Aristotle's Poetics: Complexity and Pleasure in Tragedy Essay

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Aristotle's Poetics: Complexity and Pleasure in Tragedy

Aristotle 384-322 BC First, the instinct of imitation is implanted in man from childhood, one difference between him and other animals being that he is the most imitative of living creatures, and through imitation learns his earliest lessons; and no less universal is the pleasure felt in things imitated. We have evidence of this in the facts of experience. Objects which in themselves we view with pain, we delight to contemplate when reproduced with minute fidelity
Poetics Chapter 1V

In his Poetics [1] Aristotle classifies plot into two types: simple [haplos], and complex [peplegmenos]. The simple plot is defined as a unified construct of necessary and probable actions
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Unity of time, in contrast to its neo-classical applications, here simply means the time span in which the tragic action can be best comprehended by the audience, given the constraints of human memory, and the wholeness of the action.

Finally, we come to the change of fortune. It is either from good to bad or the reverse. The former is more characteristic of tragedy but in a later section Aristotle complicates the idea by saying that those plots where the catastrophe is averted by recognition are best. The change of fortune is also accompanied by a complication of events [desis] and their resolution [lusis].

Having briefly examined the common aspects of both kinds of plot, we can now look at the special attributes of the complex plot.

Let us take another look at Aristotle's celebrated definition of complex action: 'A complex action is one where the change is accompanied by such reversal or recognition or both.' Peripeteia has been defined as a reversal of the action. If, however, it is just that, then how is it different from the change of fortune? Clearly this is too limited a definition of peripeteia and it would perhaps be pertinent to consider two other definitions. Humphrey House [2] defines it as a 'reversal of intention'. This definition takes into account the 'thought' or the dianoia exercised by the character. House describes it as 'holding the wrong end

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