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ARISTOTLE’S POETICS
ARISTOTLE’S THEORY OF IMITATION
The term ‘imitation’ was not used for the first time by Aristotle. It had already been used by
Plato in his ‘Republic’. Plato distinguished art between the useful art and the imitative art. The
useful arts are such as medicine and agriculture that serve our requirements. The imitative art
did not have such a utility. Poetry belonged to the category of the imitative art.
Aristotle’s use of the term is filled with new dimensions. He gave to it a greater precision of
meaning and the greater comprehension of scope.

Aristotle’s Concept of ‘Imitation


Although Aristotle was not the originator of the term ‘imitation’ in connection with the fine arts
yet he added new dimensions to the term. He gave it a significance, which removed the sense of
inferiority attached to it by Plato. The concept of imitation, according to Aristotle, unites poetry
and all other fine arts. Art however imitates not merely the appearances or the externals of this
world. Art deals with the very essence of things. There is a creative reproduction of the external
world in accordance with the artist’s idea. Poetry is thus not an imitation of a shadow, but it is
the imitation of the ideal reality.
Poetry deals with the universal and the ideal. The significance of poetic truth is that it is
universal and essential. Thus, Aristotle defended poetry and offered a wider scope and greater
significance to the term imitation. This imitation is not mere slavish copying. It is not mere
representation of the outward appearances. This imitation is of the deeper reality, or the very
basic element of human nature.

Poetry Linked With Music in Aristotle’s Concept of Imitation


A tragic poet represents a man with a nature better than average. This would not be possible in
an imitation which copied external appearances alone. It would be possible only if the poet
represented an idea of human nature. It is significant that Aristotle links poetry with music.
Music is not an imitation in the sense of mere copying of appearances.
Hamilton says, a composer of a symphony does not try to make noises like pigs and chickens, but
creates a special atmosphere with his artistic skill. It is in this sense that a poet communicates
his emotion by imitating life. It is representation of the inner feelings and ideas of man. The
poet’s imagination colors this imitation.

The Medium of Poetic Imitation


All art is a mode of imitation. Yet there are differences in the various modes of imitation. One
such difference lies in the medium of imitation. Poetry like other forms of art is also a mode of
imitation. The medium of the poet and the painter are different. The painter’s medium of
imitation is color and form. The poet’s is rhythm and harmony. Aristotle finds an affinity
between poetry and music. The musician, too, imitates through rhythm and harmony. Poetry is
nearer music than to painting, as it, too, imitates through harmony and rhythm.
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The Objects of Poetic Imitation


The objects of poetic imitation are men in action. These men may be either better than or lower
than the average man in real life. Thus, imitation in poetry is clearly distinct from
photographic representation. It is a process involving the creative imagination and the
intellectual faculty of the poet.

Imitation of the Outer and the Inner Activity.


There are mental dispositions in human nature which have a permanent quality about them.
Then there are the emotional moods and feelings. These are transitory aspects of the human
psyche. Now, ‘men in action’ includes their thoughts, feelings, will, motive and emotions. Poetry
is an imitation of human life. Action involves the inward life of man as well, not merely the
outward events, which in any case, are the result of inward motives.
The poet does not produce a literal copy of the world as he sees it. The landscape and animals
might form only a background to the inward activity of the soul of man. Thus we see that the
inner world of man is very much the object of imitation in poetry.

The Manner of Poetic Imitation


Another way in which the different arts may differ is in their manner of imitation. Poetry itself
is of different types because of the different manner of imitation involved in different types.
There is the purely narrative poet, who may continue speaking in the same person without
change. Another kind of poetry is that in which the poet may imitate by now speaking in
narrative, and now in an assumed role. Aristotle gives the example of Homer. The third manner
of imitation is that in which the whole story is represented in the form of an action carried out
by several persons, as in real life.. This, of course, is the dramatic mode of poetry.

Imitation: A Process of Imaginative Re-creation


Aristotle brought a new logical relation to the term ‘imitation’. His concept of imitation made
the poetic process out to be, not one of mere copying, but an act of creative vision through which
the poet, while taking material from phenomena of life, was enabled to make something new out
of the real and actual. The poet could take things as they are, things as they were said to be or
thought to be, or things as they ought to be. He could, in other words deal with facts past or
present, with established beliefs or with ideals unrealized. In each instance, a process of
transformation was implied.

