Literary Criticism

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Aristotle’s Poetics Image:Aristotle.jpg


By Dr. Dilip Barad, [[http://www.bhavuni.edu | Bhavnagar University, Bhavnagar, Gujarat.



Chapter Outline


1.0 Introduction
1.1. Objectives
1.2. Criticism and Creativity
1.2.1. What is the difference between criticism and creativity?
1.3. Plato’s Objection to Poetry
1.3.1. What were his objections?
1.3.2. Why he objected to poetry?
1.3.3. What is his Theory of Mimesis?
1.4. Aristotle: Introduction
1.4.1. How did he reply to Plato’s Objection?
1.4.2. How did he differ in his Theory of Mimesis from his Guru Plato?
1.5. Aristotle’s Definition of Tragedy
1.5.1. How does Aristotle distinguish among various fine arts?
1.5.2. What is his definition of Tragedy?
1.6. Aristotle’s theory of Catharsis
1.6.1. What are various interpretations given to the meaning of Catharsis?
1.6.2. What are various interpretations given to the meaning of Catharsis?
1.6.3. How far Catharsis is relevant today?
1.7. Aristotle’s Six parts of Tragedy
1.7.1. Which are the six important part of tragedy?
1.7.2. What are the characteristics of tragic hero?
1.7.3. What does he mean by hamartia?
1.8. Aristotle’s views on Epic
1.8.1. Is, according to Aristotle, Epic better than tragedy?
1.8.2. How does he distinguish Epic and Tragedy?
1.9. Let’s Sum Up
1.10. References and Further Readings
1.11. Glossary
1.12. Answers to Self Assessment Questions




Introduction


In this unit we shall try to understand the relationship between Criticism and Creativity. We shall see how criticism is valued like creative writings. We shall try to understand the role and place given to ‘the critic’ in the field of literary criticism. The history of literary criticism has witnessed several critics who themselves had not been creative writers. Plato and Aristotle were such critics who gave guidelines of good literature without themselves being creative writers. Plato was the most distinguished disciple of Socrates. The 4th century BC to which he belonged was an age of inquiry and as such his chief interest was Philosophical investigations, which form the subject of his great works in form of Dialogues. He was not a professed critic of literature and his critical observations are not found in any single book. They lie scattered in seven of his dialogues, more particularly in The Ion, The Symposium, The Republic and the Laws. The first objection to his critical views came form his disciple, Aristotle. In this unit we will discuss Aristotle’s Poetics, which consists of his views on all forms of literary art, especially tragedy.




Learning Objectives
After reading this chapter, you are expected to learn about:


  • identify the difference between critical and creative writing;
  • explain Plato’s objection to poetry;
  • evaluate Plato’s and Aristotle’s Theory of Mimesis;
  • explain Aristotle’s definition of Tragedy;
  • list six parts of tragedy;
  • evaluate the importance of Plot and Character; and
  • discuss critical issues in evaluating tragedy as better form of literature than other.





1.2 Criticism and Creativity


The relationship between Criticism and Creativity is a very close and it is very difficult to decide which of these two processes came first. This relationship is as illusive as that of the seed and the tree, and the egg and the hen. The seed grows out of a tree and tree grows out of a seed. In the same way a hen grows out of an egg and an egg grows out of a hen. Similarly, it is absolutely impossible to find out whether an artist came first or a critic.

R.A. Scott James has rightly observed “To the critics of the arts and especially literature custom has given an independent place. In this respect it differs from all other kind of criticism.” The critic of architecture is architecture, of that of gardening is gardner, but that of poet may or may not be a poet. Thus, since time immemorial, it has been customary to accept the criticism of art from a man who may or may not have been artist himself. Some believe that artist should create its art and leave it for critic to pass judgement over it. Whereas dramatists like Ben Jonson is of the view that to ‘judge of poets is only the faculty of poets; and not of all poets, but the best’. Only the best of poets have the right to pass judgments on the merit or defects of poetry, for they alone have experienced the creative process form beginning to end, and they alone can rightly understand it.

Both the above given views are extreme. While it is true that the critic has understanding of poetry as well as analytical mind, which proves dependable – the poets are not quite without the gift of analytical thinking. Moreover, it cannot be said that the poet who creates does not understand his own creation, and that in order to understand he must approach the critic. Thus even Ben Jonson is also not quite fair. Most often, the poet who bursts out into spontaneous utterance has no critical awareness of it. He has a powerful experience, a vision of life which he wishes to communicate to others through his work, but whether it is adequately communicated or not, whether it has moving, transporting qualities or not, whether the writer has succeeded in expressing what he intended to express…etc… are the questions which a student of literature(critic) which balanced mind, poetic sensibility – though not poetic ability and capacity – has to reply.

Thus critics are distinguished person. They have qualified themselves for the task. Alexander Pope has rightly said it is heavenly gift. Dr, Johnson – nature and learning has qualified them for judge.

But this does not mean that all the critics are fair and qualified critics. Sometimes we find purely professional who lack both sympathy and impartiality of an ideal critic. They do not render good service to literature, but they hinder the young and rising talent. (Keats’ premature death, Hardy gave up writing novels). Oliver Goldsmith calls them eunuchs – themselves unable to create, and therefore they hinder creativity in others. Dryden: corruption of poet is the generation of critic.

R.A.Scott James observed “Less gifted man would be certain to miss the significance of his drawing. If you show a dog a photograph of his master he will not recognize it. It will show more excitement at the photographs of dog next door”.

Any student of literature who wishes to take some profitable use of the critical literature available to him will do well to keep the following words of Scott James in his mind before he goes on with the task that he has undertaken to accomplish: “It may be a gain to attend to the writer of this critical literature precisely in so far as they are not standing aloof, like magistrate who were never guilty of crime pronouncing dispassionately upon the blamelessness or the misdemeanor of artist”.


1.2.1 Difference between Criticism and Creativity


Creative writer has artistic sensibility. He observes the world like any common men. But his vision observes the world quite differently. He can perceive from life-experience what common man cannot see at all. This experience and observation get imaginative colours with the help of artistic sensibility. He creates a world of imaginative reality. His world is more beautiful and artistic than the real world. He is naturally gifted to create the work which has power to move or transport the reader. He gets his raw material from the life. He is critic of life. Criticism is a task of those who write on the creative writings. The word criticism has been derived from the Greek word Kritikos, which means ‘able to discern and judge’ and whoever does the act of judging is called Critic. Criticism is the art of judging the merits and demerits of creative composition.

In the words of Thomas De Quincey criticism may be termed as the literature of knowledge and creative writing as the literature of power. Literature of power deals with life, where as literature of knowledge share information on creative composition. Alexander Pope has rightly said:

“Both from Heaven derive their light These born to judge, as well as those to write.”

He gives equal value to both the critic and the creative writer. To him both are gifted writers, one to write creatively and the other to judge the creativity. But Dryden does not agree with the views of Pope. To him “the corruption of a poet is the generation of a critic.” He believed that those who cannot be good creative writer they become critics and corrupt creativity of the artists. Lessing believed that, “Not every critic is born a genius, but every genius is born a critic of art. He has within himself the evidence of all rules.” He gives respectful place to critics and criticism. He is of the belief that the critics are born genius to judge the work of art.

