Aristotle’s Poetics might offers insights into discussing classical Greek tragedy, but Is less applicable to later drama. How far do you agree?
I do not agree that Aristotle’s Poetics is less applicable to later drama. Aristotle’s rules for tragedy from Poetics states a formula which most modern language tragedy follows. Aristotle writes;
“Tragedy, then, is an imitation of an action that is serious, complete, and of a certain magnitude; in language embellished with each kind of artistic ornament, the several kinds being found in separate parts of the play; in the form of action, not of narrative; with incidents arousing pity and fear, wherewith to accomplish its catharsis of such emotions. . . . Every Tragedy, therefore, must have six parts, which parts determine its quality—namely, Plot, Characters, Though, Diction, Spectacle, Melody.”
To argue my point, I am going to compare Aristotle’s rules of tragedy to Euripides Medea, which was written around the same period as Poetics. I am also going to compare it to William Shakespeare’s Macbeth which though written some two thousand years later, still follows Aristotle’s rules for tragedy very closely. Both Medea and Macbeth are Tragic plays in the traditional sense. Aristotle rules that the medium of tragedy is drama, not narrative. Events that happen create a cause and effect chain that clearly shows progression, and creates genuine fear for the characters as we know their fate. Aristotle indicates that the medium of tragedy is drama, not narrative. Tragedy shows the audience the clear effect of the actions of the protagonist, rather than telling them. According to Aristotle, tragedy is more philosophical than history because history simply relates what has happened, while tragedy shows what may happen to any given person when put into these circumstances, or as Aristotle puts it “what is possible according to the law of probability or necessity.” Tragedy creates a cause and effect chain which reveals what may happen at any time or place because that is the way the world they live in operates. Tragedy therefore arouses pity, but also fear, because the audience can see themselves within this cause and effect chain.
Aristotle ruled plot as “first principle,” the most important part of tragedy. Aristotle defines plot as “the arrangement of the incidents,” as in the way the incidents are presented to the audience, the structure of the play. In his book Technique of the Drama, German critic Gustav Freytag proposed a method of analysing plots taken from Aristotle's unity of action that is known as Freytag's Triangle. This diagram forms a triangle with one point being the beginning, which shows the incentive movement. Then there is complication as the plot moves towards its middle following rising action. The middle moves to a climax and crisis, where the cause and effects of actions are stressed. Then there is an unravelling of plot when we move to the end of the play where the causes of actions are stressed and there is resolution.
Medea follows this closely, the play starts by Medea stating her anger for Jason, and the foreshadowing of events. Medea states “Oh, may I see Jason and his Bride ground to pieces in their shattered palace for the wrong they have dared to do to me, unprovoked!” The action then rises to crisis, where Medea argues with Jason about the future of her children, and Creon threatens to exile Medea for the crimes he knows she will commit, the cause and effects of Medea’s future actions are stressed. The Chorus then further foreshadow the events, “Now I have no more hope, no more hope that the children can live; they are walking to murder at this moment.” This then leads to the unravelling of Medea’s plan (“Friends my course is now clear: as quickly as possible to kill the children and then fly from Corinth”), where she murders Creon, Jason’s bride and her 2 children, leaving Jason alive as his punishment. The cause of...
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