Poetics: Chapter 5 - Summary

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The Nature of the Ridiculous

      Comedy is the imitation of men worse than the average; but Aristotle makes it clear, not worse in each and every respect. They are only worse in the sense of the ridiculous. The characters are not morally worse; i.e., they are not evil. Aristotle considers the ridiculous as a species of the ugly. But it is not a painful or destructive ugliness. It is a defect or shortcoming which produces laughter. Aristotle does not give the stages in the development of comedy which he feels are obscure. He then gives some of the known facts about the origin of Some of its components.

Comparison and Contrast between Epic and Tragedy

      Epic poetry and tragedy have some things in common. They both represent serious actions of serious characters, i.e., characters better than the average. The style of both is grand or elevated; their verse is of a lofty nature. The differences between the two forms are also many. There are clear demarcations. The meter employed in the epic is uniform throughout, whereas tragedy employs more than one meter. The epic is in the form of narrative, i.e., the tale is told unlike in tragedy, which is dramatic. Then there is the difference in length. The epic's action may be of a indefinite length of time. Its action is not limited by time. Tragedy, however, has its action confined to a day, - "single circuit of the sun".

      It is the last qualification made by Aristotle regarding tragedy that has led to much debate. And it is from here that later critics derived the concept of the Three unities, i.e, of action, time and place. But Aristotle obviously has laid down no hard and fast rule for time and place. It is merely a statement of what he observed. He also states that this was not always the practice. He also adds the qualifications, "as far as possible" and "something near that", which show that he was not intending to be rigid about the unity of time. And as for unity of place, Aristotle does not mention it at all.

      In the end, Aristotle states that the epic and tragedy have a number of constituents common to both, and a few which are special to tragedy alone. Thus all the constituents of the epic are there in tragedy, but not all parts of tragedy are to be found in the epic. Hence, a judge of good and bad in tragedy can be a judge of the epic too.

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