No critic can ever form accurate judgement unless he possesses the artist’s vision. Criticism and creativity are inextricably mingled with each other. Thus the artist is the critic of life and Critic, that of art. The artist must have the imagination and vision to critically imitate the life/nature; the Critic from beginning to end, relive the same experience.



Self-Assessment Questions (SAQs) -1
Notes: (I) Workout the questions as instructed.

(ii) Compare your answer with those given at the end of the unit.
(iii) To work on the SAQs through Moodle LMS and get instant feedback and score click here. Please note that you need to create a NEW ACCOUNT (only first time), and then only you will be able to work.

(1) Fill in the blanks:

(i) The relationship between criticism and creativity is as illusive as __________ .
(a) Tree and fruit
(b) Hen and egg
(c) Art and life

(ii) The critic of _____________________ is given independent place and it differs from all other kind of criticism.
(a) Architecture
(b) Gardening
(c) Art and literature

(2) Choose the right answer from options (Multiple-choice)

(I) The renowned Elizabethan playwright Ben Jonson is of the view that:
(a) Judge of poets is only the faculty of poets; and not of all poets, but the best.
(b) Not every critic is born a genius, but every genius is born a critic of art. He has within himself the evidence of all rules.
(c) Both from Heaven derive their light; These born to judge, as well as those to write.

(ii) True criticism may be defined as :
(a) The corruption of a poet is the generation of a critic.
(b) The art of judging the merits and demerits of creative composition.
(c) The art of finding faults in creative composition.

(iii) No critic can ever be a good critic unless:
(a) He possesses the artist’s vision and has capability of artistic sensibility
(b) He vehemently lashes at the work of art.
(c) He glorifies the work of art.

To check you answers, click Literary_Criticism_Page_2.



1.3 Plato’s Objection to Poetry


Admirers of Plato are usually lovers of literary art. It is so because Plato wrote dramatic dialogues rather than didactic volumes and did so with rare literary skill. You would expect such a philosopher to place a high value on literary art, but Plato actually attacked it, along with other forms of what he called mimesis. According to Plato’s theory of mimesis (imitation) the arts deal with illusion and they are imitation of an imitation. Thus, they are twice removed from reality. As a moralist, Plato disapproves of poetry because it is immoral, as a philosopher he disapproves of it because it is based in falsehood. He is of the view that philosophy is better than poetry because philosopher deals with idea / truth, whereas poet deals with what appears to him / illusion. He believed that truth of philosophy was more important than the pleasure of poetry. He argued that most of it should be banned from the ideal society that he described in the Republic.
What objections did Plato have with mimesis or poetry or poet?
Do those objections apply to the sort of art we value today? Are they well-founded?
These are the questions that we shall be discussing in this unit.

1.3.1 What were his objections?


Plato objected to poetry on three grounds, viz., Education, Philosophical and moral view point.
1. Plato’s objection to Poetry from the point of view of Education:
a. In ‘The Republic’ Book II – He condemns poetry as fostering evil habits and vices in children. Homer’s epics were part of studies. Heroes of epics were not examples of sound or ideal morality. They were lusty, cunning, and cruel – war mongers. Even Gods were no better.
b. Plato writes: “if we mean our future guardians to regard the habit of quarreling among themselves as of all things the basest, no word should be said to them of the wars in the heaven, or of the plots and fighting of the gods against one another, for they are not true…. If they would only believe as we would tell them that quarreling is unholy, and that never up to this time has there been any quarreling between citizens…… these tales (of epics) must not be admitted into our State, whether they are supposed to have allegorical meaning or not.”
c. Thus he objected on the ground that poetry does not cultivate good habits among children.
2. Objection from Philosophical point of view:
a. In ‘The Republic’ Book X: Poetry does not lead to, but drives us away form the realization of the ultimate reality – the Truth.
b. Philosophy is better than poetry because Philosophy deals with idea and poetry is twice removed from original idea.
c. Plato says: “The imitator or maker of the image knows nothing of true existence; he knows appearance only …. The imitative art is an inferior who marries an inferior and has inferior offspring.
3. Objection form the Moral point of view:
a. In the same book in ‘The Republic’: Soul of man has higher principles of reason (which is the essence of its being) as well as lower constituted of baser impulses and emotions. Whatever encourages and strengthens the rational principle is good, and emotional is bad.
b. Poetry waters and nourishes the baser impulses of men - emotional, sentimental and sorrowful.
Plato says: “Then the imitative poet who aims at being popular is not by nature made, nor is his art intended, to please or to affect the rational principle in the soul; but he will prefer the passionate and fitful temper, which is easily limited …. And therefore we shall be right in refusing to admit him into a well-ordered state, because he awakens and nourishes and strengthen the feelings and impairs the reason … Poetry feeds and waters the passion instead of drying them up; she lets them rule, although they ought to be controlled, if mankind are ever to increase in happiness and virtue.”

1.3.2 Why he objected to Poetry?


These are Plato’s principal charges on poetry and objection to it. Before we pass on any judgement, we should not forget to keep in view the time in which he lived. During his time:

• There was political instability
• Education was in sorry state. Homer was part of studies – and Homer’s epics were misrepresented and misinterpreted.
• Women were regarded inferior human beings – slavery was wide spread.
• Best time of Greek literature was over – corruption and degeneration in literature.
• Confusion prevailed in all sphere of life – intellect, moral, political and education.
Thus, in Plato’s time the poets added fuel to the fire. He looked at poets as breeders of falsehood and poetry as mother of lies. And so the chief reasons for his objecting poets were:

• it is not ethical because it promotes undesirable passions,
• it is not philosophical because it does not provide true knowledge, and
• it is not pragmatic because it is inferior to the practical arts and therefore has no educational value.
These were the reasons for Plato’s objections to poetry.

1.3.3 What is his Theory of Mimesis?


In his theory of mimesis, Plato says that all art is mimetic by nature; art is an imitation of life. He believed that ‘idea’ is ultimate reality. Art imitates idea and so it is imitation of reality. He gives an example of a carpenter and a chair. The idea of ‘chair’ first came in the mind of carpenter. He gave physical shape to his idea and created a chair. The painter imitated the chair of the carpenter in his picture of chair. Thus, painter’s chair is twice removed from reality. Hence, he believed that art is twice removed from reality. He gives first importance to philosophy as philosophy deals with idea. Whereas poetry deals with illusion – things which are twice removed form reality. So to Plato, philosophy is better than poetry. This view of mimesis is pretty deflationary, for it implies that mimetic art--drama, fiction, representational painting-- does not itself have an important role to play in increasing our understanding of human beings and the human world. This implication would not be rejected by every lover--or indeed every creator--of imaginative literature. Ironically it was Plato's most famous student, Aristotle, who was the first theorist to defend literature and poetry in his writing Poetics against Plato’s objection and his theory of mimesis.



Self-Assessment Questions (SAQs) -2
Notes: (I) Workout the questions as instructed.

