Poetics: Chapter 26 - Summary

Also Read



Chapter 26

The charge against tragedy

      Aristotle considers the question of the comparative value of epic and tragedy. Apparently, critics in his day considered Tragedy to be a vulgar form of art. It appealed to the less cultivated among the people, whereas the epic held an appeal for the more cultivated set. The reason for this was that tragedy involved 'acting' which meant the use of gestures. Epic had an attraction without the use of gestures (or acting), and hence its appeal was to the cultivated, or more cultured audience. Tragedy gave scope for overdoing of gestures or acting. It was thus a vulgar art, and also a lower art than the epic. Aristotle proceeds to answer this charge, and firmly crushes the argument.

Two-fold answer

      Aristotle gives a two-fold answer to the charge against tragedy. In the first place, the charge does not really concern the art of the poet who has written the drama, but that of its interpreter' or the actor. Even an epic recital can involve 'overacting' or 'overdoing' of the gestures. Epic recital can also thus be vulgarised as can the acting in a tragedy.

      Secondly, if the charge means to condemn all movements, one can only say that this should not be done. Dance involves movement. Nothing is vulgar about movement by itself. What is to be condemned, is the movement of the ignoble people. Indeed, this is the criticism leveled against the actors of his day, says Aristotle, Furthermore, the effect of tragedy need not necessarily depend upon acting. Reading a tragedy can easily produce the same effect. Thus the basis of criticism of tragedy because it involves. movement, is fallacious. Thus, if a tragedy is good in all other respects, criticism on the basis of acting or movement is not valid.

Tragedy is superior to epic poetry

      Aristotle puts tragedy on a higher level than the epic on a number of counts. Tragedy has all the elements that are present in the epic - the serious subject, plot, diction, thought, and character. It has two more elements which give pleasure, i.e. Spectacle and melody. In this respect, epic is lower than tragedy. The meter in tragedy allows more variety.

      The epic is in narrative form and the tragedy is in dramatic form. But this does not necessarily mean that tragedy cannot be enjoyed unless it is acted on stage. It is possible to get true tragic pleasure even from reading it. Thus tragedy allows for greater scope its reality is felt whether it is read or acted.

      In tragedy, there is greater concentration. This is because of the lesser length available to tragedy to achieve its end. The effect of concentration leads to greater pleasure. Epic has an advantage in its greater length, which allows variety of interests. At the same time, however, the pleasure peculiar to concentrated happening is absent in the epic. Aristotle cites effect of the Oedipus of Sophocles.

      The unity present in tragedy because of this concentration, is absent in the epic. Anyone work of the epic poets has the subject matter for several tragedies. Aristotle clarified that the 'structure' of epic poems may be perfect' though they still have a plurality of actions. Plurality of actions has no place in tragedy, and hence, thee greater unity of tragedy. If the epic, with its length, can do with a single story or action, its effect would be thin and watery.

      If tragedy is superior in all these respects, and in its poetic effect, it is naturally a higher form of art: it achieves the poetic effect better than the epic.

      Aristotle comes to the conclusion that the alleged defects of tragedy are not essential to it. Its positive merits entitle it to a higher rank among the two, tragedy and epic.

      The last paragraph suggests that though Aristotle has come to the end of his discussion of Tragedy and Epic poetry, he has not come to the end of his discussion of all that he set out to discuss. This lends support to the contention that a part of the Poetics has been lost, Perhaps, that part had in it the discussion of Comedy and Satire.

Previous Post Next Post