Influence of Aristotle’s Poetics on William Wordsworth’s Poetry and William Shakespeare’s Plays

Influence of Aristotle’s Poetics on William Wordsworth’s Poetry and William Shakespeare’s Plays

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The Influence of Aristotle on William Wordsworth’s Poetry and William Shakespeare’s Plays


Aristotle’s Poetics is not one of his major works, although it has exercised a great deal of influence upon subsequent literary studies and criticism. In this work Aristotle outlines and discusses many basic elements that an author should adhere to in order to write a great tragedies and/or poetry. Two important topics that Aristotle addresses and believes to be crucial to the art work is the mimesis, or imitation of life, and that the audience has an emotional response from the work, or a catharsis. Both William Wordsworth and William Shakespeare were believers in Aristotle’s philosophy concerning tragedies and poetry, and employed these two elements within their works.

The basic definition for mimesis is the act of creating an image or images in someone’s mind, through an artistic representation such as, a play, a poem, or a painting, idea or ideas that will then be associated with past experiences. Aristotle is concerned with the artist’s ability to have a significant impact on others. First though the idea or belief that the artistic representation should be occurrences that people could relate to, or experiences that they would be familiar with. William Wordsworth intentions were made clear in the Preface to Lyrical Ballads when he states that a “…poem was to [chuse (sic) incidents and situations from common life, and to relate or describe them… (650)” This mimesis can be seen throughout Wordsworth poem Tintern Abbey. Wordsworth is reflecting upon his memories of the effect that Tintern Abbey had on him while he was away, and describing them to his sister. Wordsworth grew up around Tintern Abbey and with his belief that nature taught humans moral lessons, he was very descriptive in his language describing the landscape and the basic affect that it personally had upon him.
Aristotle also believed that the use of simple language in the poetry will keep the ultimate meaning from becoming blurred by complicated figures of speech. Wordsworth basically rejects the ideas of “personification of abstract ideas (652)” and “poetic diction (653)” in The Preface to Lyrical Ballads, because his main goal is to imitate the language that the common men speak everyday. Wordsworth’s Tintern Abbey is written in journal style, which is not known for loftiness in speech or complicated language, but for an easy flowing style which employs common everyday language and description. This allows the audience to understand and develop a picture of the image in their mind.

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For Wordsworth this was a fundamental element to good poetry.

Another crucial element to tragedies and good poetry according to Aristotle is the catharsis. This is the purging and purification of the audience’s emotions, and the basic purpose behind a tragedy. Meaning that the audience has built up emotional energy through out the work of art, and in the end the ultimate release of these emotions finally returning the audience back to a more stable and neutral emotional state of being. William Shakespeare throughout his tragic period in his plays used the idea of catharsis. In his play Macbeth is one of his works that the audience can observe and feel the build up of emotions and the final release of these emotions. Macbeth realizes in Act V Scene VII that MacDuff was untimely ripped from the womb” and the witches prophesies have come true and is beheaded by MacDuff. When the audience realizes that justice has been seen to, and the proper king is in command, the audience feels and exhibits a sigh of relief releasing the emotions that have been pent up within them, ultimately returning them to a normal state of emotions, all the while learning a lesson to be stored for latter recollection.

Therefore we can see that Aristotle had an enormous impact on William Wordsworth’s poetry and William Shakespeare’s plays. Both Wordsworth and Shakespeare are firm believer’s in Aristotle’s ideas, believing that they were the basic building blocks to good poetry and tragedy. These two important ideas of mimesis and catharsis are evident in their works.
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