(ii) Compare your answer with those given at the end of the unit.
(iii) To work on the SAQs through Moodle LMS and get instant feedback and score click here. Please note that you need to create a NEW ACCOUNT (only first time), and then only you will be able to work.

Choose the right option:

1. Plato wrote his treatise in form of:
a. Dialogues
b. Paragraphs
c. Poetry
d. Story telling

2. On which three grounds did Plato objected to poetry?
a. Educational, philosophical and moral.
b. Sexuality, morality and philosophical.
c. Educational, obscenity and sexuality.

Fill in the blanks:

3. According to Plato, poets are breeders of ¬¬¬¬¬¬¬_____________ and poetry is ¬¬¬¬¬-_________________ of lies.
a. Falsehood and mother.
b. Truth and mother.
c. Falsehood and sister.

Say whether the following statement is true or false:

4. According to Plato, poetry is better than philosophy.
a. True
b. False
c. Cannot say

To check you answers, click Literary_Criticism_Page_2.


1.4 Aristotle: Introduction


‘Plato confused the study of ‘aesthetics’ with the study of ‘morals’. Aristotle removed that confusion and created the study of aesthetics.’

Plato was a great poet, a mystic and a philosopher. Aristotle – the most distinguished disciple of Plato was a critic, scholar, logician and practical philosopher. The master was an inspired genius every way greater than the disciple except in logic, analysis and common sense. He is known for his critical treatise: (i) The Poetics and (ii) The Rhetoric, dealing with art of poetry and art of speaking, resp.

For centuries during Roman age in Europe and after renaissance, Aristotle was honoured as a law-giver and legislator. Even today his critical theories remain largely relevant, and for this he certainly deserves our admiration and esteem. But he was never a law-giver in literature and is no longer held as such in our times. The Poetics is not merely commentary or judgement on the poetic art. Its conclusion is firmly rooted in the Greek literature and is actually illustrated form it. He was a codifier; he derived and discussed the principles of literature as manifest in the plays and poetry existing in his own day. His main concern appears to be tragedy, which in his day was considered to be the most developed form of poetry. Another part of poetics deals with comedy, but it is unfortunately lost. In his observations on the nature and function of poetry, he has replied the charges of Plato against poetry, where in he partly agrees and partly disagrees with his teacher.

1.4.1 How did Aristotle reply to Plato’s Objection?


Aristotle replied to the charges made by his Guru Plato against Poetry in particular and art in general. He replied to them one by one in defense of poetry.

1. Plato says that art being the imitation of the actual is removed from truth. It only gives the likeness of a thing in concrete, and the likeness is always less than real. But Plato fails to understand that art also give something more which is absent in the actual. The artist does not simply reflect the real in the manner of a mirror. Art is not slavish imitation of reality. Literature is not the photographic reproduction of life in all its totality. It is the representation of selected events and characters necessary in a coherent action for the realization of artist’s purpose. He even exalts, idealizes and imaginatively recreates a world which has its own meaning and beauty. These elements, present in art, are absent in the raw and rough real. R.A.Scott-James rightly observes: “But though he (Poet) creates something less than that reality, he also creates something more. He puts an idea into it. He put his perception into it. He gives us his intuition of certain distinctive and essential qualities.”

This ‘more’, this intuition and perception is the aim of the artist. Artistic creation cannot be fairly criticized on the ground that it is not the creation in concrete terms of things and beings. Thus considered it does not take us away form the Truth, but leads us to the essential reality of life.

2. Plato again says that art is bad because it does not inspire virtue, does not teach morality. But is teaching the function of the art? Is it the aim of the artist? The function of art is to provide aesthetic delight, communicate experience, express emotions and represent life. It should ever be confused with the function of ethics which is simply to teach morality. If an artist succeeds in pleasing us in aesthetic sense, he is a good artist. If he fails in doing so, he is a bad artist. There is no other criterion to judge his worth. R.A.Scott-James observes: “Morality teaches. Art does not attempt to teach. It merely asserts it is thus or thus that life is perceived to be. That is my bit of reality, says the artist. Take it or leave it – draw any lessons you like from it – that is my account of things as they are – if it has any value to you as evidence or teaching, use it, but that is not my business: I have given you my rendering, my account, my vision, my dream, my illusion – call it what you will. If there is any lesson in it, it is yours to draw, not mine to preach.” Similarly, Plato’s charge that needless lamentations and ecstasies at the imaginary events of sorrow and happiness encourages weaker part of soul and numbs faculty of reason. This charge is defended by Aristotle in his Theory of Catharsis. David Daiches summarizes Aristotle’s views in reply to Plato’s charges in brief: “Tragedy (Art) gives new knowledge, yields aesthetic satisfaction and produces a better state of mind.”

3. Plato judges poetry now from the educational standpoint, now from the philosophical one and then from the ethical one. But he does not care to consider it from its own unique standpoint. He does not define its aims. He forgets that every thing should be judged in terms of its own aims and objective its own criteria of merit and demerit. We cannot fairly maintain that music is bad because it does not paint, or that painting is bad because it does not sing. Similarly, we cannot say that poetry is bad because it does not teach philosophy of ethics. If poetry, philosophy and ethics had identical function, how could they be different subjects? To denounce poetry because it is not philosophy or ideal is clearly absurd.

1.4.2 How did Aristotle differ in his Theory of Mimesis from his Guru Plato?


Aristotle agrees with Plato in calling the poet an imitator and creative art, imitation. He imitates one of the three objects – things as they were/are, things as they are said/thought to be or things as they ought to be. In other words, he imitates what is past or present, what is commonly believed and what is ideal. Aristotle believes that there is natural pleasure in imitation which is in-born instinct in men. It is this pleasure in imitation that enables the child to learn his earliest lessons in speech and conduct from those around him, because there is a pleasure in doing so. In a grown up child – a poet, there is another instinct, helping him to make him a poet – the instinct for harmony and rhythm.

He does not agree with his teacher in – ‘poet’s imitation is twice removed form reality and hence unreal/illusion of truth. To prove his point he compares poetry with history. The poet and the historian differ not by their medium, but the true difference is that the historian relates ‘what has happened?, the poet, what may/ought to have happened?- the ideal. Poetry, therefore, is more philosophical and a higher thing the history, which expresses the particular, while poetry tends to express the universal. Therefore, the picture of poetry pleases all and at all times.

Aristotle does not agree with Plato in function of poetry to make people weaker and emotional/too sentimental. For him, catharsis is ennobling and humbles human being.

So far as moral nature of poetry is concerned, Aristotle believed that the end of poetry is to please; however, teaching may be given. Such pleasing is superior to the other pleasure because it teaches civic morality. So all good literature gives pleasure, which is not divorced from moral lessons.


Self-Assessment Questions (SAQs) -3
Notes: (I) Workout the questions as instructed.

(ii) Compare your answer with those given at the end of the unit.
(iii) To work on the SAQs through Moodle LMS and get instant feedback and score click here. Please note that you need to create a NEW ACCOUNT (only first time), and then only you will be able to work.

