Poetics: Chapter 15 - Full Text

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The Essentials of Character

      In respect of Character, there are four points to be aimed at. First, and most importantly, that they shall be good. There will be an element of character in the play, if (as has been observed) what a person says or does reveals a certain moral purpose; and a good element in the character, if the purpose so revealed is good. Such goodness is possible in every type of person, even in a woman or slave, though the one is perhaps an inferior, and the other a wholly worthless being. The second point is to make them appropriate. The Character before us may be, say, man; but it is not appropriate in a female Character to be manly, or clever. The third is to make them true to life, which is not the same as their being good and appropriate in our sense of the term. The fourth is to make them consistent and the same throughout; even if the inconsistency is part of the man who is the subject of imitation, he should still be consistently inconsistent.....The right thing, however, is in the Character, just as in the incidents of the play, to endeavor always after the necessary or the probable; so that whenever such-and-such a personage says or does such-and-such a thing, it shall be the probable or necessary outcome of his character; and whenever this incident follows on that, it shall be either the necessary or the probable consequence of it. From this one sees (to digress for a moment) that the Denouement also should arise out of the plot itself, and not depend on stage artifice, as in Medea, or in the story of the (arrested) departure of the Greeks in the Iliad'. Mechanical devices must be reserved for matters outside the play - for past events beyond human knowledge, or events yet to come, which require to be foretold or announced; since it is the privilege of the Gods to know everything. There should be nothing improbability (irrational) among the actual incidents. If it (the irrational) be unavoidable, however, it should be outside the tragedy, like the improbability (irrationality) in the Oedipus of Sophocles. But to return to the characters. As Tragedy is an imitation of persons better than the ordinary man, we in our way should follow the example of good portrait painters, who reproduce the distinctive features of a man, and at the same time, without losing the likeness, make him more handsome than he is. The poet in like manner, in portraying men quick or slow to anger or with similar infirmities of character, must know how to represent them as such, and at the same time as good men, as Agathon and Homer have represented Achilles.

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