peripeteia), recognition, and suffering. Reversal is an ironic twist or change by which the main action of the story comes full-circle. Recognition, meanwhile, is the change from ignorance to knowledge, usually involving people coming to understand one another's true identities. Suffering is a destructive or painful action, which is often the result of a reversal or recognition. All three elements coalesce to create "catharsis," which is the engenderment of fear and pity in the audience: pity for the tragic hero's plight, and fear that his fate might befall us. When it comes to character, a poet should aim for four things. First, the hero must be 'good,' and thus manifest moral purpose in his speech. Second, the hero must have propriety, or 'manly valor.' Thirdly, the hero must be 'true to life.' And finally, the hero must be consistent. Tragedy and Epic poetry fall into the same categories: simple, complex (driven by reversal and recognition), ethical (moral) or pathetic (passion). There are a few differences between tragedy and epic, however. First, an epic poem does not use song or spectacle to achieve its cathartic effect. Second, epics often cannot be presented at a single sitting, whereas tragedies are usually able to be seen in a single viewing. Finally, the 'heroic measure' of epic poetry is hexameter, where tragedy often uses other forms of meter to achieve the rhythms of different characters' speech. Aristotle also lays out the elements of successful imitation. The poet must imitate either things as they are, things as they are thought to be, or things as they ought to be. The poet must also imitate in action and language (preferably metaphors or contemporary words). Errors come when the poet imitates incorrectly - and thus destroys the essence of the poem - or when the poet accidentally makes an error (a factual error, for instance). Aristotle does not believe that factual errors sabotage the entire work; errors that limit or compromise the unity of a given work, however, are much more consequential. Aristotle concludes by tackling the question of whether the epic or tragic form is 'higher.' Most critics of his time argued that tragedy was for an inferior audience that required the gesture of performers, while epic poetry was for a 'cultivated audience' which could filter a narrative form through their own imaginations. In reply, Aristotle notes that epic recitation can be marred by overdone gesticulation in the same way as a tragedy; moreover, tragedy, like poetry, can produce its effect without action - its power is in the mere reading. Aristotle argues that tragedy is, in fact, superior to epic, because it has all