The Universal Truth of Poetry: Imitation of Ideals


Poetic imitation involves a creative faculty, for it implies the transformation of material into
art. Poetry is not mere photographic representation. It is not a mere copy of the world as we see
it. Out of the confused and chaotic muddle of everyday life the poet tries to create a work of art
which has a permanent relevance. Poets deal with the basic essentials of human nature.
Aristotle asserts: “It is not the function of the poet to relate what has happened – but what is
possible according to the law of probability”.
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Artistic Imitation: A Process of Ordering and Arranging


Dramatic art is the imitation which reproduces life’s emotions rather than life’s sense
impressions. But in the reproduction is implied artistic selection and arrangement of material.
Aristotle insists upon the law of probability and necessity. There is an implied rationality in the
imitation involved in art. Poetry has no place for the irrelevant. The material has to be pruned.
The chaos of life has to be brought under a design, a pattern and an order. This is imperative for
the poetry to gain universality and truth.

Conclusion
Aristotle took the term ‘imitation’ from Plato. He gave to the term a wider significance. He
rejected the charge of poetry being a pack of lies. He brought out the higher truth involved in
poetry, which made it higher than history. He gave to the term ‘imitation’ a more precise as well
as deeper significance. He brought creative imagination within the scope of poetic imitation.

Written and Composed By:


Prof. A. R. Somroo
M.A. English, M.A. Education
Cell: 03339971417
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ARISTOTLE’S POETICS
ARISTOTLE’S CONCEPT OF TRAGEDY
The word tragedy brings to mind Aristotle and the Poetics. Some aspects of the definition and
discussion of tragedy in the book may be considered controversial, unaccepted or outdated, but
its influence is not less. Tragedy is the major concern of the Poetics.

The Greek Conception of Tragedy


It is necessary to remind that the Greek conception of tragedy was different from ours. In the
modern age, tragedy means a drama with an unhappy ending and disastrous enough to have a
tragic effect. However the Greek conception of tragedy was that it was a serious drama, not
necessarily with an unhappy ending. The essence of tragedy was that it handled serious actions
of serious characters.
The Greek tragedy has scenes and incidents of pain and sorrow, but need not end disastrously.
This is clear from Aristotle’s classification of four possible tragic plots which represented a
change from misery to happiness – a contention which seems unacceptable in the modern times.

The Origin of Tragedy and its Superiority over the Epic


According to Aristotle, tragedy developed from the heroic effort of poetry, which in its turn
developed from the hymns sung in praise of gods and great men. Tragedy is considered by
Aristotle to be a higher form than the epic form of poetry, because it was a later development.
Tragedy has a greater degree of concentration and coherence than the epic, and has a greater
effect.

The Definition of Tragedy


Aristotle’s famous definition of tragedy says:
“ 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 clearly falls into two parts. The first part tells us about the nature of tragedy, its
object, manner, and medium of imitation; the second part points out the function of tragedy.

Tragedy: Different from other forms of Poetic Imitation

Tragedy, like other forms of art, is a form of imitation. It differs from other arts in the object,
manner and medium of imitation. Its objects of imitation are ‘serious actions’. It is always to be
kept in mind that imitation in the Aristotelian sense is not slavish copying. It involves grasping
and representing the essence of a universal truth. Poetic imitation is re-creation or a creative
reproduction of objects.
In its manner of imitation, tragedy is different from the epic. The epic uses the manner of
narrative, while tragedy represents life through acting. It differs from the other forms of poetry
in that it employs decorations or pleasurable accessories of different kinds. It uses, for instance,
verse for dialogues, and song for the chorus.
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The Action: Complete, With a Beginning, Middle, and an End


Aristotle does not define the word ‘action’. But we get the implications through the qualities
which Aristotle ascribes to it. For the sake of convenience, one can say that an action shows the
progress of an individual from one position to another, at which he either dies, or becomes
involved in a completely changed set of circumstances. Action is the plot, consisting of the
logical and inevitable sequence of incidents. The action must be complete, which means that it
must have a beginning, middle and end.

The Magnitude
Besides being serious, the action must have a certain magnitude. The term has been wrongly
interpreted as ‘important’ or ‘dignified’. It actually refers to the size. A tragedy must be of a
correct length. It must not be so long that it cannot be grasped in its entirety without confusion.
Neither must it be so short that its parts cannot be comprehended properly. Aristotle compares
tragic plot to a living organism in order to bring out the importance of the correct size. The plot
should be of such a size that that it allows human memory to encompass the whole of it. It
should, at the same time, be long enough to permit the orderly and natural development in the
change of fortune, leading to the catastrophe. The parts of the whole should form a coherent,
complete and intelligible pattern.

