Poetics: Chapter 16 - Summary

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The Six Kinds of Discovery

      Aristotle has already explained what he means by Anagnorisis or Discovery, in chapter 11. We have also noted that Aristotle gives a major portion of his treatise on tragedy to the discussion of plot, since he considers plot to be the most important element in Tragedy. Having said that it is very much a part of the structure of the plot, Aristotle, in this chapter, discusses the different kinds of Discovery. Discovery, we have been told, is the change from ignorance to knowledge. Aristotle gives six types of Discovery, which are as follows:

      (1) The least artistic type, according to Aristotle, is recognition by means of signs or marks because it implies reflection. These are also the most frequently employed by dramatist, apparently because they are easy to handle. These marks may be birth-marks, or scars acquired after birth. These can also be external tokens, such as necklaces. Aristotle objects to these devices on account of their being external devices, or mechanical devices, and not the result of the probable and necessary consequence of the incidents in a play.

      Even in this case, however, there can be a better and worse manner of dealing with the signs. Aristotle cites the example of the Discovery, or Recognition, of Ulysses through the scar he had on his thigh. The nurse recognizes Ulysses in the Bath-story, through the scar on his thigh. This comes about naturally in the course of the story, and Discovery arises from the incidents themselves. This is a good use of Discovery through signs. Aristotle gives an example of the bad use of Discovery through signs which again involves Ulysses - his Discovery by the swineherds. Here Ulysses shows the swineherds his scar to reveal his identity to them. Aristotle condemns as inartistic all scenes where the incidents are not the natural outcome of what has gone before. Thus if tokens and signs are used at all, their discovery should seem inevitable and spontaneous, the result of probability and necessity of the events, rather than of thought and reflection.

      (2) The second type of discovery is one that is arbitrarily introduced by the poet. This again is inartistic for the very reason that the poet is introducing it in an arbitrary manner, and it does not evolve naturally and spontaneously from the plot.

      (3) Then there is the Discovery through memory. This happens when a person sees or hears something and his memory is stirred. He is led to remember the past, and in this way, the discovery is brought about.

      (4) The fourth kind of Discovery is through the process of reasoning. The link between events is realized through a process of reasoning, and this brings about Discovery. Once again reasoning should be the necessary outcome in the course of events, and not just arbitrarily imposed.

      (5) The fifth type of Discovery stated by Aristotle, is not too clear. He says that it is a Discovery arising from bad reasoning on the side of the other party. The meaning is not clear. The example cited by Aristotle is obscure, and the play he cites is lost. It could imply a Discovery brought by a logical fallacy, i.e., through the inference drawn from certain circumstances or statements, the method of arriving at the inference is fallacious.

      (6) The sixth type of Discovery is stated by Aristotle to be the best form. It is the most artistic form, for it grows out of the action itself. The very nature of the incidents produces the Discovery. Aristotle cites Sophocles Oedipus the King as an example in which such a Discovery takes place. In this case, as also in Iphigenia, the Discovery is independent of mechanical artifices like necklaces and signs. The Discovery in such a case is natural and most credible, while it startles the reader or audience.

      If Discovery arising from the incidents of the play, is the best form, the next in artistic merit is that brought about by reasoning.

      Aristotle has restricted the discussion to examples of the discovery of persons identity. But the general statement about Discovery that, it is a transition from ignorance to knowledge. Discovery thus includes discovery of whole areas of circumstances, about which there was previous ignorance or mistake. The total implication of the discovery are not trivial at all. Indeed, Peripety Anagnorisis and Hammartia are closely connected aspects of Tragedy.

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