Poetics: Chapter 6 - Full Text

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Chapter 6

The six elements in Tragedy: three internal and three external

      A tragedy, then, is the imitation of an action that is serious and also, having magnitude, complete in itself; in language embellished with each kind of artistic ornament, each kind brought in separately in the parts of the work; in dramatic, not in narrative form; with incidents arousing pity and fear, wherewith to accomplish its catharsis of such emotions. Here by language embellished, I mean that with rhythm and harmony or song superadded; and by the kinds separately, I mean that some portions are worked out in verse only, and others in turn with song.

      As they act the stories, it follows that in the first place the Spectacle (or stage-appearance of the actors) must be some part of the whole; and in the second Melody and Diction, those two being the medium of their imitation. Here by Diction' I mean merely this the) composition of the verses (the metrical arrangement of words); and by Melody' (songs), what is too completely understood to require explanation. But further, the subject represented also is an action; and the action involves agent, who must necessarily have their distinctive qualities both of character and thought, since it is from these that we ascribe certain qualities to their actions. There are in the natural order of things, therefore, two causes. Character and Thought, of their actions, and consequently of their success or failure n their lives. Now the action (that which was done) is represented in the place by the Fable or Plot. The Plot, in our present sense of the term, is simply this, the combination of the incidents, or things done in the story; whereas Character is what makes us ascribe certain qualities to the agents; and Thought is shown in all they say when providing a particular point or, it may be, enunciating a general truth. There are six parts consequently of every tragedy, as a whole, that is, of such or such quality, viz. a Fable, or Plot, Character, Diction, Thought, Spectacle and Melody (song); two of them arising from the medium of imitation, one from the manner, and three from the objects of the dramatic imitation; and there is nothing else besides these six. Of these its formative elements then, not a few dramatists have made due use of, one may say admits of Spectacle, Character, Fable, Diction, Melody and Thought.

      The most important of the six is the combination or structure of the events of the story. Tragedy is essentially an imitation not of person but of action and life, of happiness and misery. All human happiness or misery takes the form of action; the end for which we live is a certain kind of activity, not a quality'. Character gives us qualities, but it is in our actions - what we do, that we are happy or the reverse. In a play, accordingly, the end of dramatic representation is not to portray the characters; the characters are included for the sake of the action. So that it is the action in it, i.e., its Fable or Plot, that is the end and purpose of the tragedy; and the end is everywhere the chief thing. Besides this, a tragedy is impossible without action, but there may be one without Character.

      Again, if you string together a set of speeches expressive of character, and of the utmost finish as regards Diction and Thought, and yet fail to produce the true tragic effect; but one will have much better success with a tragedy which, however inferior in these respects, has a Plot, a combination of incidents, in it.

      And again, the most powerful elements of emotional interest in Tragedy, the Peripeties and Discoveries are part of the Plot. A further proof is in the fact that beginners succeed earlier with the Diction and Character than with the consturction of a story; and the same may be said of nearly all the early dramatists.

      The first essential, the life and soul, so to speak, of Tragedy is the Plot; and the Characters come second-compare the parallel in painting, where the most beautiful colors laid on without order will not give one the same pleasure as a simple black and white sketch of a portrait. We maintain that Tragedy is primarily an imitation of action, and that it is mainly for the sake of the action that it imitates the personal agents. Third comes element of Thought, i.e. the power of saying whatever can be said, or what is appropriate to the occasion. This is what, in the speeches in Tragedy, falls under the arts of Politics and Rhetoric; for the older poets make their personages discourse like statesmen, and the moderns like rhetoricians. One must not confuse it with Character. Character in a play is that which reveals the moral purpose of the agents", ie., the sort of thing they seek or avoid; speeches which do not make this obvious are not expressive of character. Hence there is no room for Character in a speech on a purely indifferent subject. Thought, on the other hand, is shown in all they say when proving or disproving some particular point, or enunciating some universal proposition. Fourth among the literary elements is Diction i.e., as before explained, the expression of their thoughts in words, which is practically the same thing in verse as with prose. As for the two remaining parts, Melody is the source of greatest pleasure among various elements of Tragedy. The Spectacle though an attraction, is the least artistic of all the parts, and has least to do with the art of poetry. The tragic effect is quite possible without a public performance and actors; and besides, the presentation up of the Spectacle is more a matter for the dressmaker and stage designer than the poet.

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