Anagnorisis: Definition and Meaning

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      Anagnorisis is a moment in a play or other work when a character makes a critical discovery. Anagnorisis originally meant recognition in Greek context. Anagnorisis is the hero’s sudden awareness of a real situation, the realization of things as they stood. As also mentioned above it is “....a change from ignorance to knowledge, producing love or hate between the persons destined for good or bad fortune”. Anagnorisis is very much closer to what we mean by peripeteia. In fact, peripeteia leads directly to anagnorisis. Aristotle views peripeteia as the cause, where anagnorisis remains the effect. These two elements are often indivisibly linked to each other as in a cause-and-effect chain. Aristotle argues that the ideal moment for anagnorisis in a tragedy is the moment of peripeteia, the reversal of fortune. Critics often claim that the moment of tragic recognition is found within a single line of text, in which the tragic hero admits to his lack of insight or asserts the new truth he recognizes. This passage is often called the “line of tragic recognition”.

      Aristotle considered it as the mark of a superior tragedy, as when Oedipus killed his father and married his mother in ignorance, and later learned the truth, or when in Iphigenia in Tauris Iphigenia realizes in time that the strangers she is to sacrifice are her brother and his friend, and refrains from sacrificing them. Aristotle considered these complex plots superior to simple plots without anagnorisis or peripeteia, such as when Medea resolves to kill her children, knowing they are her children, and does so.

      In literature, we can note plenty of other instances of anagnorisis. For example, in Sophocles’ Antigone, Creon hears the news of his family members’ deaths and admits that his pride has brought about the suicides. In Othello, Othello not only admits that his poor judgment led to his killing of Desdemona but also finally recognizes Iago’s true intentions. In Julius Caesar, Brutus’s anagnorisis comes about slowly. In the last two acts of the play, Brutus is haunted by Caesar’s ghost, observes that his once strong friendship with Cassius has dissolved, and admits to himself that he acted rashly in assassinating his leader/friend. In The Winter’s Tale, a recognition scene occurs in the final act, which reveals that Perdita is the daughter of the king, and not a shepherdess - the reason that she is suitable for a royal lover. One such moment in Macbeth occurs in the final scene when Macbeth, on the battlefield, encounters vengeful Macduff, who declares him that he is not 'of woman born’ and instead ‘untimely ripped’ from the womb of his mother — which is now called C-Section. This is the moment when Macbeth learns that the prophecy of witches is about to come true, and that Macduff would kill him. Though Macbeth realizes that he is destined, he continues to fight with Macduff, who eventually kills him.

      The use of this literary device is very common in plays and novels. It is a very important part of the plot in a tragedy in which the protagonist recognizes his tragic flaw. This happens at the climax, leading to his eventual downfall. The end of anagnorisis leads to catharsis in the readers. The ideal moment for this device to happen is the moment of peripeteia, a reversal of fortune, where protagonist realizes important insight or fact, human nature, his own situation or truth about himself. It, in fact, then unravels all the major complexities of the plot.

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