Poetics: Chapter 7 - Full Text

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The Plot: its Proper Construction

      Having thus distinguished the parts, let us now consider the proper construction of the Plot, as that is at once the first and the most important thing in Tragedy. We have laid it down that a tragedy is an imitation of an action that is complete, and whole, and of some magnitude; for a whole may be of no magnitude to speak of. Now a whole is that which has a beginning, middle and an end. A beginning is that which is not casually necessarily after anything else, and which has naturally something else after it; an end is that which follows naturally after something itself, either as its necessary or because it is consequent, and with nothing else after it; A well-constructed Plot, therefore, cannot either begin or end at any random point; beginning and end in it must conform to the principles just described. Again, to be beautiful, a living creature, or any other whole made up of parts, must not only present a certain order in its arrangement of parts, but also be of a certain definite magnitude. Beauty is a matter of size and order and, therefore, impossible either (1) in a very minute creature, since our perception becomes indistinct as it approaches instantaneity', or (2) in a creature of vast size - one, say, 1000 miles long - as in that case, instead of the object being seen all at once, the unity and wholeness of it is lost to the beholder. Just in the same way, then, as a beautiful whole made up of parts, or a beautiful living creature, must be of some size, a size to be taken in by the eye, so a story or Plot must be of some length, but of a length to be taken in by the memory. As for the limit of its lengths, so far as that is relative to public performances and spectators, it does not fall within the theory of poetry. If they had to perform a hundred tragedies, they would be timed by water-clocks', as they are said to have been at one period. The limit, however, set by the actual nature of the thing is this; the longer the story, consistently with its being comprehensible as a whole, the finer it is by reason of its magnitude. As a rough general formula, "a length which allows the hero pass through a series of probable or necessary stages from misfortune to happiness, or from happiness to misfortune", may suffice as a limit for the magnitude of the story.

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