The Formative Elements of Tragedy


Aristotle gives six formative elements of tragedy – Plot, Character, Thought, Diction, Spectacle
and Song. Three of these i.e. Plot, Character and Thought are internal aspects; three namely,
Diction, Spectacle and Song, are external aspects. Diction and Song are concerned with the
medium of imitation, while Spectacle, with the manner of imitation. Plot, Character and
Thought are concerned with the objects of imitation.

Unified Plot

Tragedy imitates ‘men in action’. The men or the dramatis personae, must have the two qualities,
namely moral and intellectual what Aristotle calls the ethos and dianoia. But even speeches
which are expressive of character would not be producing the tragic effect as powerfully as well
constructed plot.
Aristotle considers plot to be the most important part of tragedy; indeed, it is the very soul of
tragedy. Plot is the arrangement of the incidents in a logical sequence.
Plot is compared to a living organism. Just as the parts of a living organism must be probably
related to each other and to the whole, the parts of a tragedy should relate to one another and
produce a unified effect. Each event should further the action and no part should be superfluous
or irrelevant.

Character
Aristotle says that the most important aspect of characterization in tragedy is goodness. The
character must be good. It must be appropriate to the status or type he represents. It would be
improper to ascribe valour to a woman, and nobility to a slave. The character must show the
truth to life. It must be the true representative of the human nature. The character should be
self consistent. He should speak or behave in a given way.
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ARISTOTLE’S POETICS
THEORY OF THE TRAGIC PLOT
Aristotle says that Tragedy is an imitation of an action that is serious, complete and of certain
magnitude. It is an imitation of an action. It is an image of human life, which consists in a
mode of action. The term ‘action’ includes a variety of aspects of human life. It involves not
merely deeds, incidents and situations. It encompasses the very mental processes which make
men act, and the very motives behind the external events. Character and plot cannot be
unrelated. Plot contains the kernel of the action represented by a tragedy, and the action is that
of human agents, involving mental processes and the manifestation of these mental processes in
external acts.

Distinction between Plot and Story


Aristotle used the term plot that did not mean mere story. We have first to understand the
meaning of the word ‘Poet’ as it was used in Greek. In Greek, the word poet meant maker. The
poet is a maker not of the story, but of the plot. The making of the plot is a creative activity. It
involves artistic selection and ordering of the chaotic material of life. The plot involves the
arrangement of incidents and events into a coherent pattern.
The poet reduces the story to its essentials; he sketches a general outline. He then realizes the
plot in term of incidents. The meaning is that first sketch the story’s general outline, and then,
episodize. The making of episodes is the essential activity of the poet as a maker of his plot. It
requires selection and arrangement of material. It requires the rejection of anything irrelevant
to the poet’s plan. It involves imagination and intellectual effort to order the material into a
plot.

The Construction of Plot


Aristotle does not define the word ‘action’. But we get the implications through the qualities
which Aristotle ascribes to it. For the sake of convenience, one can say that an action shows the
progress of an individual from one position to another, at which he either dies, or becomes
involved in a completely changed set of circumstances. Action is the plot, consisting of the
logical and inevitable sequence of incidents. The action must be complete, which means that it
must have a beginning, middle and end. There is no place for the haphazard, the chaotic, or the
irrational, in the construction of the plot. In this context, one remembers E.M. Forster’s
observation on the plot and story. He says that a “story is a narrative of events arranged in their
time-sequence. A plot is also a narrative of events, the emphasis falling on causality.

The Magnitude of the Plot


Besides being serious, the action must have a certain magnitude. The term has been wrongly
interpreted as ‘important’ or ‘dignified’. It actually refers to the size. A tragedy must be of a
correct length. It must not be so long that it cannot be grasped in its entirety without confusion.
Neither must it be so short that its parts cannot be comprehended properly. Aristotle compares
tragic plot to a living organism in order to bring out the importance of the correct size. The plot
should be of such a size that that it allows human memory to encompass the whole of it. It
should, at the same time, be long enough to permit the orderly and natural development in the
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change of fortune, leading to the catastrophe. The parts of the whole should form a coherent,
complete and intelligible pattern.

