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Aristotelian Tragedy As defined in Aristotle’s Poetics…

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1 Aristotelian Tragedy As defined in Aristotle’s Poetics…

2 Aristotle 384 BC – 322 BC

3 According to Aristotle, Sophocles’ “Oedipus the King” can be considered the perfect tragedy… Aristotle's The Poetics (4th century B.C.) carefully analyzed what makes tragedy such a powerful, aesthetic event. For Aristotle, the most important element of tragic drama was the unique experience of CATHARSIS, the arousing of the specific emotions of pity and fear so as to dispel or purge them in the spectator. This is tragedy defined by its emotional effect on the audience.

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5 Aristotle’s Three Unities: Unity of action: a play should have one main line of action with no or few subplots Unity of place: a play should take place in a single physical location. Unity of time: there should be few or no breaks in time.

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7 I.The ideal plot should contain the following characteristics: A: One plot whose action extends over no more than a day or two and occurs in no more than one city and its surrounding countryside. This is the unity of time, place and action. The concentration of an action within a relatively small location and time period produced a stronger emotional response, according to Aristotle. In fact, ideally, a play’s action would take place in real time…so if the audience watched a two hour play…the characters should have lived two hours of their actual lives…

8 B: A plot structured on principles which strengthen the emotions of "pity" and "fear". These principles are… 1: Reversal (or change of fortune); In Greek known as peripeteia. a. Simple: character experiences a turn of fortune from happiness to misery or vice versa b. Complex: the hero, seeking happiness, brings about his own destruction. (ironic reversal) 2: Discovery (or recognition); In Greek known as anagnorisis (a change from ignorance to knowledge). a. of someone's identity or true nature b. of one's own identity or true character c. of the nature of the gods and the universe

9 PERIPETEIA (reversal)

10 II. The Tragic Hero's Characteristics: A. He or she must be of noble blood. This provides the story with dignity. (The tragedy of commoners/peasants did not interest Aristotle). It also generates the feeling in the audience that if tragedy can happen to the advantaged, it can happen to anyone. This is an example of how tragedy produces "fear".

11 The tragic hero’s characteristics (cont.): B. Initially, the hero must be neither better nor worse morally than most people. This produces "fear" because the hero is imperfect like us, and we can identify with him. It also produces "pity" because if the hero were perfect or totally good, we would be outraged by his fate. If he were completely evil, we would feel like he had gotten what he deserved.

12 The tragic hero’s characteristics (cont.): C. The tragic hero meets his fate because of a "tragic flaw". The tragic flaw is not a defect in character, but an error in judgment (in Greek, known as the hamartia) of the kind we all make. Since we all make mistakes, this generates "fear" in that we recognize our own potential for tragedy by committing the same errors. It also generates "pity" because we do not blame the hero for his tragic fate.

13 HAMARTIA Often mistranslated to mean “tragic flaw”, this word actually refers to “an error in judgment” or “missing the mark”. Oedipus does exactly that! How?

14 III.Catharsis, or purgation: The effect of TRAGEDY on the audience… A. "Pity" is aroused for the hero as he meets his fate. B. "Fear" is aroused since we may meet a similar fate as the hero. C. These two emotions are dispelled eventually. We sympathize with the hero and his tragic circumstances, but we are not overcome with pity or fear for him. We learn a lesson from the story, our pity and fear disappear, and that is a cathartic experience.

15 Terms to know: Catharsis – emotional purification and cleansing Hamartia – an error in judgment Perepeteia – reversal; turning of events and circumstances Anagnorisis – discovery

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