Choose the right option:

1. Aristotle’s well-known treatises are:
a. Dialogues.
b. Poetics and Rhetoric.
c. Poetry and drama.
d. Tragedy and epic.

2. Who summarizes Aristotle’s views in reply to Plato’s charges in brief: “Tragedy (Art) gives new knowledge, yields aesthetic satisfaction and produces a better state of mind.”
a. Bywater.
b. Scott-James.
c. David Daiches.
d. S.H. Butcher

Fill in the blanks:

3. Plato confused the study of ________________ with the study of _____________.
a. Falsehood and mother.
b. Aesthetics and morals.
c. Morals and aesthetics.

Say whether the following statement is true or false:

4. Aristotle did not agree with Plato in calling the poet an imitator and creative art, imitation.
a. True
b. False
c. Cannot say

To check you answers, click Literary_Criticism_Page_2.



1.5 Aristotle’s Definition of Tragedy


In this (1.5) section, you will see how Aristotle classified various forms of art. From his classification of all fine arts, he leads us into the discussion of tragedy. First, let us see how he classifies various fine arts.

1.5.1 How does Aristotle classify among various fine arts?


According to Aristotle metre/verse alone is not the distinguishing feature of poetry or imaginative literature in general. Even scientific and medical treatises may be written in verses. Verse will not make them poetry. “Even if a theory of medicine or physical philosophy be put forth in a metrical form, it is usual to describe the writer in this way; Homer and Empedocles, however, have really nothing in common apart from their metre; so that, if the one is to be called a poet, the other should be termed a physicist rather than a poet ” Then the question is, if metre/verse does not distinguish poetry from other forms of art, how can we classify them?

Aristotle classifies various forms of art with the help of object, medium and manner of their imitation of life:

OBJECT: (Which object is imitated? Life of great people or mean people is imitated? This will make that work Tragedy/Epic or Comedy/Satire) • David Daiches writes explaining the classification of poetry according to the aspect of life and the kinds of characters that are represented or imitated: “We can classify poetry according to the kinds of people it represents – they are either better than they are in real life, or worse, or the same. • One could present characters, that is, on the grand or heroic scale; or could treat ironically or humorously the petty follies of men; or one could aim at naturalism presenting men neither heightened nor trivialized … Tragedy deals with men on a heroic scale, men better than they are in every day life, whereas comedy deals with the more trivial aspect of human nature, with characters ‘worse’ than they are in real life.”

MEDIUM: (What sort of medium is used to imitate life? Colours, words, music? When words are used, how are the used, I mean, in what metre/verse are used as medium? That makes tragedy different from other fine arts as well as comedy also) The types of literature, says Aristotle, can, again, be distinguished according to the medium of representation. The difference of medium between a poet and a painter is clear; one uses words with their denotative, connotative, rhythmic and musical aspects; the other uses forms and colours. Likewise tragedy writer may make use of one kind of metre, and the comedy writer of another.

MANNER: (In what manner is imitation of life presented? How the serious aspect of life is imitated? By action or by narration?) • The kind of literature can be distinguished and determined also according to the techniques they employ. David Daiches: “The poet can tell a story in narrative form and partly through the speeches of the characters (as Homer does), or it can all be done in third-person narrative, or the story can be presented dramatically, with no use of third person narrative at all.”

1.5.2 What is his definition of Tragedy?


Tragedy, then, is an imitation of an action that is serious, complete, and of a certain magnitude; in the language embellished with each kind of artistic ornament, the several kinds being found in separate parts of the play; in the form of action, not of narrative; through pity and fear effecting the proper purgation-catharsis of these and similar emotions.

Explanation of the definition:

The definition is compact. Every word of it is pregnant with meaning. Each word from it can be elaborated into a separate essay.

All art is representation (imitation) of life, but none can represent life in its totality. Therefore, an artist has to be selective in representation. He must aim at representing or imitating an aspect of life or a fragment of life.

Action comprises of all human activities including deeds, thoughts and feelings. (so, soliloquies, chorus etc is also Action)

The writer of ‘tragedy’ seeks to imitate the serious side of life just as a writer of ‘comedy’ seeks to imitate only the shallow and superficial side. The tragic section presented on the stage in a drama should be complete or self contained with a beginning, middle and an end. A beginning is that before which the audience or the reader does not need to be told anything to understand the story. If something more is required to understand the story than the beginning gives, it is unsatisfactory. From it follow the middle. In their turn the events from the middle lead to the end. Thus the story becomes a compact & self sufficient one. It must not leave the impression that even after the end the action continues, or that before the action starts certain things remain to be known.

It must have close-knit unit with nothing that is superfluous or unnecessary. Every episode, every character and a dialogue in the play must carry step by step the action that is set into motion to its logical dénouement. It must give the impression of wholeness at the end.

The play must have, then, a definite magnitude, a proper size or a reasonable length such as the mind may comprehend fully. That is to say that it must have only necessary duration, not longer than about three hours, or shorter than that. Longer duration may tire our patience and shorter one make effective representation impossible. Besides, a drama continuing for hours – indefinitely may fail to keep the various parts of it together into unity and wholeness in the spectator’s mind. The reasonable duration enables the spectator to view the drama as a whole, to remember its various episodes and to maintain interest. The language employed here should be duly embellished and beautified with various artistic ornaments (rhythm, harmony, song) and figures of speech. The language of our daily affairs is not useful here because tragedy has to present a heightened picture of life’s serious side, and that is possible only if elevated language of poetry is used. According to need, the writer makes use of songs, poetry, poetic dialogue, simple conversation etc is various parts of the play.

Its manner of imitation should be action, not narration as in epic, for it is meant to be a dramatic representation, not a mere story-telling.

Then, for the function/aim of tragedy is to shake up in the soul the impulses of pity and fear, to achieve what he calls Catharsis. The emotions of pity and fear find a full and free out-let in tragedy. Their excess is purged and we are lifted out of our selves and emerged nobler than before.



Self-Assessment Questions (SAQs) -4
Notes: (I) Workout the questions as instructed.

(ii) Compare your answer with those given at the end of the unit.
(iii) To work on the SAQs through Moodle LMS and get instant feedback and score click here. Please note that you need to create a NEW ACCOUNT (only first time), and then only you will be able to work.

• Complete the following sentence by choosing the right option:

1. Tragedy is an imitation of …
a. an action that is serious, complete, and of a certain magnitude.
b. several kinds being found in separate parts of the play.
c. in the form of action, not of narrative.
d. through pity and fear effecting the proper purgation-catharsis of these and similar emotions.

• Choose the right option:

2. Which of the following lines of the definition of tragedy deals with the function of tragedy?
a. an action that is serious, complete, and of a certain magnitude
b. several kinds being found in separate parts of the play.
c. in the form of action, not of narrative.
d. through pity and fear effecting the proper purgation-catharsis of these and similar emotions.

• Fill in the blanks:

3. Aristotle classifies various forms of art with the help of ______, ______ and ______ of their imitation of life.

a. Words, colours and music.
b. Serious, comic and real aspect of life.
c. Object, medium and manner.
d. Action, narration and recitation.