Organic Unity of Action


Tragedy imitates ‘men in action’. The men or the dramatis personae, must have the two qualities,
namely moral and intellectual what Aristotle calls the ethos and dianoia. But even speeches
which are expressive of character would not be producing the tragic effect as powerfully as well
constructed plot.
Aristotle considers plot to be the most important part of tragedy; indeed, it is the very soul of
tragedy. Plot is the arrangement of the incidents in a logical sequence.
Plot is compared to a living organism. Just as the parts of a living organism must be probably
related to each other and to the whole, the parts of a tragedy should relate to one another and
produce a unified effect. Each event should further the action and no part should be superfluous
or irrelevant.

Conclusion

Aristotle’s concept of the tragic plot is in keeping with what we have come to call classical.
There is an insistence on order, pattern and design. The chaotic material of life should be
brought under systematic discipline, so that events seem to happen in a logical sequence with no
irrelevancies. It is true that the modern concept of tragedy has changed a great deal—any living
literature naturally involves change and modifications. Yet we find that in some aspects
Aristotle’s theory of plot is still very much valid, for they are universal principles.

Written and Composed By


Prof. A. R. Somroo
M.A. English, M.A. Education
Cell: 03339971417
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ARISTOTLE’S POETICS
CONCEPTION OF CATHARSIS
The word catharsis means in general “outlet of strong emotions” or a willing account of deep
feelings given to another person. Anyhow its roots are found in a Greek word “Katherine”
meaning to clear and purity. The term “Catharsis” is used only once in the course of Aristotle’s
poetics in 6th chapter as he says:
“Tragedy is an imitation of an action that is serious, complete and of a certain magnitude, in
language embellished with each kind of artistic ornaments in a dramatic form, with incidents
arousing pity and fear to accomplish the catharsis of such emotions”.
The theory of catharsis has been long and vitally accepted, so often quoted but less understood.
Yet there is hardly any other single term which has given rise to so many different
interpretations and controversies. The difficulty arises out of the fact that Aristotle does not
fully define or explain the term. The term has been explained by critics in the light of its use in
Aristotle’s other works such as politics and ethics. It has been noted that the term Catharsis has
three meanings: Purgation, Purification and Clarification.

Purgation
The term catharsis has been interpreted in medical terms, meaning purgation and according to
medical terms purgation is the partial removal of excess humour. The health of body depends
upon a true balance of the humours. Thus the purgation of emotions of pity and fear does not
mean the removal of these emotions, but that the passions or emotions are reduced to a healthy,
balanced proportion. Catharsis in this sense denotes a pathological effect on the soul comparable
to the effect of medicine on the body.

Purification
One meaning of catharsis is purification. Some critics have interpreted the term in the light of
this meaning. These critics reject the interpretation of catharsis in the light of medical
terminology.
H. House, for instance says, “Aristotle’s concept of catharsis was not as a medical term. He
interprets that word to mean a kind of moral conditioning, which the spectator undergoes. He
comments that purgation means cleansing”.
According to H. House Aristotle’s whole doctrine only makes sense if we realize that the proper
development and balance of emotion depends upon the habitual direction of them towards
worthy objects. Butcher, too, agrees with the purification theory. He observes that catharsis
involves not only the idea of emotional relief but also the idea of purgation of the emotions.

Clarification
There are some critics who show that the implication of catharsis is to be found in the poetics
itself without any need to refer to the Politics and Ethics. Writing of imitative arts is connected
with learning. Pleasure does not come from joy alone. A paradox lies there in tragedy. The
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incidents of tragedy are painful yet in tragedy, they afford us a special pleasure. It is a pleasure
peculiar to tragedy. It is said that Aristotle ignored pleasure as the function of tragedy. It is
wrong to say that Aristotle totally ignored pleasure but Aristotle in his treatise tells us that
tragedy has its own two kinds of pleasure: Catharsis of emotion and the consequent pleasure.

Catharsis Involves a Process of learning


Tragic pleasure rises from the fact that imitation produces that sort of pleasure which comes
from learning. This learning comes from our discovery of a certain relationship between the
particular events presented in the imitation and certain universal elements embodied in it.
The tragic poet selects incidents embodying pity and fear and then presents them in such a way
as to ring out the probable principles that unite them in a single action and determine their
relation to this action as it proceeds from its beginning to its end. When the spectator has
witnessed a tragedy of this type, he will have learned something.
In the light of this theory, Catharsis refers to the incidents of the tragedy rather than to the
psychology of the audience. Catharsis is not purgation of emotions, nor is it a purification of
emotions. It refers to the way in which the poet has presented his incidents of pity and fear., to
rise from the particular to the universal.