one day. twice removed from i truth. or a bad man from mis to happiness. the speaker said that he would know the bow. Orestes reveals himself to his sister. beside peripeteia and anagnorisis. while in Comedy men are worse than they are. one not pre-eminently virtuous and just whose misfortune is brought about by hamartia. Some arts imitate by means of colour and shape. the characters should be life-like. In Tragedy. neither too short nor too long. Second.As Tragedy. the nurse could identify Ulysses through his scar. the portrayal should be appropriate. This is partly because much of what he has written on Tragedy applies to Epic also. He also dwells at length on metaphors. a noun. the characters should have consistency. and Spectacular Tragedy which offers excellent spectacles as in Peleus. they produced Comedy and Satire. case. Peripeteia means the change of fortune. Plot. They may be even as they are. Similarly in Comedy. The deepening of the plot is µcomplication¶.´ Fifth. the ideal tragic hero should be neither too good nor too bad. Like a Tragedy. Heroic hexameter is the right metre for an Epic. Plot are generally divided into two types ± simple and complex. a semi-vowel. In general. i. while the fear is for themselves. no one is like me except Orestes. In Tragedy. There are two main extremes± meanness and extravagance. which means language. which are to be avoided. the element of the marvellous should be introduced. It is a re-creation. a connecting-word. since its statement are of the nature rather of universals. and Spectacle. Epic poetry and Tragedy have been contrasted by Aristotle. is imitation of men in action. murder or persecution displayed on stage. Imitationis the common principle of all arts. The length of th play e must also be appropriate. recognition or revelation. and a phrase. He said that the end of Tragedy is Catharsis or Purgation or emotional relief. They have three similarities. rhythm and tune. inflexion. according to Aristotle. If there is an abrupt beginning. while a complex is one having peripeteia or a nagnorisis both. a syllable. Secondly. the ridiculous which is a species of the ugly. in Iphigenia in Tauris. Aristotle likes the playwright to aim at four things. He believes that poetry owes its origin to the primitive instincts to imitate. middle and end. while some imitate by means of voice. Aristotle¶s discussion of Epic poetry is rather fragmentary. true to type and equally true to human nature. First. is the higher art for Aristotle. In Tragedy. Third. having a beginning. Aristotle is in favour of avoiding three types of plot. according to Aristotle. a vowel. Meanwhile. an article. which he had not seen. the self revelation of a person. middle and end. Aristotle¶s conception of imitation is a corrective to Plato. Plot is the soul of Tragedy. it also can be divided into two groups ± simple and complex.e. there w the birth of Tragedy and Epic. or they may be acquired. then.´ Poetry. it will not be intelligible to the readers or the audience. the characters are good. the differences between them are. It must have a beginning. has six types of discovery. while Tragedy is written in a number of metres. Last. Art imitates the world of man¶s mind. i. whole and complete. The action should be single.e. They are worse than common men not as regards any and every sort of fault. it may cover many da while Tragedy observes the unity of ys. For example. time and endeavours to keep within a single circuit of the sun. while dramatic poetry is Tragedy or Comedy. Aristotle opens the Poetics by defining poetry as Mimesis or imitation. the men are worse than they are. A good man must not be seen passing from happiness to misery. Diction or Language. therefore it is Orestes who has come. For example. and the unravelling of complication is µdenouement¶. the discovery which is brought about by the incidents themselves. 2) an Epic does not observe the unity of time. Tragedy of Character which emphasizes the moral character of the hero. written in one single kind of verse or metre. there is a statement ³Someone who is like me has come. 2) they are imitations of serious subjects in a grand style. It arises from the fallacious reasoning. Aristotle never gives an explicit analysis of the term µimitation. for it is lofty. Melody or Music. an error of judgment. Ulysses weeps when the minstrel¶s harp reawakens the past for him. He should be the intermediate kind of personage. The plot of Tragedy should deal with ideal or universal truth. the discovery through the effect of associations. the character should be good. A Tragedy.the epic elements as well as spectacle and music to provide an indulgent pleasure for the audience. An Epic poet should speak as little as possible in his own person. Fourth. The language abounding in an unfamiliar usages has some dignity. Theaction of the Tragedy should be complete. The end must also be emotionally and intellectually satisfying. It must be a complete whole and should have logical coherence. but if they are almost deified they cannot rouse our sympathy. and 3) the poets try to idealize the characters. 1) they are metrical. And by denouement is meant the part from this change to the end of the Tragedy. according to Aristotle. an Epic should also deal with single event. Whenever there was the imitation of the good and noble. The third element in plot. and anagnorisis means discovery. In an Epic. a verb. the discovery by means of signs or tokens. A simple plot is a plot without peripeteia and anagnorisis. has six parts of elements. If it is too short or too long. whereas those of history are singulars. 1) the Epic is in narrative form. First. in the Chouphori.¶ He has taken the term from Plato. . Aristotle also defines a letter. in the Tale of A lcinous. Character. i. Tragedy. the unity and wholeness of it willbe lost sight of. men are better thanthey are. Sixth. For example. The simple Epic turns on the moral character of the hero while the complex Epic turns on suffering and passion. These signs may be congenital. Tragedy of Suffering which deals with the suffering of the hero as in the play of Ajax. The narrative poetry is known as the Epic. it may be morally satisfying. The best language must be that lying in the middle of them. If it ery happens. The discovery as the result of reasoning. In Odysseus the False Messenger. Thirdly. Thedirect object of Tragedy is to arouse pity and fear ± the pity of the audience is for the hero. ³Poetry is something more philosophic and of graver import than history. but only as regards one particular kind. Tragedy is an imitation of an action. in Ulysses. Art is not mere im itation. for example. Every Tragedy must have its complication and its denouement. but nevertheless it will not move us to pity or fear. It is obviously absurd that a person should recognize a thing hither to unknown.e. the language will have pleasant accessories. As regards the characters in a Tragedy.e. i. There are four ty of Tragedy ± Complex Tragedy which pes depends exclusively on peripeteia and anagnorisis. Complication means that part of the story from the beginning tothe stage immediately before the significant change to good or bad fortune. is tragic suffering. For example. Aristotle divides the poetry into the narrative and dramatic. who believes that art s the copy of the copy. despite the arguments of other critics. when the as poets imitated the ignoble and the mean. A master artist should know them well. Thought.

That¶s why he said that Tragedy is the better form of art. In poetry. or as they ought to be. They may also be poetically true. improbabilities may be justified as long as the art attains its true end. it free from the vu lgarity of acting.Probable impossibilities are to be preferred to improbable possibilities. Aristotle insists that Tragedy is the better form of art as it has all element of Epic. Its effect is more compact and concentrated. It a may be justified on the ground that they lso idealize the reality. the vulgarity is the fault of the actors. besides. he says that the poet should aim at the representation of life: and ther are ways of representation ± either as they are. In the last section of the Poetics. and also more unity than Epic. . In Epic. while in Tragedy. though not actually true. it also has music and spectacle to which Epic can lay on claims. About Criticism. Aristotle discusses the relative merits of Epic and Tragedy. or as they are said to be or e seem to be.

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