Say whether the following statement is true or false:

4. According to Aristotle metre / verse alone is the distinguishing feature of poetry or imaginative literature in general..
a. True
b. False
c. Cannot say

To check you answers, click Literary_Criticism_Page_2.


1.6 Aristotle’s Theory of Catharsis


As discussed in the explanation of the definition of tragedy (1.5.2), theory of Catharsis emerges as the function of tragedy. The last line of the definition -‘through pity and fear effecting the proper purgation of these and similar emotions’- substantiates the theory of Catharsis. His theory of Catharsis consists in the purgation or purification of the excessive emotions of pity and fear. Witnessing the tragedy and suffering of the protagonist on the stage, such emotions and feelings of the audience is purged. The purgation of such emotions and feelings make them relieved and they emerge better human beings than they were. Thus, Aristotle’s theory of Catharsis has moral and ennobling function.
But for the exact meaning and concept of catharsis, there has been a lot of controversy among scholars and critics down the centuries. The critics on catharsis by prolonged debated has succeeded only in creating confusion, not in clarifying the concept. Yet since Aristotle is vague in the usage of this word, critics have to interpret it on his behalf. Certain broad understanding of the term is necessary, though the attempts at deriving the doctrines regarding the functions of the tragedy from this are absurd and ridiculous.

1.6.1 What are various interpretations given to the meaning of Catharsis?


F.L.Lucas in his Tragedy: Serious Drama in Relation to Aristotle’s Poetics asks three pertinent questions, and answers very illuminatingly. The questions are:

(i) What was really Aristotle’s view?
(ii) How far is it true?
(iii) What let him to adopt it?

Let us consider the answers one by one.

1. The meaning of Catharsis: Let us quote F.L.Lucas at length on the meaning of catharsis: “First, there has been age-long controversy about Aristotle’s meaning, though it has almost always been accepted that whatever he meant was profoundly right. Many, for example, have translated Catharsis as ‘purification’, ‘Correction or refinement’, ‘Reinigung’, or the like. It has been suggested that our pity and fear are ‘purifies’ in the theatre by becoming disinterested (impartial or without bias). It is bad to be selfishly sentimental, timid, and querulous; but it is good to pity Othello or to fear for Hamlet. Our selfish emotion has been sublimated. All this is most edifying; but it does not appear to be what Aristotle intended.”
There is strong evidence that Catharsis means, not ‘Purification’, but ‘Purgation’ - a medical metaphor. (Aristotle was the son of a Physician.) Yet, owing to changes in medical thought, ‘Purgation’ has become radically misleading to modern minds. Inevitably we think of purgatives and complete evacuations of water products; and then outraged critics ask why our emotions should be so ill-treated.
“But Catharsis means ‘Purgation’, not in the modern, but in the older, wider English sense which includes the partial removal of excess ‘humours’. The theory is as old as the school of Hippocrates that on a due balance … of these humours depend the health of body and mind alike.” (F.L.Lucas)
To translate Catharsis as purgation today is misleading owing to the change of meaning which the word has undergone. The theory of humours is outdated in the medical science. ‘Purgation’ has assumed different meaning. It is no longer what Aristotle has in mind. Therefore, it would be more appropriate to translate Catharsis as ‘moderating’ or ‘tempering’ of the passions. But such translation, as F.L.Lucas suggests, ‘keeps the sense, but loses the metaphor’. Anyway, when it is not possible to keep up both, the meaning and the metaphor it is better to maintain the meaning and sacrifice the metaphor in translating Catharsis as ‘moderating’ or ‘tempering’.
The passions to be moderated are these of pity and fear. The pity and fear to be moderated are, again, of specific kind. There can never be an excess in the pity that results into a useful action. But there can be too much of pity as an intense and helpless feeling, and there can be also too much of self-pity which is not a praise-worthy virtue. The Catharsis or moderation of such pity ought to be achieved in the theatre or otherwise when possible, for such moderation keeps the mind in a healthy state of balance.
Similarly, only specific kinds of fear are to be moderated. Aristotle does not seem to have in mind the fear of horrors on the stage which as Lucas suggests are “supposed to have made women miscarry with terror in the theatre”, Aristotle specifically mentions ‘sympathetic fear for the characters’. “And by allowing free vent to this in the theatre, men are to lessen, in facing life thereafter, their own fear of … the general dread if destiny.” (F.L.Lucas) There are besides fear and pity the allied impulses which also are to be moderated. “Grief, weakness, contempt, blame – these I take to be the sort of thing that Aristotle meant by ‘feeling of that sort’.” (Lucas).

2. Then we are faced with the second question: How far is Aristotle’s view of Catharsis true? We may feel after witnessing a tragedy that certain tension in course of thee hours’ traffic upon the stage are built up and relaxed. We may feel release when certain emotions are worked up in the mind and are rinsed out as it were at the end which is more or less positive by implication, for death or calamity is explained and accounted for as arising from certain avoidable weakness or miscalculations of the hero. This sort of relaxation or release after a prolonged tension that is built up and maintained during the drama, though a welcome feeling, is not a purgation or moderation but fulfillment or satisfaction with the conclusion which is not only logical but also reasonable, which is not outrageously pessimistic but sadly positive and corrective of tragic errors to the spectators. They did not get rid of anything as in purgation they should; they gain something – a sort of artistic delight which tragedy gives. In fact, tragic delight is what they want and expect from tragedy, not moderation or proper balance of humours or purgation which has only ethical significance. Certain moral ends of Catharsis might be incidentally achieved. But it is not the chief end of tragedy. F.L.Lucas observes: “One could, of course, argue that these good folks were instinctively craving a catharsis. But I should have thought they were suffering in their daily lives, not from excess of emotion, but from deficiency; that they wanted, not to be ‘purge’, but to be fed – that they were hungry and thirsty for emotions that the dull round of their days denied.”
And again, he observes: “He (Aristotle) stands in the position of a person arguing with a fanatical Puritan about wine or dancing. The advocate of moderate indulgence is naturally driven to plead that wine is good medicinally and dancing as exercise; but, in fact, man do not usually drink wine as medicine, and only Socrates dances alone in his house for exercise.” But there are critics who find the theory of Catharsis profoundly meaningful. They do no deny that tragedy has as its chief end only tragic delight to serve. But in the anatomy of that delight they find the truth of psychology as elucidated by Aristotle in his theory of Catharsis. Aristotle, they say, makes us critically aware of complex psychological processes that contribute to the art-experience of tragedy; while enjoying this experience we are not aware of these processes.

Mr. W. Macneile Dixon, for example writes in his Tragedy (London, 1938) in defence of Aristotle’s theory: “A theory, we may unreservedly admit, as pretty as it is poplar, and of interest to us since something of modern psychology, which dwells upon the dangers of repressed desires, is here anticipated. Repression, it appears, leads to neurosis. The idea associated with emotional states may, some physicians tell us, if denied their natural outlet issues in instability and hysteria. Relief of the unconscious mind, whether of the community or the individual form physical tension is at times a necessity… The milder ailment cures severer, the external excitement draws off the internal, the fear without disperses the fear within, the cup of the sour brims over and tranquility is restored. … And if you care to add refinement you may think of this release as an escape from personal pre-occupations and anxieties into the larger life of sympathy with the whole human clan, the universal world, which embraces that great society of the living, the dead, and those yet to be born.” (Pg. 118).