Conclusion
Aristotle is a great critic, and what he said centuries ago will continue to influence thinking as
it has done all this time. It is unfortunate that he has not explained some of the terms which
seem so much significant to his central thesis. The term Catharsis has been interpreted so
variously that it is difficult to come to an agreement as to what Aristotle really meant. Of the
theories advanced to explain catharsis, the clarification theory is the most acceptable. It tends
to relate catharsis to the work rather than to the psychology of the audience.

Written and Composed By:

Prof. A. R. Somroo

M.A. English, M.A. Education

03339971417
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ARISTOTLE’S POETICS
THEORY OF IDEAL TRAGIC HERO
The greatest modification in Aristotle’s concept of tragedy has to be made in connection with the
tragic hero. Aristotle formed his conception of tragic hero as a result of his inductive research.
He read all the tragedies that were available at that time and then formed his conception of
tragic hero.
Aristotle in his poetics puts forward a number of characteristics for the ideal tragic heroes
which however have proved to be quite controversial. Different critics have interpreted them in
different manner.

Characteristics of a Tragic Hero


Aristotle gives four points to aim at the treatment of ideal tragic hero. These are as under:

Goodness

Many critics think the first characteristic somewhat strange and extraordinary. But it is
essential to Aristotle’s theory because it is the foundation for the basic sympathy in the reader or
audience, without which neither tragic emotions nor the tragic pleasure be evoked. Sympathy is
necessary as it is the very basis of the whole tragic pleasure. The ad man does not arouse pity in
us if he falls from happiness to misery. According to Aristotle, entirely wicked person has no
place in tragedy, except he is indispensable to the plot. But the action of the play as a whole
should be good. Any how Aristotle’s dictum of goodness in the tragic hero has given rise to a
great deal of controversy. Aristotle’s concept of the effect of tragedy is that it arouses pity and
fear. But a perfectly good man, if he suffers the fall from prosperity to misery, it will not arouse
pity and fear. It would simply shock the spectator’s sense of justice. The shock arises from the
fact that a completely virtuous man is suffering, the suffering is wholly undeserved. It is an
irrational suffering. So he says that he must be a great soul but there must be some tragic flaw
or error in his judgment which brings his downfall. Only in this case the feeling of pity and
fear would be aroused in the spectator.

Appropriateness
The next essential, as for as, hero is concerned, is appropriateness. The term has been
interpreted variously. Some critics take it to mean “True to type”. Yet this is not to mean that
Aristotle meant character to be mere type and not individual. He means that the characters
should be true to the characteristics of their particular ages and at the same individual too.
Another object of appropriateness has been pointed out by the critics that Aristotle could have
meant the hero should be appropriate to the historical or traditional portrait of him.
Apparently, if Aristotle meant this, he had the practice of the Greek dramatists in his mind,
which too formed their characters from traditional sources.
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Likeness
The third essential is likeness. Aristotle gives no example to illustrate his meaning in his
context. Thus, one interpretation is “To the original in the sense of how the painter is true to the
original”. This would reduce the freedom of creative artist. So it would be more acceptable to
interpret the term as “true to life”. So we identify ourselves with the character. If we do not see
the character as we see ourselves, the tragic emotions of pity and fear become irrelevant.

Consistency
The fourth characteristic is consistency. The hero must be seen as a whole and consistent to
what he represented from beginning to end. The character, in words should act and seem to
think in a manner which we can logically expect from that particular individual
So, the person who stands between complete villainy and complete goodness according to
Aristotle is the ideal tragic hero. He is a man like us. Yet, he has a moral elevation. He is more
intense person. His feelings are deeper; he has heightened powers of intellect and will also.
Aristotle says, “A tragic hero must be an intermediate sort of person, a man not pre-eminently
virtuous and just whose misfortune, however is brought upon him not by vice or depravity ut by
some error of judgment or Hammartia”.
Aristotle makes it clear that Hammartia is some error of judgment that lets fall of the hero
come about not because of some depravity but from error on his part.
The Hammartia is an error that may arise in three ways: ignorance of fact, error of judgment,
voluntarily error

Conclusion
On the whole, we can say that Aristotle’s concept of tragic hero is not acceptable. In some ways
he has a limited vision. Tragedy is possible with saints and high rank people. This is not a
generally found fact. Further, the tragedy found from Hammartia is not always in all cases.
However, the chief limitation of Aristotle’s concept is based on one section of world of drama.
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