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Aristotle: Poetics

January 8th, 2007 Leave a comment Go to comments

The Poetics: Summary of Imitation:

Elements = 2 = Verbal Expression and Song Composition
Manner = 1 = Visual Adornment
Objects = 3 = Plot, Characters, and Thought
Total = 6 = Elements of Tragedy

The greatest of these elements is the structuring of incidents (plot). Thus the structure of events, the plot, is the goal of tragedy, and the goal is the greatest thing of all. Tragedy cannot exist without plot, but it can without characters.

If one strings end to end speeches that are expressive of character and carefully worked in thought and expression, he still will not achieve the result which we said was the aim of tragedy; the job will be done much better by a tragedy that is more deficient in these other respects but has a plot, a structure of events. 28

Besides, the most powerful means tragedy has for swaying our feelings, namely peripeties (reversals) and recognitions, are elements of plot.

This is where my play, The Empiric, likely fails. And until reading Poetics I was not entirely sure what was wrong, could not put my finger on it. Aristotle notes that “an indicative sign is that those who are beginning a poetic career manage to hit the mark in verbal expression and character portrayal sooner than they do in plot construction.” 28 Which is promising, because the verbal expression piece is down hard, the characterization is strong as well. The plot, however, is common; I think. It comes closer to history than drama: that is, a linear accounting of facts than drama; although it has a plot and consistent movement, yet no real peripeties or recognitions, signs for Aristotle of complex drama.

So plot is the basic principle, the heart and soul, as it were, of tragedy, and the characters come second–it is the imitation of an action and imitates the persons primarily for the sake of their action.

Third in rank is thought. This is the ability to state the issues and appropriate points pertaining to a given topic– 28 Character is that kind of utterance which clearly reveals the bent of a man’s moral choice (hence there is no character in that class of utterances in which there is nothing at all that the speaker is choosing or rejecting). 28

Fourth is the verbal expression of speeches. “Verbal expression” is the conveyance of thought through language.

(5) The song-composition–and “the visual adornment of the dramatic persons–is the least artistic element (6th).

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