3. The third question is: What led Aristotle to adopt this theory?
It should be remembered that Plato, his master, has attacked poetry in general including tragedy form moral and philosophical point of view. So Aristotle had to defend poetry against his master’s attack on the moral and philosophical ground. He has to refute Plato’s charges. To quote F.L.Lucas: “Poetry, said Plato, makes men cowardly by its picture of the afterworld. No, replies Aristotle, it can purge men’s fears. Poetry, said Plato, encourages men to be hysterical and uncontrolled. On the contrary, answers his pupil, it makes them less, not more, emotional by giving a periodic healthy outlet to their feelings. In short, Aristotle’s definition of tragedy is half a defence.”(Pg. 57)
But it is only half a defense. That is to say that the other half of the theory is possibly the result of a serious, analytical inquiry of Aristotle’s into the nature of tragic delight and its psychological effects. His Catharsis forms the most important part of his concept of tragedy as a positive, not pessimistic, drama which leaves wholesome effect, not mere disturbance, in the minds of the spectators.

1.6.2 How far Catharsis is relevant today?


Since, Aristotle in Europe, tragedy has never been a drama of despair, causeless death or chance disaster. The drama that only paints horrors and leaves souls shattered and mind un-reconciled with the world may be described as a gruesome, ghastly play, but not a healthy tragedy, for tragedy is a play in which disaster or downfall has causes which could carefully be avoided and sorrow in it does not upset the balance in favour of pessimism. That is why, in spite of seriousness, even heart-rending scenes of sorrow, tragedy embodies the vision of beauty. It stirs noble thoughts and serves tragic delight but does not condemn us to despair. If the healthy notion of tragedy is maintained throughout the literary history of Europe, the ultimate credit, perhaps, goes to Aristotle who propounded it in his theory of Catharsis.

Catharsis established tragedy as a drama of balance. Sorrow alone would be ugly and repulsive. Beauty pure would be imaginative and mystical. These together constitute what may be called tragic beauty. Pity alone would be sentimentality. Fear alone would make us cowards. But pity and fear, sympathy and terror together constitute the tragic feeling which is most delightful though it is tearfully delightful. Such tragic beauty and tragic feeling which it evokes constitutes the aesthetics of balance as propounded for the first time by Aristotle in his theory of Catharsis. Therefore, we feel, reverence which Aristotle has enjoyed through ages has not gone to him undeserved. His insight has rightly earned it.



Self-Assessment Questions (SAQs) -5
Notes: (I) Workout the questions as instructed.

(ii) Compare your answer with those given at the end of the unit.
(iii) To work on the SAQs through Moodle LMS and get instant feedback and score click here. Please note that you need to create a NEW ACCOUNT (only first time), and then only you will be able to work.

Choose the right option:

1. Read the definition of Tragedy in section 1.5.2. Now, find which of the following lines substantiate the theory of catharsis.
a. an action that is serious, complete, and of a certain magnitude
b. several kinds being found in separate parts of the play
c. in the form of action, not of narrative
d. through pity and fear effecting the proper purgation-catharsis of these and similar emotions

2. The book Tragedy: Serious Drama in Relation to Aristotle’s Poetics throws illuminating light on the theory of catharsis? Who is the writer of this book?
a. F.L.Lucas
b. W. Macniele Dixon
c. Ingram Bywater
d. S.H.Butcher

3. According to F.L.Lucas, the concept of Catharsis is better translated as:
a. Purgation.
b. Purification.
c. Moderation or tempering.

Say whether the following statement is true or false:

4. Tragic beauty and tragic delight which tragedy evokes constitutes the aesthetics of balance as propounded for the first time by Aristotle in his theory of Catharsis.
a. True
b. False
c. Cannot say

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1.7 Aristotle’s Six Parts of Tragedy


After discussing definition of tragedy and theory of Catharsis, Aristotle explores various important parts of tragedy. He asserts that any tragedy can be divided into six component parts, and that every tragedy is made up of these six parts. There is (a) the spectacle, which is the overall visual appearance of the stage and the actors. The means of imitation (language, rhythm, and harmony) can be divided into

(b) melody/songs, and

(c) diction, which has to do with the composition of the verses/versification of dialogues. The agents (medium) of the action can be understood in terms of

(d) character and

(e) thought. Thought seems to denote the intellectual qualities of an agent while character seems to denote the moral qualities of an agent. Finally, there is

(f) the plot(Fable), or mythos, which is the harmonious combination/arrangements of incidents and actions in the story.


1.7.1 Which are the six important parts of Tragedy?


Aristotle argues that, among these six, the plot is the most important. To the question whether plot makes a tragedy or character, Aristotle argues that without action there cannot be tragedy at the same time character/s are required to do action. The characters serve to advance the action of the story, not vice versa. The ends we pursue in life, our happiness and our misery, all take the form of action. Tragedy is written not eerily to imitate man but to imitate man in action. That is, according to Aristotle, happiness consists in a certain kind of activity rather than in a certain quality of character. It is in the words of David Daiches: ‘the way in which the action works itself out, the whole casual chain which leads to the final outcome.’ Diction and thought are also less significant than plot: a series of well-written speeches have nothing like the force of a well-structured tragedy. Lastly, Aristotle notes that forming a solid plot is far more difficult than creating good characters or diction. Having asserted that the plot is the most important of the six parts of tragedy, he ranks the remainder as follows, from most important to least: character, thought, diction, melody, and spectacle. Character reveals the individual motivations of the characters in the play, what they want or don't want, and how they react to certain situations, and this is more important to Aristotle than thought, which deals on a more universal level with reasoning and general truths. Diction, Melody/songs and spectacle are simply pleasurable accessories, but melody is more important to the tragedy than spectacle: a pretty spectacle can be arranged without a play, and usually matters of set and costume aren't the occupation of the poet anyway.

1.7.2 What are the characteristics of Tragic Hero?


According to Aristotle, in a good tragedy, character supports plot. The personal motivation / actions of the characters are intricately involved with the action to such an extent that it leads to arouse pity and fear in the audience. The protagonist / tragic hero of the play should have all the characteristic of a good character. By good character, Aristotle means that they should be:

(i) True to the self
(ii) True to type
(iii) True to life
(iv) Probable and yet more beautiful than life.

