Clarification Theory

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Thursday, December 16, 2010
"Aristotle's statement about the final end of tragedy— Purgation or Catharsis—has been so endlessly misunderstood, so uncritically assumed to be true." Discuss. 'Katharsis' or 'Catharsis' is a word of Greek origin. In the Greek language it has three meanings—"Purgation," "Purification," "Clarifica¬tion." Aristotle uses this word in the Poetics only once. While dealing with the function of tragedy, Aristotle says only this much :— ‘’..……….through pity and fear effecting the proper Katharsis or purgation of these emotions."

But he himself does not give any meaning of the term 'Catharsis.' These are the later critics who have interpreted this word in various ways. And this has given birth to various theories. Let us, therefore, discuss some major theories of Catharsis. 1. The Pathological or Purgation Theory

According to some Renaissance critics and later on critics like Twining and Barney, Catharsis is a medical metaphor, it denotes purgation, a pathological effect on the soul similar to the effect of medicine on the body. Just as the purgatives purge the body of the dirt and dross, similarly tragedy purges the mind of the unpleasant emotions of pity and fear by first exciting them and then providing them an emotional outlet. The result is a pleasurable relief. Milton also had explained this theory of Katharsis in his preface to Samson Agonistes. In the neo-classical era, Catharsis was taken to be an alopathic treatment with the unlike curing unlike. The arousing of pity and fear was supposed to bring about the purgation or evacuation of other emotions like anger, pride, etc. The spectacle of suffering arouses our pity and fear and we are 'purged' of the emotions that caused the suffering. If the suffering is caused by emotions like anger, hatred, or impiety towards the gods, we are 'purged' of such undesirable emotions, because we realise their evil consequences. "We learn from the terrible fates of evil men to avoid the vices...
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