Aristotle's Poetics: Complexity and Pleasure in Tragedy Essay

Aristotle's Poetics: Complexity and Pleasure in Tragedy Essay

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Aristotle's Poetics: Complexity and Pleasure in Tragedy


Aristotle 384-322 BC First, the instinct of imitation is implanted in man from childhood, one difference between him and other animals being that he is the most imitative of living creatures, and through imitation learns his earliest lessons; and no less universal is the pleasure felt in things imitated. We have evidence of this in the facts of experience. Objects which in themselves we view with pain, we delight to contemplate when reproduced with minute fidelity
Poetics Chapter 1V

In his Poetics [1] Aristotle classifies plot into two types: simple [haplos], and complex [peplegmenos]. The simple plot is defined as a unified construct of necessary and probable actions accompanied by a change of fortune. The complex plot, says Aristotle, is accompanied by two other features, namely; peripeteia or reversal, and anagnorisis, or recognition. It is this which Aristotle feels is the best kind of tragic plot, in that it provides the best possibility of delivering tragic pleasure.

Before we look at the distinctive features of the complex plot, it would perhaps be instructive to examine those features which it shares with the simple plot. The unity of structure recommended by Aristotle includes the tripartite division of the plot into the beginning, the middle and the end, as well as the unities of time and action. He stresses unified action, where all action in the plot carries a definite link to other actions, and subsequent actions are the necessary and probable outcomes of the former.

Necessary and probable are terms which recur throughout the Poetics. They stand for the universality of poetry in that they point to how or what actions should logically be in a gi...


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...ost imitative of living creatures, and through imitation learns his earliest lessons; and no less universal is the pleasure felt in things imitated. We have evidence of this in the facts of experience. Objects which in themselves we view with pain, we delight to contemplate when reproduced with minute fidelity: such as the forms of the most ignoble animals and of dead bodies. The cause of this again is, that to learn gives the liveliest pleasure, not only to philosophers but to men in general; whose capacity, however, of learning is more limited. Thus the reason why men enjoy seeing a likeness is, that in contemplating it they find themselves learning or inferring, and saying perhaps, 'Ah, that is he.' For if you happen not to have seen the original, the pleasure will be due not to the imitation as such, but to the execution, the coloring, or some such other cause.'

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