The tragic hero having all the characteristics mentioned above, has, in addition, a few more attributes. Aristotle’s observes:

1. A good man – coming to bad end. (Its shocking and disturbs faith)
2. A bad man – coming to good end. (neither moving, nor moral)
3. A bad man – coming to bad end. (moral, but not moving)
4. A rather good man – coming to bad end. (an ideal situation)

Aristotle disqualifies two types of characters – purely virtuous and thoroughly bad. There remains but one kind of character, who can best satisfy this requirement – ‘A man who is not eminently good and just yet whose misfortune is not brought by vice or depravity but by some error of frailty’. His misfortune excites pity b’coz it is out of all proportion to his error of judgement, and his over all goodness excites fear for his doom.
Thus, he is a man with following attributes: He should be a man of mixed character, neither blameless nor absolutely depraved. His misfortune should follow from some error of flaw of character; short of moral taint. He must fall from height of prosperity and glory. The protagonist should be renowned and prosperous, so his change of fortune can be from good to bad. The fall of such a man of eminence affects entire state/nation – ‘heaven themselves blazon forth the death of a king’. This change “should come about as the result, not of vice, but of some great error or frailty in a character.” Such a plot is most likely to generate pity and fear in the audience, for “pity is aroused by unmerited misfortune, fear by the misfortune of a man like ourselves.” Aristotle says that the ideal tragic hero must be an intermediate kind of person, a man not preeminently virtuous and just yet whose misfortune is brought upon him not by vice or depravity but by some error of judgement. What is this error of judgment? Let us discuss it in following point.

1.7.3 What does he mean by Hamartia?


What is this error of judgement. The term Aristotle uses here, hamartia, often translated “tragic flaw,”(A.C.Bradely) has been the subject of much debate. Aristotle, as writer of the Poetics, has had many a lusty infant, begot by some other critic, left howling upon his doorstep; and of all these (which include the bastards Unity-of-Time and Unity-of-Place) not one is more trouble to those who got to take it up than the foundling ‘Tragic Flaw’. Humphrey House, in his lectures (Aristotle’s Poetics, ed. Colin Hardie (London, 1956), p.94) delivered in 1952-3, commented upon this tiresome phrase: “The phrase ‘tragic flaw’ should be treated with suspicion. I do not know when it was first used, or by whom. It is not an Aristotelian metaphor at all, and though it might be adopted as an accepted technical translation of ‘hamartia’ in the strict and properly limited sense, the fact is that it has not been adopted, and it is far more commonly used for a characteristic moral failing in an otherwise predominantly good man. Thus, it may be said by some writers to be the ‘tragic flaw’ of Oedipus that he was hasty in temper; of Samson that he was sensually uxorious; of Macbeth that he was ambitious; of Othello that he was proud and jealous – and so on … but these things do not constitute the ‘hamartia’ of those characters in Aristotle’s sense.”
Mr. House goes on to urge that ‘all serious modern Aristotelian scholarship agrees … that ‘hamartia’ means an error which is derived from ignorance of some material fact or circumstance, and he refers to Bywater and Rostangni in support of his view. But although ‘all serious modern scholarship’ may have agreed to this point in 1952-3, in 1960 the good news has not yet reached the recesses of the land and many young students of literature are still apparently instructed in the theory of the ‘tragic flaw; a theory which appears at first sight to be a most convenient device for analyzing tragedy but which leads the unfortunate user of it into a quicksand of absurdities in which he rapidly sinks, dragging the tragedies down with him.
In his edition of Aristotle on the Art of Poetry (Oxford, 1909), Ingram Bywater refers to such a misreading, though without using the term ‘tragic flaw’: “Hamartia in the Aristotelian sense of the term is a mistake or error of judgement (error in Lat.), and the deed done in consequence of it is an erratum. In the Ethics an errtum is said to originate not in vice or depravity but in ignorance of some material fact or circumstance … this ignorance, we are told in another passage, takes the deed out of the class of voluntary acts, and enables one to forgive or even pity the doer.”
The meaning of the Greek word is closer to “mistake” than to “flaw,” “a wrong step blindly taken”, “the missing of mark”, and it is best interpreted in the context of what Aristotle has to say about plot and “the law or probability or necessity.” In the ideal tragedy, claims Aristotle, the protagonist will mistakenly bring about his own downfall—not because he is sinful or morally weak, but because he does not know enough. The role of the hamartia in tragedy comes not from its moral status but from the inevitability of its consequences. Both Butcher and Bywater agree that hamartia is not a moral failing. This error of judgment may arise form: (i) ignorance (Oedipus),
(ii) hasty – careless view(Othello)
(iii) decision taken voluntarily but not deliberately(Lear, Hamlet).

The error of judgement is derived form ignorance of some material fact or circumstance. Hamartia is accompanied by moral imperfections (Oedipus, Macbeth). Hence the peripeteia is really one or more self-destructive actions taken in blindness, leading to results diametrically opposed to those that were intended (often termed tragic irony), and the anagnorisis is the gaining of the essential knowledge that was previously lacking. Butcher is of the view that, “Oedipus the king – includes all three meanings of hamartia, which in English cannot be termed by a single term…. Othello is the modern example, Oedipus in the ancient, are the two most conspicuous examples of ruin wrought by characters, noble, indeed, but not without defects, acting in the dark and, as it seemed, for the best.”
Hamartia is Modern plays: Hamartia is practically removed from the hero and he becomes a victim of circumstance – a mere puppet. The villain in Greek plays was destiny, now its circumstances. The hero was powerful, he struggled but at the end of the day, death is inevitable. Modern heroes, dies several deaths – passive – not the doer of the action but receiver. The concept of heroic figures in tragedy has now become practically out of date. It was appropriate to the ages when men of noble birth and eminent positions were viewed as the representative figures of society. Today, common men are representative of society and life.



Self-Assessment Questions (SAQs) -6
Notes: (I) Workout the questions as instructed.

(ii) Compare your answer with those given at the end of the unit.
(iii) To work on the SAQs through Moodle LMS and get instant feedback and score click here. Please note that you need to create a NEW ACCOUNT (only first time), and then only you will be able to work.

Choose the right option:

1. Which of the following sequence in the arrangement the important parts of tragedy is correct?
a. Spectacle, Song, Diction, Thought, Plot & Character.
b. Plot, Character, Thought, Diction, Song and Spectacle.
c. Spectacle, Song, Diction, Thought, Character and Plot.

2. Who simplified the meaning of ‘Plot’ as ‘the way in which the action works itself out, the whole casual chain which leads to the final outcome’?
a. F.L.Lucas
b. David Daiches
c. Ingram Bywater
d. S.H.Butcher

3. Which of the following attributes best describes Aristotelian ‘Tragic Hero’?
a. A good man – coming to bad end.
b. A bad man – coming to good end.
c. A bad man – coming to bad end.
d. A rather good man – coming to bad end.

4. The following sentences describe Tragic Hero. Choose the right option.
a. A man who is not eminently good and just yet whose misfortune is not brought by vice or depravity but by some error of frailty.
b. He should be a man of mixed character, neither blameless nor absolutely depraved.
c. The ideal tragic hero must be an intermediate kind of person, a man not preeminently virtuous and just yet whose misfortune is brought upon him not by vice or depravity but by some error of judgement.
d. All of the above are true.

• Say whether the following statement is true or false:

5. Hamartia in the Aristotelian sense of the term is a mistake or error of judgement and the deed done in consequence of it is an erratum.
a. True
b. False
c. Cannot say

6. Othello is the Greek example, Oedipus in the renaissance, are the two most conspicuous examples of ruin wrought by characters, noble, indeed, but not without defects, acting in the dark and, as it seemed, for the best.
a. True
b. False
c. Cannot say

7. Hamartia is more conspicuously found in the modern play.
a. True
b. False
c. Cannot say

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1.8 Aristotle’s view of Epic


After thoroughly discussing six component parts of tragedy, Aristotle concludes the Poetics by reflecting on the questions:

• "Which is better genre of literature, tragedy or epic?"
• “Which is the higher form of literature, tragedy or epic poetry?”

