Aristotle's Idea of Tragedy and the Play "Fires in the Mirror"

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Aristotle was a phenomenal Greek philosopher. His words and thoughts inspired millions, and continue inspiring today. He taught lessons to those who would listen, he preached his scientific findings, but above all, Aristotle enjoyed the theatre. In fact, Aristotle had his own views about different genres. Today we will look at tragedy. In Aristotle’s mind, a tragedy was the process of imitating an action which had serious implications, was complete, and possessed magnitude. He even composed six elements that a tragedy must contain. Aristotle’s six elements of tragedy are a plot, characters, thought, verbal expression, song composition, and visual adornment. Each contributes to an aspect of a tragedy.

Fires in the Mirror, written by Anna Devere Smith, is a contemporary tragedy. We can use Aristotle’s 6 elements to deeper analyze Fires in the Mirror and discover what makes it a tragedy, and why it challenges and differs from other tragedies during the ancient Greek period when Aristotle preached his knowledge.

Aristotle’s first element regards the importance of an interesting plot. A plot is a compiled sequence of events in a play. The sequences must be unified because they will all link to the central action. The central action is the goal which the hero is trying to achieve. In Fires in the Mirror, we don’t see a hero, or a timeline plot. This challenges Aristotle’s idea about plot. Instead, we see interviews that are supposed to make up the “would-be” plot. Although they aren’t a series of events, they are still linked because each interview pertains to the riots and the opinions about racism. All are intertwined and relate to the Crown Heights riots of 1991.

Aristotle’s second element pertains to character...

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...l of her make up and put on false mustache. She also needs to dress in a men’s suit. Now we can better visualize George since Anna looks like a man and not like herself. Without these costumes, the audience would be very confused, especially during this modern play in which one person plays the role of twenty-six characters.

Overall, Fires in the Mirror is not a traditional Greek tragedy, but we can still link the details to Aristotle’s elements. We can look back at plot, character, thought, verbal expression, song composition, and visual adornment and compare and contrast how the two different styles relate and differentiate. Needless to say, Anna Devere Smith was not traditional when it came to her writing style. Whether a traditional tragedy, or a modern play demonstrating a tragedy, we can always compare and contrast the elements with those of Aristotle.

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