Poetics: Chapter 9 - Summary

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Poetic Truth

      Poetry is a form of imitation. Aristotle, however, has already made it clear that this imitation is not a mere copying of the external appearances. Poetry does not deal with a photographic realism. The poet's function is not to describe what has happened, but what might happen. He relates what might happen in a given situation.

The Laws of Probability and Necessity

      The poet deals with what might happen, but this he ought to do according to the law of probability and necessity. He has to present events in such a way that there appears a logical connection between them. They should appear as if, in the given circumstances, nothing else could happen. There should be a sense of inevitability about the incidents as presented.

      The incidents should seem as if they could happen so in real life: Each event or incident should lead logically to the next, i.e., there should be a causal connection between them. The incidents together, then, form a coherent whole. Thus the poet may not represent what actually has happened in real life, yet, at the same time, the logical connection he establishes between the incidents gives to it a 'universal truth'. Being the poet's imitation of his idea of life poetry becomes ideal, and thus a higher reality than the external reality of the world as we see it.

Poetry and History

      Poetry says Aristotle, is more philosophical than historical. History recounts what has happened chronologically. The historian is not concerned with cause and effect. The distinction, Aristotle correctly remarks, is not that the poet writes in verse and the historian, in prose. Even if history is written in verse, it would not become poetry, for poetry deals with universals, while history deals with the particular. History tells us what did happen; poetry tells us what might, or must happen. The poet thus needs an insight into human nature, a knowledge or grasp of principles. He presents to us the immutable characteristics of human nature.

      Poetry is more in accordance with the spirit of philosophy the instinctive desire to understand: which means the desire to know the laws of things, and to generalize these laws as widely as possible, to know how one thing is connected with another, or to know how all things are connected together. In history we cannot know for sure why a certain thing happened in just that manner; in poetry, we know how things happen, for events are related to one another in a coherent manner. Poetry deals with the inner reality, the core of life, the universal in life; history deals with facts. Hence, poetry is higher, of greater import, and more philosophical than history. Even if a poet writes of real people and experiences which really befell them, he is maker in the sense that he selects his material and arranges it according to a design and coherent pattern, imposing a universal order on it. The poet shows through the causal connection between the incidents he represents, how certain things happen. It is the inevitability of sequence of incidents that arouses the emotions proper to tragedy. The poet presents what is possible according to the laws of probability and necessity. He presents the permanent, universal facts of life because the poet makes poetry transcend the world of appearance, where all is chaotic and confused

The Poet: the Maker of Plots

      Aristotle says that it is not necessary for writers of tragedy to use traditional stories and names, but they do so for reason of verisimilitude.

      In any case, whether he borrows the story from myth or tradition, or invents them himself, the poet is a 'maker'. He is a maker of plots, not verses. This implies the arrangement of the incidents in an ordered manner to make a coherent whole. The poet makes his own plots even if he borrows the story; thus the plot and the story are not the same things. The plot, it should be clearly realized, does not lie in the incidents or episodes, but in the arrangement or order. Thus it is that Aristotle condemns the 'episodic' plots, in which there are a number of episodes which are not related to one another causally, under the laws of probability and necessity. In such a plot, incidents could be transposed or removed without any disturbance to the play as such. The episodic plot would not, in other words, have the unity which is so essential to tragedy.

      The appearance of design is further important for the arousal of the emotions proper to tragedy, that of pity and fear. Pity and fear are aroused best if the incidents occur unexpectedly and at the same time in consequence of one another. Even matters of chance seem most marvelous if there is some appearance of design in them.

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