Poetics: Chapter 14 - Full Text

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      The Tragic emotions of pity and fear should come from the plot rather than from the Spectacle. Different situations proper to Tragedy. The tragic fear and pity may be aroused by the Spectacle, but they may also be aroused by the very structure and incidents of the play which is the better way and shows the better poet. The Plot in fact should be so framed that, even without seeing the things take place, he, who simply hears an account of them, shall be filled with horror and pity at what takes place; which is just the effect that the mere recital of the story in Oedipus would have on one. To produce the same effect by means of the Spectacle is less artistic, and requires extraneous aid. Those, however, who make use of the Spectacle to put before us that which is merely monstrous and not productive of fear, are wholly out of touch with Tragedy; for, not every kind of pleasure should be required of a tragedy, but only its ever proper pleasure.

      The tragic pleasure is that of pity and fear, and the poet has to produce it by a work of imitation; it is clear, therefore, that the causes (of pity and fear) should be included in the events of his story. Let us see, what kind of actions strike one as horrible, or rather as piteous. In an action of this description, the parties must necessarily be either friends, or enemies, or indifferent to one another. Now when an enemy kills an enemy, there is nothing to move us to pity either in his action or in his contemplating the deed except so as the actual pain of the sufferer is concerned; and the same is true when the parties are indifferent to one another. Whenever the tragic deed, however, is done within the family - when murder or the like is committed by brother on brother, by son on father, by mother on son', or son on mother - these are the situations the poet should seek after.

      The action may be done consciously and with the knowledge of the persons, in the manner of the older poets. It is thus that Euripides makes Medea slay her children. Or, again, the deed of horror may be done in ignorance, and the tie of kinship or friendship be discovered afterward. Oedipus of Sophocles is an example.

      A third possibility is for one meditating some deadly injury to another, in ignorance of his relationship, to make the discovery in time and drawback. These exhaust the possibilities, since the deed must necessarily be either done or not done, and either knowingly or unknowingly.

      The worst situation is when the person is with full knowledge on the point of doing the deed, and leaves it undone. It is odious, also (through the absence of suffering) untragic; hence it is that no one is made to act thus except in some few instances, e.g., Haemon and Greon in Antigone. Next after this comes the actual perpetration of the deed meditated. A better situation than that, however, is for the deed to be done in ignorance, and the relationship discovered afterward, since there is nothing odious in it, and the Discovery will serve to startle us. But the best of all is the last; instance what we have in Cresphonetes, or example, where Merope, on the point of slaying her son, recognizes him in time; in Iphigenia, where sister and brother are in a like Position; in Helle, the son recognizes his mother on the point of giving her up to her enemy.

      This will explain why our tragedies are restricted (as has already been observed) to such a small number of families. It was accident rather than art that led the poets in quest of their Plots. They are still obliged, accordingly, to have recourse to those families in which such horrors have occurred.

      Enough has now been said concerning the construction of the Plot, and the right kind of Plot required for Tragedy.

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