Poetics: Chapter 14 - Summary

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Source of the Tragic Emotions of Pity and Fear should be the Plot

      Pity and fear are the emotions proper to tragedy. They may be aroused through 'Spectacle', the presentation of scenes of suffering and disaster. But this mode of arousing pity and fear is less artistic. The proper way of arousing pity and fear is through the very structure and sequence of incidents in the play. Only then can tragic pleasure be proper, for only then will it be independent of 'Spectacle'. Then alone can tragic pleasure be possible even through the reading of the play. This is the better way of presenting tragic emotions.

Tragic Situations Arousing Pity and Fear

      The specific sources of pity and fear are discussed in this chapter. Firstly, when a deed of horror involves enemies, there is nothing to arouse our pity as far as the perpetrator of the deed is concerned. Secondly, in the case of persons indifferent to one another, again there is no pity involved. It is when a friend brings about a deed of horror against a friend that pity and fear are aroused. Aristotle considers the most effective situation to be that in which one member of a family kills another member, or does terrible harm to him. This may be done in ignorance and the relationship is discovered after the deed. However, the most effective situation, according to Aristotle, is one in which the relationship is discovered just before the deed is to be perpetrated, and hence the disaster is avoided. This seems to allow, rather inconsistently for Aristotle, a happy ending to tragedy. In this connection, W. Hamilton Fyre comments:

"...the conditions of the Greek stage could not provide a 'quick curtain'. The characters and the chorus had to achieve their exit with dignity and beauty. This necessitated some relaxation of tension after the act of murder or other disaster, and for that reason, a happy ending of this sort was more appropriate on the modern stage."

      Perhaps Aristotle felt the unhappy ending to be more deeply moving; the second more satisfying to our humane sympathies. To the modern mind, however, the alternative of doing the deed and then discovering the relationship would seem to be the best one. How much more inevitable and awesome it seems when this happens in the story of Sohrab and Rustam than it would have if the father had recognized the son in time and not killed him. The tragic effect is heightened if the deed is done and truth discovered later. It is also to be kept in mind that, in the Greek sense "tragedy" meant a serious drama, not necessarily one with an unhappy end. Aristotle, as usual, gives example to illustrate his observation.

      Aristotle puts forward four types of action resulting in disaster. The four types are derived from the interrelation of two major factors, namely a tragic deed that is part of Plot and a lack of knowledge, that is, at least in some degree, part of Character. It is the interrelation between Hamartia, which involves a lack of knowledge, for it is an error of judgment, and Anagnorisis, the realization of the truth. The disaster which springs from the Hamartia can be stopped if Discovery or Anagnorisis comes in time.

      We find that Peripety, Discovery and Hamartia are very closely linked with one another in Aristotle's theory of tragedy. Discovery and Peripety are aspects of the Plot, while Hamartia is the error judgment on the part of the hero. Thus character and Plot are related to one another in unity with the tragic whole.

      Aristotle explains why the great tragic dramatists had continually resorted to certain families' for their stories. If they sought their Plot in traditions stories it was because they found the most tragic situations there. These stories had situations of horror, crime being committed by one family member on another, situations which were ideal for evoking the tragic emotions of pity and fear. But, though this seems to limit the poet's choice of subject, Aristotle remarks that it is the poet's handling of the traditional material that will make the play good or bad. Once again, emphasis is on the poet as 'maker or as craftsman.

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