Poetics: Chapter 8 - Summary

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The unity of Plot: not in unity of hero but in unity of action

      Aristotle makes two important observations in this chapter. The plot must have a unity. Firstly, the unity of plot does not consist in the fact of the action dealing with a single hero's life.

      A man goes through many experiences in his life; he does many deeds; all these cannot be brought together to constitute a play. Aristotle praises Homer in the sense that he chooses a single action, and not merely a single hero. In writing the Odyssey, he did not make a poem out of everything that befell the hero. It is thus necessary that an artist chooses, and selects his material from the confused medley. of what may befall a man in life. He should not introduce everything into one story. In all other arts, too, the artist imitates one thing; in drama, too, the dramatist must imitate a single action.

Organic Unity

      Secondly, the unity of plot must involve a coherent, or organic unity. In a living organism, for instance, each and every part has a relationship to one another and a disrupted relationship to the whole. The removal of any one part would disturb the whole, and disjoin it. Similarly, in a tragedy, the action should be a coherent whole such that the removal or the transposal of any episode from it would tend to disjoin and the dislocate the whole. And that which makes no perceptible difference by its presence or absence is no real part of the whole; in other words, it is irrelevant and has no place in the play.

      Aristotle, by implication, does not approve of double actions in a play or two actions of opposite nature, one tragic and other comic. Thus he insists upon unity of action, or the necessity of a Single action. Indeed, this is the only unity that he stresses upon. He does not propound the unity of time rigidly. And unity of place he does not mention at all.

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