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Oedipus the King and Things Fall Apart - Tragedies as Defined by Aristotle

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Oedipus and Things Fall Aparttragedies as defined by Aristotle


Almost 2500 years ago Aristotle defined a tragic plot as one containing six essential elements. The first is a hero (sympatheia) who is noble by birth or has risen to a place of power. The hero should also be of good character. Aristotle stated in The Poetics, “This is the sort of man who is not pre-eminently virtuous and just, and yet it is through no badness or villainy of his own that he falls into the fortune, but rather through some flaw in him, he being one of those who are in high station and good fortune.” The second is the flaw (Hamartia) in the hero’s character. The hero falls into misfortune not because of wickedness on his own part, but because he makes a moral mistake or error in judgement. The next components of a tragic plot are reversal (peripeteia), recognition (anagnorisis), and calamity (pathos). A reversal is a change of the situation into the opposite while recognition is a change from ignorance to knowledge. Aristotle said that the most effective reversal is one from good to bad whereas recognition is most effective when it coincides with reversals. One of the best ways to have a reversal and recognition is through a calamity. Combining these three elements correctly generates a powerful tragic plot. The sixth and last element is the audience’s response. In The Poetics Aristotle said that a tragedy should produce both pity and fear (catharsis) in the audience. “The plot should be so constructed that even without seeing the play anyone hearing of the incidents happening thrills with fear and pity as a result of what occurs.” Aristotle also stated, “the one [pity] being for the man who does not deserve his misfortune and the other [fear] for t...


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... character that was to go through it and wondering why does it have to happen like that. The feeling of fear then comes over the audience. The fear of falling into the same fate as the hero. In order to bring about such dramatic responses from the audience, the story has to be set up in a very effective and efficient way. Aristotle has defined this manner so easily for us in The Poetics. The protagonist of a good tragedy should be a person of power and of good character. In this good character there must be a flaw of which, most often, he is unaware. The hero then comes to recognize that mistake, and when he does, his fortunes should take a dramatic turn for the worse. This is the guide by which all tragedies are based. Both Sophocles’ Oedipus and Achebe’s Things Fall Apart are great examples of a tragedy and what kind of responses they can bring from the audience.


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