Catastrophe: Definition & Explanation

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      Catastrophe or catastrophic comes from the Greek kata ‘down’ and strophic ‘turning’. A catastrophe is a disaster. It originally referred to the disastrous finish of a drama, usually a tragedy. The definition was extended to mean ‘any sudden disaster’ in the 1700s. Now-a-days, catastrophe can be used to refer to very tragic events as well as more minor ones. In drama, particularly the classical tragedy, the catastrophe is the final resolution in a poem or narrative plot, which unravels the intrigue and brings the piece to a close. In comedies, this may be a marriage between major characters. In tragedies, it may be the death of one or more main characters. It is the final part of a play, following the protasis, epitasis, and catastasis.

      The catastrophe is either simple or complex, for which also the fable and action are denominated. In a simple catastrophe, there is no change in the state of the main characters, nor any discovery or unraveling; the plot being only a mere passage out of agitation, to quiet and repose. This catastrophe is rather accommodated to the nature of the epic poem, than of the tragedy. In a complex catastrophe, the main character undergoes a change of fortune, sometimes by means of a discovery, and sometimes without. The qualifications of this change are that it be probable and necessary. In order to be probable, it must be the natural result or effect of the foregoing actions, i.e. it must spring from the subject itself, or take its rise from the incidents, and not be introduced merely to serve a turn. To be necessary, it must never leave the characters it concerns in the same sentiments they had before, but still produce either love or hatred etc. Sometimes, the change consists in the discovery; sometimes it follows at a distance; and sometimes results immediately from it which is mostly found in Oedipus Rex.

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