The Canadian novelist Michael Ondaatje, in his last novel titled In the Skin of a Lion, wrote that "the first sentence of every novel should be: Trust me, this will take time but there is order here, very faint, very human" (Ondaatje 223). Ondaatje noted that what makes a novel a novel is order or, as that order is sometimes referred to today, plot and structure. It is that structure that we, as both the audience and the artist, rely on to understand and appreciate a work of art. But, even though Ondaatje noticed the order necessary, he did not do what has been done before--offer an explanation, or rather, a definition of that order. Over two-thousand years before Ondaatje wrote that line, Aristotle, in his Poetics, did attempt to define the order necessary for a work of art, whether it be literary, visual, or performance-based, to be successful. But we, as modern critics and artists, must ask, can a theory proposed so many years ago still be worthy or interpretation and study today? Even a quick look at the literature and the theater produced in the last couple of centuries would reveal the public's answer: Much of the great art of the world is great because of its reliance on and adherence to Aristotle's theories and definitions as well as a confidence in the new suppositions that have arisen out of Aristotle's words.
Before one can apply the theories of Aristotle to the world today, a brief presentation of a few of the most notable of those theories must be examined. The first of these theories is now referred to as Aristotle's Unities; although, only one of the three unities can be directly attributed to the words of Aristotle. In book ...
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...wise, the longest running Broadway play of all time, Cats, certainly cannot be classified as the universal and clearly neglects the three unities. Finally, most literature scholars would agree that James Joyce's Ulysses is a classic in literature, but, as it created its own style of literature, does not conform to any of Aristotle's principals. It is clear though, with an influence in so many works of art, both past and contemporary, that, while maybe not a necessity, Aristotle's theories certainly are worthy of a careful study.
Aristotle. "Poetics." Dramatic Theory and Criticism. Ed. Bernard F. Dukore. Fort Worth: Harcourt, 1974. 31-55.
Harmon, William, and C. Hugh Holman. A Handbook to Literature. 8th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1999.
Ondaatje, Michael. In the Skin of a Lion. Chicago: Penguin Publishers, 1987
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