Poetics: Chapter 18 - Summary

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      In chapter 18, Aristotle continues with his suggestions on the practical aspect of writing a tragedy. The plot, is divided into two parts, the Complication and the Denouement.

Complication and Denouement

      The fourth element that the poet should keep in mind while writing the play is the Complication and the Denouement. Many dramatists, says Aristotle, manage the Complication well enough, but fail when they come to the Denouement. But a good dramatist must manage both equally well. Aristotle analyses the Plot of Denouement and Complication from the spectator's point of view. By Complication, Aristotle explains, is meant all that occurs from the beginning of the story to the point just before the change in the hero's fortune. Denouement includes everything from the change to the story's end.

      The complication frequently includes certain incidents external to the action proper of the play. But these incidents are pre-supposed in the drama and affect the development of the piece. Therefore, Aristotle admits that some external events form part of the dramatic entanglement. It is owing to this practice that Greek tragedies often begin at a later stage than do modern plays. They begin almost at the climax: the action proper is highly compressed and concentrated, the forms the last moments of a larger action hastening to its close.

Four Species of Tragedy

      Aristotle lists four species or kinds of tragedy. This division is made on the basis of the source of the tragic effect, or the four constituent elements of tragedy.

      Firstly, there is the involved or complex tragedy. This had Peripety or Reversal, and Anagnorisis or discovery. The second species of tragedy is that of suffering. In this kind of tragedy, there are scenes of suffering; painful events are depicted. There are scenes of murder, wounding, torture, etc. Its effect depends upon the piteous and fearful incidents. The third species of tragedy is that of character. In this type, the nature of the characters or agents is the most important source of tragic effects. It is worth noting that Aristotle does not regard this type as great. Fourthly and lastly, there is the tragedy which depends on its effect upon Spectacle. This, according to Aristotle, is not tragedy of a great order. In this type, the element of Spectacle is of paramount importance. The tragic effect evolves out of fantastic scenes and sensational effects produced by actors, their costumes, or other mechanical artifices. "The adventures are fantastic, the figures gigantic, and scene of action is frequently the nether world."

      Each kind of tragedy depends on one of the elements that constitute Tragedy. The dramatist is advised by Aristotle to unite all these interests to heighten tragic effect.

Unity of Action

      The chapter reminds the writers to keep to a single action on one tragedy. Throughout the Poetics, Aristotle emphasizes on the point of having a single action in tragedy.

      Indeed, it is the only Unity he stresses upon. Comparing Epic and Tragedy he once again reminds the writers that it is disastrous to write a drama in the manner of writing an epic. In an epic, there is place for a multiplicity of details and actions. The entire story of the Iliad would be most inappropriate for a tragedy. The tragic poet's business is to select a single suitable action, i.e. select a certain portion of traditional stories, and represent it in his play. An attempt to dramatize an epic would result in failure of dramatic effect.

      Dramatic effect depends upon compactness and coherence and concentration. Only then can tragedy achieve the emotional effect proper to it.

      The chapter ends with a note on the part of the Chorus, and on how to make it affectionate. The Chorus, too, must play a relevant part in the play, and not merely sing charming but irrelevant songs, or it would be contrary to the principle of having only the relevant incidents in a tragedy. It would then induce the tragic effect. Anything that can be transposed or removed easily without disturbing the whole, has no place in a coherent whole of a tragedy. A choric song, which has no relevance to the play as a whole, should not have a place in the play.

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