Poetics: Chapter 18 - Full Text

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Suggestions continued. The two parts of plot: complication and denouement; different kinds of tragedy; plurality of stories; the chorus.

      (4) There is a further point to be borne in mind. Everh tragedy is in part Complication and part Denouement; the incidents before the opening scene, and often certain also of those within the play, form the Complication; and the rest the Denouement. By Complication I mean all from the beginning of the point just before the change in the hero's fortunes; by Denouement, all from the beginning of the change to the end....Now it is right, when one speaks of a tragedy as the same or not the same as another, to do so on the ground before all else of their Plot, i.e., as having the same Complication and Denouement. Yet there are many dramatists who, after a good Complication, fail in the Denouement. But it is necessary for both points of construction to be always duly mastered. (5) There are four distinct species of Tragedy - that being the number of the constituents also that have been mentioned: first, the complex Tragedy, which is all Peripety ad Discovery; the Tragedy of suffering, e.g. the Ajaxes and lxions; third, the Tragedy of character, e.g. Phthiotides and Peleus. The fourth constituent is that of 'Spectacle', exemplified in The Phorcides, in Prometheus, and in all plays with the scene laid in the nether world". The poet's aim, then, should be to combine every element of interest, if possible, or else the more important and the major part of them. This is now especially necessary owing to the unfair criticism to which the poet is subjected in these days. Just because there have been poets before him strong in the several species of tragedy, the critics now expect one man to surpass that which was the strong point of each one of his predecessors. (6) One should also remember what has been said more than once, and not write a tragedy on the epic body of incident (i.e. one with multiple stories in it), like attempting to dramatize, for instance, the entire story of the Iliad. In the epic, owing to its scale, every part is treated at proper length; with a drama, however, the result is very disappointing.

      This is shown by the fact that the poets who have dramatized the whole story of the Fall of Illium, instead of selecting portions like Euripides; or who have taken the whole tale of Niobes, and not a part of her story, like Aeschylus", either fail utterly or meet with poor success on the stage. Even Agathon has been known to fail from this one defect. Yet in their Peripeties, as also in their simple plots, the plots, I mean, show wonderful skill in aiming at the kind of effect they desire - a tragic situation that arouses the human feeling in one, like the clever villain (e.g. Sisyphus) deceived, or the brave wrong doer worsted. This is probable, however, only in Agathon's sense, when he speaks of the probability of even improbabilities coming to pass. (7) The Chorus, too, should be regarded as one of the actors; it should be an integral part of the world, and take a share in the action - that which it has in Sophocles rather than in Euripides.

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