The argument in favor of epic poetry is based on the principle that the higher art form is less vulgar and addressed toward a refined audience. Tragedy is performed before large audiences, which results in melodramatic performances or overacting to please the crowds. Epic poetry is more cultivated than tragedy because it does not rely on acting/gesture at all to convey its message.


1.8.1 Is, according to Aristotle, Epic better than Tragedy?



Aristotle is as clear as limpid stream on his views on tragedy and epic. To him tragedy is far better than epic. Let us see what logical arguments are propounded in favour of tragedy by Aristotle. Aristotle answers this argument by noting that the melodrama and overacting are faults of the performance and not of the tragic poet himself. The recital of epic poetry could similarly be overdone without reflecting poorly on the poet. Further, not all movement is bad—take dance, for instance—but only poorly executed movement. Also, tragedy does not need to be performed; it can be read, just like epic poetry, and all its merits will still be evident.

Further, he advances several reasons for considering tragedy superior. First, it has all the elements of an epic poem and has also music and spectacle, which the epic lacks.

Second, simply reading the play without performing it is already very potent.
Third, tragedy is shorter, suggesting that it is more compact and will have a more concentrated effect.

Fourth, there is more unity in tragedy, as evidenced by the fact that a number of tragedies can be extracted from one epic poem.

Aristotle's argument in Chapter 26 that tragedy is superior to epic poetry comes in three waves.

First, he lists all the arguments given in favor of epic poetry.
Second, he cancels all these arguments out, mostly by showing that they are leveled against the performance of tragedy rather than anything in the genre itself.
Third, he lists the advantages that tragedy has over epic poetry, which can be boiled down to two main points:

(1) tragedy has all the elements of epic poetry and some more (manages to present its story in a much shorter span of time), and
(2) tragedy is more condensed and so has a more concentrated effect (with a greater degree of unity).

These two points are quite valid when we bear in mind that both tragedy and epic poetry aim at arousing the emotions of pity and fear. Music and spectacle can certainly add to emotional effect, which gives tragedy an edge that epic poetry lacks. Also, if the effect of tragedy is more concentrated, it can provide a more powerful emotional punch. We might say the same thing about the brevity of the Poetics itself: it's a far better read than lengthy manuals on literary theory.

Aristotle concludes by suggesting that different genres produce different kinds of pleasure. The pleasure of the epic lies in its episodic, diverting story, while the more intense–and "higher" in terms of social value–pleasure produced by the tragedy is catharsis, the mysterious "purging" of our emotions of pity and fear when we witness the unfolding of a tragedy.

Of course, the fact is, Greek tragedy has produced a number of masterworks, and posterity suggests that no Greek epic poet after Homer approached the great tragedians in terms of quality.


1.8.2 How does he distinguish Epic and Tragedy?


Let us briefly view the points of difference between Epic and Tragedy:

1. Length: Unity of action, time and place:
a. Complete with certain magnitude: Epic is vast in its magnitude. Action is not limited in epic.
b. Tragedy endeavors, as far as possible, to confine itself to a single revolution of the sun … whereas Epic action should have not limits of time.
c. The Epic poet can relate a number of incidents happening simultaneously to a number of persons at a number of places, whereas tragedy presents only that part of the story which is connected with one place, and one set of persons. Unity of place.
d. Events, incidents and characters are treated on grand scale in epic. Tragedy does same thing more precisely. So the task of dramatist is more difficult than poet writing epic.

2. Metre: Tragedy can have variety of metres but the epic is confined only to one meter. Epics have hexameter, tragedy can have iambic pentameter, trochaic, tetrameter etc.

3. Subject matter:
a. Epic related an action concerning the fortunes or destiny of people or nation, and thereby it presents the life of an entire period. In tragedy, on the other hand, the emphasis is on an individual, his idiosyncrasies and behavior.
b. As the emphasis, in epic, shifts from individual to the society, greater issues are necessarily involved; and these issues transform the very nature of epic to such an extent that it ceases to have a merely literary value. (deals with what ‘was’, rather than what ‘may be’/ ‘ought to be’.

4. Marvelous and irrational: (Law of probability and necessity)
a. It is necessary to follow law of cause and effect, and that of probability and necessity in tragedy. In epic, such absurdity passes unnoticed.
b. Tales of improbable and marvelous supply in a greater degree that element of wonder which also gives artistic pleasure but they break the law of necessity and probability.

5. Plot:
a. The plot of Epic consists of plots of many tragedies.
b. Plots of epic and tragedy may have similarity in its complexity, but epic’s plot is more episodic than tragedy.
c. Epic is the story of the past; while the drama is a representation of a story in the present.

Tragedy is superior to Epic: How? And Why?

o Tragedy is richer in its effects, adding music and spectacle to epic resources; it presents its stories even when read no less vividly than the epic; it has stricter unity; its methods are more concentrated; and it produces more effectively the requisite emotional results, i.e. the pleasure arising from Catharsis of pity and fear.
o The major difference between the two is ‘method’. Tragedy attains the same end as the epic, but in a more direct and concentrated fashion; and as such it has a claim to be recognized as the higher of the two kinds.



Self-Assessment Questions (SAQs) -7
Notes: (I) Workout the questions as instructed.

(ii) Compare your answer with those given at the end of the unit.
(iii) To work on the SAQs through Moodle LMS and get instant feedback and score click here. Please note that you need to create a NEW ACCOUNT (only first time), and then only you will be able to work.

Choose the right option:

1. Traditionally, it is believed that Epic is better than Tragedy. Why?
a. B’coz the epic is less vulgar and addressed toward a refined audience.
b. B’coz tragedy is performed before large audiences, which results in melodramatic performances or overacting to please the crowds.
c. B’coz epic poetry is more cultivated than tragedy as it does not rely on acting/gesture at all to convey its message.
d. All of the above given reasons are true.
e. None of the above given reasons are true.

2. According to Aristotle, Tragedy is better than Epic because:
a. It has none of the elements of an epic poem.
b. simply reading the play without performing is not as effective as reading of Epic.
c. Tragedy is longer. Epic is more compact and have a more concentrated effect.
d. All of the above given reasons are false.
e. None of the above given reasons are false.

Say whether the following statement is true or false:

3. The Epic poet can relate a number of incidents happening simultaneously to a number of persons at a number of places, whereas tragedy presents only that part of the story which is connected with one place, and one set of persons. This unity of place in tragedy makes tragedy better than epic.
a. True
b. False
c. Cannot say

4. Epic related an action concerning the fortunes or destiny of an individual, and thereby it presents the life of an individual. In tragedy, on the other hand, the emphasis is on the fortunes or destiny of people or nation; it presents the life of an entire period.
a. True
b. False
c. Cannot say

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