Classical CriticismPoetics by Aristotle

Explain the Concept of Tragedy by Aristotle

The word tragedy brings to thoughts Aristotle and the Poetics. Some points of the definition and discussion of tragedy within the book could also be thought-about controversial, unaccepted, or outdated; however, its influence isn’t much less. The tragedy is the first concern of the Poetics.

The Greek conception of the tragedy was different from ours. In the modern age, tragedy means a drama with an unhappy ending and disastrous sufficient to have a tragic impact. However, the Greek conception of the tragedy was a serious drama, not essentially with a sad ending. The essence of the tragedy was that it dealt with the extreme actions of significant characters.

The Greek tragedy has scenes and incidents of pain and sorrow however needn’t end disastrously. This is obvious from Aristotle’s classification of 4 possible tragic plots, which represented a change from misery to happiness – a contention that appears unacceptable in modern times.

Aristotle’s Definition of Tragedy

“A tragedy is the imitation of an action that is serious, and also as having magnitude, complete in itself in language with pleasurable accessories, each kind brought in separately in the parts of the work; in a dramatic, not in a narrative form; with incidents arising pity and fear; wherewith to accomplish its catharsis of such emotions.”

The definition falls into two components. The first part tells us concerning the nature of tragedy, its object, manner, and medium of imitation; the second part points out the function of tragedy.

How is Tragedy Different from Other Poetic Imitation?

Tragedy, like different types of art, is a type of imitation. It differs from various arts within the object, manner, and medium of imitation. Its objects of imitation are ‘serious actions.’ It is at all times to be kept in mind that imitation within the Aristotelian sense isn’t slavish copying. It includes grasping and representing the essence of universal truth. Poetic imitation is a re-creation or an artistic reproduction of objects.

In its manner of imitation, tragedy is entirely different from the epic. The epic makes use of the way of narrative, while tragedy represents life by way of acting. Moreover, it differs from the other types of poetry in that it employs decorations or pleasurable accessories of various kinds. It makes use of, for instance, verse for dialogues and song for the chorus.

Read About: Aristotle’s Concept of “Plot”

The Use of Action in Tragedy

Aristotle doesn’t define the word ‘action.’ But we get the implications by way of Aristotle’s qualities. For the sake of convenience, one can say that action exhibits the progress of a person from one place to a different, at which he either dies or turns into involved in an entirely changed set of circumstances. Action is the plot, consisting of the logical and inevitable sequence of incidents. The actions have to be complete, meaning they must have a beginning, middle, and end.

Besides being critical, the action will need to have a certain magnitude. The term has been wrongly interpreted as ‘important’ or ‘dignified.’ It refers to the size. A tragedy must be of a correct length. 

Aristotle compares a tragic plot to a living organism to convey out the significance of the correct size. The plot must be of such a measurement that it permits human reminiscence to embody the entire of it. At the same time, it must be lengthy sufficient to allow the orderly and pure growth within the change of fortune, resulting in the disaster. 

Formative Elements of Tragedy

Aristotle provides six formative parts of tragedy – Plot, Character, Thought, Diction, Spectacle, and Song. Three of those, i.e., Plot, Character, and Thought are internal aspects; three, namely, Diction, Spectacle, and Song, are external aspects. Diction and song are involved with the medium of imitation, whereas Spectacle, with imitation. Plot, Character, and Thought are engaged with the objects of imitation.

Unified Plot

Tragedy imitates ‘men in action.’ The men, or the dramatis personae, will need to have the two qualities, particularly moral and intellectual, what Aristotle calls the ethos and dianoia. But even speeches that might be expressive of character wouldn’t produce the tragic impact as powerfully as well constructed plot.

Aristotle considers the plot to be the essential part of tragedy; indeed, it’s the very soul of tragedy. The plot is the arrangement of the incidents in a logical sequence.

The plot is in comparison with a living organism. Just because the parts of a living organism should most likely be associated with one another, the elements of a tragedy ought to relate to each other and produce a unified impact. Each event should include additional action, and no part must be redundant or irrelevant.

Aristotle says that essentially the most critical aspect of characterization in tragedy is goodness. The character must be good. It can be improper to ascribe courage to a woman and nobility to a slave. The character should present the truth to life. He should communicate or behave in a given manner.

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